As you may or may not know, there has been an industry wide envelope shortage in 2022, the likes of which has never been seen before. As businesses try to find a new normal coming out of COVID, many are finding customers wanting to mail items in envelopes once again, and not being able to offer the service because they can not get their hands on what used to be the afterthought, the envelope itself.
Unaware of the issue, the developer of the FireJet 4C inkjet printer, Kirk Rudy, set out on a mission in December of 2021 to develop their own brand of InkJet coated envelopes, simply for the purpose of offering their customers a cheaper alternative to InkJet coated envelopes that were already on the market.
At that time Kirk Rudy’s Director of Marketing, Jim Williams, was challenged by the President of the company Rick Marshall. The task? Go out and find a paper mill and an envelope converter who would be willing to create the envelopes for Kirk Rudy, rather than buying them second hand from someone else, all to keep the cost as low as possible for customers.
“It was a good long hard look,” said Williams. “I stumbled upon a small paper mill in Pennsylvania and an envelope converter right down the street. They gave us samples of this InkJet coated paper and it was wonderful, I mean the image was just amazing! The converter made us envelopes and we were gearing up in February [for production].”
What Jim wasn’t aware of at that time, was the major envelope shortage that was starting to plague the industry, and it was growing quickly. As he visited Florida over the winter months, he found printers could not get their hands on commodity grade envelopes, not for love or for money. ‘We don’t care about price! We don’t care about money! Can you get us the envelopes?’ This became the common statement linking every print shop that Jim visited.
As Jim told me, “I went down to sell a quality envelope to these guys, and they didn’t care if it was made out of toilet paper, they wanted it. It was all about availability. Then when I got back in March I realized we couldn’t get them either.”
“When I came back from the trip I called our envelope guy and I said “we can get envelopes right?” to which he said, ‘funny you should say that, because I placed my order for the Mill and it’s going to be delayed,’” continued Williams. “Finally the paper company, in May, I got word that they weren’t going to make the InkJet coated paper anymore. The shortage was so bad that they just switched over to commodity grade paper and they didn’t know when they would make InkJet paper.”
It hardly made sense. Before working for Kirk Rudy, Jim had been a printer himself, and he had never seen a shortage of envelopes in his career. Anecdotally he told me that his suppliers used to run into the opposite problem, over producing envelopes to the point that Jim was able to get incredibly cheap prices on the envelopes just to help clear out their warehouses. So where was this shortage coming from?
Jim went on a hunt and got the answer confirmed by several sources. The culprit? A perfect storm of foreign goods becoming unavailable, domestic mills being forced to stop working, and a market that suddenly shifted away from paper.
Years ago, USA created paper domestically and sold it domestically, but as with many other things, when China brought their paper to market, it was significantly less expensive. As people bought more and more paper from international suppliers, American mills shifted to making fine quality and specialty papers. Then the global pandemic happened. “All of a sudden, no paper was coming over from China. At the same time, no paper being made in America, all the mills shut down.” Williams goes on to say, “I’ve toured a couple paper mills in my life, and the paper making machine is several miles long and you don’t just shut it down. It runs continuously 24/7, and when you do shut it down because of an unprecedented situation like COVID it takes several months to get it fired back up. So COVID forced mills to shut down, and several of them did not come back on line.”
Those who did reopen were faced with new demand, corrugated cardboard. Many mills chose to convert from paper to corrugated, thereby stopping a source of paper. “So now we’re not really making regular paper anymore, and we can’t get it from China anymore, so what happens? Well the inventory began to get depleted,” confirms Jim, who luckily sees the storm breaking, not immediately, but soon.
The easing of the shortage has allowed Jim to turn his focus back to sourcing out a paper mill to develop envelopes for Kirk Rudy, who just six weeks ago, from the time of this articles publication, got a call from his envelope converter.”He found another mill that was making the InkJet paper!” Exclaimed Williams, thrilled at the prospect of production. “He didn’t even wait to tell me, he bought three rolls of this paper, enough to make nine million envelopes!”
“It’s a beautiful sheet. We ran it at full speed, windows weren’t getting caught, it’s a good envelope. We are now back in the envelope business for InkJet coated envelopes. I think I’ve got 3.5 million spoken for. But again, we have enough paper for 9 million envelopes. And we have another couple rolls of paper on the way. We’re confident that there won’t be any more real shortages with this company.”
With the worst of the storm behind us, Kirk Rudy and Jim Williams are confident that they’ll finally be able to supply their customers continuously. “Nine million is a lot of envelopes normally, but with the demand I have, it’s going to go pretty fast. My envelope maker already has another order in and has assured me that he will have enough paper for another five million envelopes in the next week or two.
So it looks like it will be continuous, but you never know. I tell people to take advantage of it when the supplies are there, don’t be ridiculous and buy every envelope that’s out there, but don’t order when your inventory hits zero.”
Sound advice from an industry expert with nearly forty years of experience. Kirk Rudy’s FIreJet envelope is available now for anyone interested but has been designed specifically for Kirk Rudy FireJet 4C customers. As shortages continue to clear up, it may not be the only incentive to switch to a FireJet 4C machine, but availability of consumables should always be a consideration when investing in equipment.
Fortunately companies like Kirk Rudy exist and focus on just that issue, it’s company policy to stay stocked to the gills with raw materials like aluminium and steel so that they can always produce parts and machines. My bet is that it will now be company policy to have a surplus of envelopes on hand at all times, just in case.
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