Package and Mail Industry Feeling Shipshape--UPS Reports Volume Up 20%
Bill Byhower took the stuffed teddy bear and promised the anxious father that it would arrive in time to go under the tree at his daughter’s home in Chicago by Christmas Eve.
Byhower, co-owner of the Mail Room in Corona del Mar, wrapped the bear in decorative paper, added ribbons, put it in a box, addressed it and sent it on its way.
At a Pak-Mail outlet on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, a man dropped off a sturdy manzanita Christmas tree decorated with dollar bills.
“He told me to get it to Philadelphia by Christmas,” said Roger Parsons, owner of the Pak-Mail. “We had to trim a few limbs. But we boxed it, wrapped it and sent it on.”
Throughout Southern California, similar scenes are occurring as consumers flock to small package shops, large shipping firms and government post offices to send Christmas presents to friends and relatives across the country.
Shipping authorities say this is the busiest holiday season ever, with the U.S. Postal Service and United Parcel Service each delivering millions of Christmas gifts every day.
And consumer demand for convenience is giving rise to a growing number of specialty shops offering a combination of gift wrapping, packaging and shipping services.
Package-processing firms--from Byhower’s seven-employee operation to giant UPS--spent the last 11 months planning for the Christmas crush. In Orange County, UPS pitched a large circus tent in the parking lot of Anaheim Stadium and hired 22 extra workers to handle the holiday business. UPS dwarfs other private shipping firms and handles more packages each year than the Postal Service.
The circus tent processed 7,000 packages on Monday, considered the peak day of the season. The Anaheim operation could be the busiest UPS customer counter in the nation, a company official said.
Customers are greeted by balloons and candy and usually wait in line less than 10 minutes, according to Maynard Gleason, UPS customer service manager for Orange County. The tent is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Dec. 23, but it will close at 2 p.m. next Monday to make room for a Rams football game.
An average of 1,700 customers shipped 4,700 packages at the stadium each day last week. Bob Kenney, a UPS spokesman at the company’s headquarters in Greenwich, Conn., said the November-December holiday season shipping volume is up 20% this year.
Business at the UPS center peaked Monday as customers who shopped last weekend hurried to ship their gifts at the lowest rate to ensure delivery before Christmas.
UPS said it processed more than 15 million packages worldwide on Monday. The Postal Service said it could not provide an estimate for the day.
Depending on how much a customer is willing to pay, UPS or the Postal Service can deliver packages in as little as one day or take as long as 10 days.
UPS’ Ground Service promises delivery within five working days nationwide.
A customer shipping from a metropolitan area in Southern California to a large city such as New York or Boston can expect delivery within two days by Postal Service First Class, but the trip takes longer if smaller towns are involved.
The Postal Service, which said its holiday volume is up 8.5% this year, does not add a significant number of holiday workers but tends to fill all of its authorized jobs during the Christmas season, according to Christine Dugas, a Postal Service spokeswoman.
Dugas said that some of the Postal Service’s 10,000 Orange County employees are working extra hours, and “nobody gets to take a vacation until after Christmas.”
On Monday, 22,000 packages at Fourth Class rates were shipped from the Orange County General Mail Facility in Santa Ana, while 30,980 packages were shipped from Los Angeles, Dugas said.
Dugas said that an average of 4.8 million letters or packages were processed during each of the first 10 days of December at the Santa Ana facility. The number peaked Monday at 10 million, more than three times the volume of a typical summer day.
Package delivery officials attribute the increase in business this year to stable shipping rates--the Postal Service and UPS have not raised their rates in the past year--and a steady increase in the number of people who move to new homes far from family and friends.
It’s also easier to ship a package today, according to Pak-Mail’s Parsons.
Traditionally, people who needed to ship packages would go to UPS or Postal Service offices. Now there are thousands of small operations that prepare packages for pickup by package carriers.
Although they charge more, the package stores provide a degree of convenience that UPS and the Postal Service can’t match. Customers don’t have to worry about finding the right size boxes or using the proper adhesive strapping tape.
“You’ve still have to do the shopping, but it’s not a hassle to send packages anymore,” said Johnny Wilson, president of Pak-Mail Centers of America in Aurora, Colo., which has 89 franchised outlets across the United States.
The small package-processing firms said their presence has prompted the Postal Service to pay more attention to customer service. Byhower’s Mail Room outlet, which he and his wife Susan bought in 1983, is located across the street from the local post office and is less than a mile from another package shop.
Variety of Shippers
The package stores that have sprung up in recent years charge $2 to $5 per package in addition to the regular shipping fee, and they frequently offer gift-wrapping services. This has been a banner year for the stores, and Byhower said business at his shop is up 25% over last year.
For delivery service, the firms choose among UPS, the Postal Service, and other carriers such as Federal Express, Purolator Courier or Emery Worldwide.
Federal Express, which mainly handles business letters and packages for overnight or second-day delivery, is experiencing higher holiday volume this year, according to Armand Schneider, a spokesman for the Memphis, Tenn.-based company.
At the Mail Room in Corona del Mar, Byhower said customers are paying for next-day and second-day delivery to be assured that gifts are received by Christmas Eve.
“Sometimes, I think that I’d like it to be like this every day,” Byhower said. “Other times, the holiday spirit runs short, and I’m eager for January.”
The U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service and Federal Express are the biggest shippers of packages during the Christmas season. Other delivery firms, such as Purolator Courier and Emery Worldwide, also offer package delivery service.
Following are quoted rates for delivery of a typical 5-pound package, such as a gift box of cheese, from Southern California to New York. The cost of optional insurance is not included in the Postal Service rates listed.
The Postal Service and UPS charge by zone for at least some of their deliveries, while Federal Express rates are the same to any destination in the continental United States.
SERVICE COST EXPECTED DELIVERY TIME Federal Express Next day delivery $28.25 Next day, by 10 a.m. No Christmas Day delivery. Second day delivery $12.50 Two days. United Parcel Service Next Day Air $15.50 Next day, by noon. No Christmas Day delivery. 2nd Day Air $6.50 Two days. Ground Service $3.40 Five working days. U.S. Postal Service Express Mail $12.85 Next day, by 3 p.m., including Christmas Day. Priority Mail (First Class) $6.37 Two or three days. Fourth Class (Parcel Post) $5.62 Up to 10 days.