Someone at Postal Service headquarters in Washington, DC must have thought it was a great idea. Any time you suggest printing one billion copies of anything, you have to think your idea is a real winner.
And then you have to convince others to buy into it. You have to sell it.
A few years ago someone at postal headquarters had an Aha! moment. He or she–evidently a fan of the long-running TV animated series “The Simpsons”–thought the cash-strapped agency could make some money off of the show and its 20th anniversary by printing some commemorative stamps featuring the whole Simpson clan: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and little Maggie.
Well, it would actually be more than “some” stamps. It would be a billion.
I haven’t found any reports of anyone within the Postal Service hierarchy questioning this absurd number of stamps.
Please bear in mind that up until then, 2009, the biggest seller among commemorative stamps had been the 1993 Elvis Presley stamps. They printed 500 million of them, three times the number of previous stamps. But the gamble paid off. The Elvis stamps went on to become the most profitable in the history of the U.S. Postal Service.
That was 500 million. Sold out.
So for reasons that are really unclear, the “decision makers” at postal headquarters thought the Simpsons stamps would outsell the Elvis stamps. Twice as many, in fact.
It was a fantasy that Homer Simpson himself would have been proud of.
With enthusiastic exuberance postal management gave the project the green light. Wow! they thought, these stamps are going to be more popular than Elvis. Are we merchandising geniuses or what.
As it turned out, it was “or what.”
One billion Simpsons stamps flew off the printing presses and were distributed to post offices throughout the country in May of 2009. Expectations–obviously–were high.
By the close of business at the end of fiscal 2010, the Postal Service had managed to sell only 318 million of the stamps.
Elvis was still king.
This left the merchandising geniuses in Washington holding 682 million un-bought stamps. The cost: $1.2 million.
So, what happened? Why did they lose money on this deal?
Simple. They didn’t think.
That’s a major problem with postal hierarchy, they don’t think.
The report from the Postal Service’s inspector general, who investigated the debacle, said the Postal Service failed to align their stamp production with demand and that its method for selecting its commemorative stamps and the number to be printed was “unscientific.”
Apparently pulling names and numbers out of a hat wasn’t scientific enough.
To add insult to injury, the IG made this suggestion for future printings: Limit the initial production of stamps and print them based on sales.
Hmmm. What a novel idea.
Although the biggest loser, the Simpsons stamps weren’t the only ones that were over-produced in 2009-2010. Other stamps that didn’t sell up to expectations were those depicting the lunar new year, Supreme Court justices and film director Oscar Micheaux. How those could have failed is anyone’s guess.
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, made this astute observatuion: “If the Postal Service can’t address a simple matter such as determining how many commemorative stamps to produce, it shows they can’t address the larger problems.”
Unfortunately, this is true.