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Valpak's ubiquitous blue envelope entices and delights

If it weren't for the mail, Tracie Finley would be out of a job. She works in customer relations at St. Petersburg's main post office.

But that's not why the 42-year-old Redington Beach resident eagerly awaits the little blue envelope that goes out monthly to 45-million U.S. and Canadian households.

Finley is a Valpak aficionado.

She uses different dry cleaners, depending on whose discount shows up each month. Give her $10 off, and she will try out your new restaurant or pay you to rotate her tires. She tucks Valpak coupons into her car visor so she won't forget to use them.

"They have all kinds of good stuff in there," she said Thursday. "I know I'll be saving."

Finley typifies Valpak's target audience: females, 30 to 44, living in higher-end neighborhoods. Their willingness to sort through ads for personalized checks, home security systems and "We Buy Gold" come-ons has turned the Largo-based direct mailer into a $260-million-a-year plum that its cash-strapped corporate owner, Cox Enterprises of Atlanta, now wants to sell.

Valpak's market reach, defined by company telephone surveys, shows why direct-mail ads compete well with newspapers, magazines, TV and radio.

In nine of 10 households, someone opens Valpak's envelope and sorts through the roughly 40 coupons it contains, said spokeswoman Deanne Willsey. More than eight of 10 people who examine the coupons set at least one aside, "showing their intent to use them."

Valpak won't say how many residents actually buy products with the coupons. That's a company secret, Willsey said.

But one Tampa Bay advertiser is certainly happy.

Mike Ferrara, owner of Tampa-based Partners in Grime Interior and Exterior Painting, said he spends $5,000 to $10,000 every month advertising with Valpak. That nets him five to 30 customers, he said.

"It's not cheap," he said, "but it's worth it."

Pizza restaurants advertise through Valpak more frequently than any other type of vendor, though not DeLosa's Pizza on Madeira Beach. DeLosa's distributes its own coupons at hotels and motels, said manager Adam Canon.

At home, Canon treats direct mail ads with the straight-to-the-trash-can technique.

"By the time I look through them, I'd rather spend the extra dollar," said Canon, a 25-year-old who works 60 hours a week. "How many coupons for carpet cleaners do you need?"

On those few times Canon has saved coupons, they fall out of date before he actually uses them. Or he gets to the store and discovers he left the coupon at home.

With 20-billion print ads mailed last year, the blue envelope has become a cultural icon.

Comedy Central's Jon Stewart recently joked that a court ruling means Guantanamo Bay prisoners will receive better treatment.

"The government is going the extra mile," Stewart said. "Each one of them will receive a Valpak savings pack."

Patty Crespo, a St. Petersburg paralegal who clips and saves coupons religiously, has one complaint about Valpak.

She had to open a post office box after her beagle bit the letter carrier. Valpak delivers only to residences.

"I think that's a bit of slight, to tell you the truth."

What's in it

These are the top business categories that can be found in the Valpak envelope:

• Pizza restaurants

• Sit-down restaurants

• Asian restaurants

• Dentists

• Auto repair

• Dry cleaning/laundry

• Windows/glass/door

• Carpet and upholstery cleaning

• Hair salons

• Mexican restaurants

Valpak's ubiquitous blue envelope entices and delights 08/14/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 1:46pm]

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