The Cutler Mail Chute Company of Rochester, New York, Charts Its Future

Doug Collins - Monday, January 23, 2017

[Scene: a wood-paneled conference room with windows overlooking downtown Rochester. Woolen carpet covers the floor, deadening sound. On one wall hangs an oil painting of the founder RL Cutler Junior. Pre-war daguerreotypes of newly installed chutes at the Waldorf Astoria grace the opposite wall.]

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome. Please help yourselves to the coffee on the sideboard.

Too much time has passed since we last convened. I rejoice to say that last night's snow failed to keep us from meeting this morning. Events compel us to explore certain critical matters regarding the future of our company.

Harriet... yes, Harriet... please give us the official word: when did we last get together?

What? The Ford Administration? When was that? Right... He didn't do a full four years, did he? Well, no matter... thank you.

Anyway... welcome... as you know and appreciate, The Cutler Mail Chute Company has been expediting the correspondence of the guests at our customers' hotels since 1873. We also maintain a fine side line with the many office towers that define the skylines of the world's signature cities.

It was only a year before then, in 1872, that our founder RL Cutler Junior designed, built, and installed his first prototype chute made of cherry heartwood and brass joiners at the Young Men's Christian Association building on Grant Avenue two blocks south of here.

Yes, Jim? Yes, to my knowledge that first chute is still in service. You say you received a note from someone at the YMCA? No... I wouldn't know that -- although it would be gratifying to think that it found its way through our chute to you. When was this, by the way? Sometime in the 60s? Yes, makes sense.

As you know, our founder served too as our chief inventor, with twenty patents to his name on inventions relating to the reliable, non-pneumatic, intra-floor delivery of cards and letters in short-term lodging facilities and office buildings.

RL's last and greatest iteration of the mail chute delivery system, which later came to be known in industry circles as the Correspondence Master 100, was perfected towards the start of the Spanish American War, shortly after the sinking of the Maine and shortly before his untimely passing from consumption.

Some time has passed since the launch of what was essentially version 1.0 of our signature system and... I'm sorry... What's that, Wayne?

No, that's right... we did dabble with a wood and plexiglass version in the 1950s... no, it didn't take off... What? Our engineers found it introduced a static charge, causing mail at hotels in drier climates to burst into flame when dropped more than four floors. You remember the Tempe fire, right? Yes, that was us. The paper stock used for wedding invitations back then was maddeningly combustible, as I recall, overcoming our best efforts to remediate.

So, while we remain by far the number one provider of chute delivery systems for physical correspondence, we thought now would be good time to explore a refresh.

What does the future hold for hotel and office correspondence systems? Is the world ready for Chute 2.0?

Our business has thankfully remained unmolested by low-cost, poorer quality imports from China. The worldwide market remains open to us and whatever innovations we see fit to bring forth.

With that I'd like to turn it over to our colleague Wayne, who has been looking at the market adjacency, the home-based chute, or HBC as we call it internally.

Our thought here, born of common sense, was that the hotel guest, having become familiar with and affectionate towards our industrial chute, would readily open their arms to a Cutler HBC for home use.

Wayne, what did the team find?

Oh, I see. Only two percent of homes have four or more floors, making such a system a useful aid to household members... What? The laundry chute otherwise serves as a poor man's mail chute? ... But wouldn't the mail end up in the basement? I don't see how... Oh... I see... yes... not very hygienic but okay. Thank you, Wayne.

Let's move on. Frank, you were looking at new uses of our existing systems. What were your findings? As you know, we enjoy share leadership in the three primary use cases: wedding and birthday invitations, thank you notes, and letters to the editor dashed off in anger.

What's that? No, I had not heard that overall use had dropped off... By how much? ... that's worrisome. Is that a trend? When did we fulfill our last order, precisely?

That long? Okay, thanks Frank... but how are they communicating? Surely, people are still getting married and saying thank you to one another... Okay, yes, please consider it further... we've seen a material increase in the number of hotels since the bubble in the 1890s, which should have led to a comparable increase in the amount of correspondence.

Lastly, but certainly not least we have our colleague Helen, RL's grandniece. Certainly, the creative spark has not left the family. Helen, you were looking at new monetization schemes -- pay by the letter, as I recall -- oh... I see. I see. No, that makes sense. No, once you train the installed base to value you a certain way it's hard to get them to change their perception. Thank you.

I can report on my end that, as far as I can tell, no rich ecosystem of startups focused on reinventing the delivery of hotel and office correspondence exists. It was my conceit that we could tap into their youthful enthusiasm in some benign, productive way. I will continue my search with the incubators popping up, upstate.

Oh... and what about our executive advisory board... yes, we had someone at The St. James in the city, didn't we? What fresh insights do they bring to the table? Harry? ... Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Did we send flowers to the family? Oh, okay, good. What, they're all... ? I see... Well, maybe it's time for some fresh blood. Let's brainstorm likely candidates at our next meeting. And, I guess we'll need to table the design thinking workshop. Harriet, do you have the Staples receipt so we can return the Post Its? ... very good... thank you.

Well, gentlemen, if that finishes our new business then perhaps we should close. Take comfort in the knowledge that we retain unchallenged share leadership in all forms of non-pneumatic intra-floor conveyance of paper-based hotel and office correspondence. Our brand advocacy remains strong.

Harriet can validate your parking. Please do not forget to send your RSVP for our next meeting through a Cutler chute. We drink our own champagne.

[prologue: our need for closure would have been satisfied, were we to learn that a particularly insightful, inspired descendant of RL had made the conceptual leap from the waning days physical delivery of mail to the new days of the digital delivery of electronic packets and acted, accordingly. Alas, they did not. Thus, the company that came to be known as Cisco was not founded where the Genesee River empties into Lake Ontario. The soil must be fertile and the gardener must be attentive for certain exotics to thrive and, with time, become hardy. And, even then, there are no guarantees, which is what makes the entrepreneurial narrative of fortunes won and lost endlessly interesting.]

Kristin Presutti commented on 14-Jun-2018 03:11 PM
Can I get replacement locks for a mailbox. Is there anyway to do this?

Post a Comment

Captcha Image

Doug's Blog is also featured on

Business Innovation Brief