Calmark Group

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Letter from PMG Potter
Letter from PMG Potter
Letter from PMG Potter

The Calmark Group has been serving the direct mail industry for more than 50 years, providing complete supply chain management for the direct mail industry — from creative design to mailbox. The Calmark Group’s ability to offer complete project management was created by the merger of two companies, Calmark, Inc., and Superior Mailing. While each company grew separately their history is intertwined with chance meetings of their respective owners and a warehouse fire that proved pivotal for one company’s survival.

Quin Calhoun, an Air Force Korean War Veteran, founded Calmark Mailing Services in 1960. After being fired as a salesperson, Calhoun started Calmark Mailing Services on Chicago’s South Side with just one client and a $13,000 investment. Calhoun quickly expanded Calmark to employ over 500 home typists and 30 full-time employees within two years. In the early 70s, to keep up with the changing postal regulations of sorting mail, Calhoun purchased the company’s first computer, a Honeywell mainframe. At that time postal presorting software was in its infancy. To help his employees correctly sort the mail, Calhoun devised a bag/bundle sequence line that cut training time from 6 weeks to three days. The sequence line was placed within the address block. Many clients objected to the line, complaining that it made the mail piece look less personal. The line eventually changed to a series of asterisks, which now can be read by high speed inserting equipment.

Calhoun was an avid race car driver and had a machine shop to support his hobby. He also used the machine shop to modify mail equipment to improve productivity and also to create specialty equipment that lead to new customers. One modification involved rebuilding half of his inserting machines to run in the opposite direction. This decreased the floor footprint and created a better workflow of materials and finished mail. The change also reduced the labor needed to run some jobs, providing Calhoun a competitive edge in the market. Calhoun also built machines designed to place rubber bands on mail bundles. His innovations included pencil hopper attachments used to machine insert small golf pencils into Time magazine’s renewal mailings. Chopping devices were installed on the inserting machines. The spines could now be trimmed off up to four 32 page booklets. This innovation enabled the inserting of 56 single sheets into an envelope in a single pass on a 14 station-inserting machine. Additional machine innovations created opportunities to do business with large clients such as Readers Digest.

Postnet Barcode, 1990
Postnet Barcode, 1990
Postnet Barcode, 1990

A heart attack prompted Calhoun to change his role at the company, so in 1982 he hired Jim Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was named chief executive in 1985 and eventually would buy Calmark from Calhoun.

Under Fitzgerald’s direction, Calmark grew to become a nationally recognized innovative direct mail company. In the late 1980s Fitzgerald directed the company to become involved in the Chicago Postal Customer Council and to take a more active role in the Mail Advertising Service Association (MASA). Calmark was made a USPS National Account the first year the program was created.

In 1990 The POSTNET (Postal Numeric Encoding Technique) barcode was introduced by the USPS. Calmark embraced the idea of barcoding and quickly modified its Admark inkjet equipment to enable it to spray the barcode on mail pieces. This new technology earned Calmark’s clients additional postage discounts.

ISAL Article, 1992
ISAL Article, 1992
ISAL Article, 1992

In 1992 Calmark was approached to handle 250,000 pieces mailing to Japan. Having never handled foreign mail before, Calmark turned to Jim Sullivan, Calmark’s national account manager for assistance. The USPS ISAL product was chosen over other less expensive options because of its reliability. On Monday, May 4, 1992, the USPS airlifted 250,000 6 x 9 booklets to Tokyo. Delivery in the Japanese nation started on Saturday, May 9 and by Monday, May 11 the client already had received 600 orders.

In the mid 90s the USPS introduced Reclassification which changed most of the mail preparation requirements. Letter size mail moved from bags to trays. The impact of Reclassification required the need to stay current on the changing regulations. In response, Calmark ramped up its involvement at a national level by becoming involved with the Postmaster General’s Mailing Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC). Calmark embraced most automation changes and became an early adapter of the Post Net Barcode, IMb and eventually became the first lettershop in Chicago to be authorized for Full Service IMb.

In 2000, Fitzgerald expanded Calmark’s market reach by creating a creative agency. The strategy to offer both creative services and print production management paid off and enabled Calmark to land large accounts such as MCI and Marriott International. In 2004, Fitzgerald expanded Calmark’s agency reach into the nonprofit side by hiring a creative team specializing in nonprofit organizations. This move proved to be extremely successful, shifting Calmark’s client based from mostly commercial clients to almost completely nonprofit clients.

Around 2011 continuing pressure from changing postal regulations, economic downturns, the complexities of mail projects and downward pressures on pricing lead Fitzgerald to look for a way to re-energize Calmark. Superior Mailing opened its doors on February 28, 1996. To understand its history, one must go back to 1968 and to Robert (Bob) Doyle, Sr. Doyle, an Army veteran, started working for Peter Shannon and Company – an accounting service bureau. Shannon and Company did not offer mailing services. However, in 1974, another accounting service company, Chicago Tab, closed its doors and Joe Consolo brought some of his business to Doyle. Doyle was now in the mailing business, printing pressure sensitive labels to be hand-affixed to envelopes. One of Doyle’s customers to whom he shipped labels was Quin Calhoun, founder of Calmark. As computers continued to play a more prominent role in the direct mail business, this division of Peter Shannon and Company, now known as System Data Processing, also grew.

In 1978, another company, Precise Data, purchased System Data and Doyle became vice president at Precise Data. Precise Data also was predominately a large service bureau handling the computer side of direct mail. Doyle started in the lettershop with one inserter, and he often ran it himself or with Precise Data owner Bill Sloyan Sr. In 1980 Doyle was approached by an agency specializing in political mail.  Precise Data’s involvement in the 1980 political campaigns lead the company to expand beyond the data processing side of the business. In the mid 1980s, looking to expand the business beyond political mailing, Precise Data purchased its first laser imaging equipment. While the throughput of the early lasers paled by today’s machines, they provided far more flexibility and speed than the impact printers they would eventually replace. Laser sign-off proved to be costly, as a driver would be required to take samples to the client, wait and then return with changes, then wait for the changes to be made and for new samples to be printed, and then drive back to the client for their review. This process could be repeated multiple times before final approval to print was given. The fax machine, almost obsolete today, changed all of this and led to a more effective sign-off process.

In 1989 after the death of Bill Sloyan, Sr, Robert Doyle became president of Precise Data. A year later his son Robert Doyle Jr. joined Precise.

In 1990 after graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in advertising Robert Doyle, Jr joined Precise Data. The younger Doyle was no stranger to his father’s direct mail world, having played with IBM punch cards as a kid; and from the age of 8 he stuffed envelopes at home whenever his father needed the extra help. He also worked as an inserting operator during the summers. Doyle Jr. can recall stories his father told him about the ‘mad scientist’ building his own inserting equipment at a mailing company just down from his building. That mad scientist was none other than Quin Calhoun. At the time Doyle Jr. joined Precise their product offerings included impact printing, cold fusion laser imaging, bindery and inserting services. Doyle Jr. new role was included the inception of customer service represenatives that would monitor an entire job from start to finish.

Robert Doyle, Sr continued to work at Precise Data until 1994 when he became a partner at Midwest CompuService. Doyle Jr. left the company in shortly after his father but did not follow his farther to Midwest. At that time, Midwest had no place for Doyle Jr., so he sold paper for a year before joining Midwest in 1995 as VP operations. In 2002, Doyle Sr. left the industry and Doyle Jr. started Synergy Mailing Service – a data/laser service bureau. In additional to form personalization, Synergy also offered fulfillment services. Doyle Jr. continued Synergy until 2009 when it merged with Superior Mailers, owned by Simon Quirion and Slade Edling.

In 1971, Simon Quirion, a Long Island construction worker, wanted to get out of the weather and answered an ad placed by Jetson Mailing Services. Quirion took the janitorial and bagger position offered to him. Quirion rapidly progressed through the ranks and within two years he was managing the second shift operation and eventually became warehouse manager. In 1981, Jetson expanded to the Chicago area forming Jetson Midwest Mailers (JMM), and Quirion was promoted to VP operations and moved to Chicago. The company grew and Quirion was named president in 1986. In 1987, Richard Carosella, Jetson’s owner, decided to shut down the Long Island operation and moved everything to Chicago under Quirion’s leadership. In 1992, Quirion left Jetson and went to work for ISA, another mailing facility in the area.

In 1994, Quirion became ill, forcing him out of the workforce for six months. In 1995, he went back to Jetson, and after a few months he decided he needed to start his own company. During that time he had interviewed Slade Edling for a production manager position. At that time Edling was operations manager for Harte Hanks, Cincinnati. Quirion hired Edling and felt obligated to inform him that he wanted to start his own company. He wanted to warn Edling that he soon may be reporting to someone else. To Quirion’s surprise, Edling asked if he needed a partner, and in December 1995, both men left Jetson to plan their new company – Superior Mailing. Superior Mailing at first was strictly a production facility and did not offer any data processing services. A chance meeting in an airport changed that. Both Bob Doyle Sr. and Quirion were heading to an industry conference when a plane delay brought them together. This chance meeting led to Doyle’s company, Midwest CompuServe, supplying Quirion with data processing services, which in turn provided a new product offering for Superior Mailing. For a time, Superior Mailing struggled to find its place in the industry. Just prior to leaving Jetson, Quirion had met Jim Fitzgerald, now COO at Calmark. Quirion mentioned he was considering opening his own company, and Fitzgerald told him to give him a call once he did, as he was always looking for another facility to handle overflow work.

In July 1996, in the midst of Superior’s struggle, Calmark experienced a large warehouse fire. The fire not only destroyed material, but shut down Calmark operations completely for days. It would take months to come back into full production. Fitzgerald contacted Quirion looking for production help, especially with the larger 9 x 12 inserting jobs. Quirion neither had the jumbo inserters needed nor the cash to purchase them. On nothing more than a handshake between the two, Fitzgerald bought two jumbo machines for Quirion on the promise he would pay him back through a discount on the invoice. So now Superior had another product line to offer in addition to data processing provided by Doyle Sr. at Midwest CompuServe. Superior expanded from their original 13,000-square-foot building to a 150,000-square-foot building. Superior purchased the first high speed Flowmaster inserter to handle a Sears Home Improvement package.

Business continued to grow, and in 2007, a private equity company approached Quirion and Edling. The numbers were too good to pass on so the company was sold. However a year later to the date of the sale, Quirion and Edling purchased the company back. That same year Doyle Jr. merged Synergy Mailing Services into Superior Mailing and the company moved to its present location at 6755 S. Sayre Avenue, Bedford Park.

The new Superior Mailing embarked on automation and innovation to keep up with changing postal regulations, the downward pressure on prices and the continuing increases in labor and disposables. Superior looked to merge multiple operations into one single operation, reducing labor while increasing throughput.

Census letter, 2010
Census letter, 2010
Census letter, 2010

Census Sample Mailpiece, 2010
Census Sample Mailpiece, 2010
Census Sample Mailpiece, 2010

This approach helped them to secure the 2010 Census mailing. The Census was awarded to RR Donnelly and Donnelly was looking for a lettershop to handle the folding and inserting of the questionnaire. They also needed to ensure 100% of the surveys made it into the mailstream. RR Donnelly was working with another lettershop, and on the test run the lettershop was having difficulty folding the questionnaire and inserting without damaging the package. Superior Mailing designed a hybrid bindery system that folded the thick questionnaire without damage, and after inserting scanned the piece to capture that it had entered the mailstream. Any address not captured would be reprinted by Donnelly and rerun by Superior. This system ensured 100% mailing and saved the Federal Government about $89 per door knock.

Superior started producing the 2010 Census mailing in July 1999. The United States Postal Service coordinated the load plan. The load plan was created nine months in advance to allow Superior to run the later mailing packages first so they could stage all the mail in a rented warehouse (under guard 24/7) in the precise load order. The first mailing of 130 million pieces did not go without some issues. A total of 450 trailers needed to be live-loaded in four days, with each trailer having a precise three-destination load plan. At the last minute, the order of 20 trailers was changed. Since Superior had staged all the material in the precise order it was to be picked up, it meant the first mail to go was stuck in the back of the warehouse. The solution was to cut a hole into the back of the warehouse and pull the mail out from that side. The first mailing as well as the following three went out as required. In total 175 million pieces mailed in 3 weeks using Full Service IMb which maximized postage savings and provided surface visibility for the USPS to meet the virtual 100% in home window. In the words of the Census Program Manager James Marsden, “The technical and operational expertise you applied to this job enabled the largest print and distribution job in the world to meet its mission.”

As Calmark and Superior continued operations after 2010, they both started feeling the pressures that are inherent in the industry today. The cyclical nature of the business – too much work at times and too little work at other times – leads to hiring, layoffs, and rehiring. The cost of workers and almost everything else continue to go up while prices remain static. Changing postal regulations also add cost to preparing the mail. Each company had its challenges in dealing with these pressures. For Calmark, its agency strategy was opening new doors, yet many of the packages they encountered required additional production equipment. Superior, while having extension production capabilities, was having difficulty acquiring new customers. In 2012 the two companies solved their respective problems when Fitzgerald, Doyle, Edling and Quirion, whose paths had crossed many times earlier, came together to form The Calmark Group.

The Calmark Group is a one-stop shop with the capacity to produce 3-4 million pieces of targeted direct mail daily. The Calmark Group’s core strengths are to handle their clients’ needs, from creative design and component procurement through list management and forms design to imaging and full service production. It is a long way from having a home typist addressing an envelope.