Spokane Journal of Business

Addressing Saturday's mail

Few businesses say they need sixth day; courier work might rise

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-—Staff photo by Treva Lind
DeVries Business Services courier Darren Emerson loads boxes. The company could see more work when Saturday mail ends.

Inland Northwest businesses likely won't experience a significant impact from the U.S. Postal Service's plan to end Saturday mail delivery to street addresses by August, say observers involved in the handling of customer correspondence.

Citing Americans' changing habits that increasingly focus on email and electronic payments, the Postal Service recently announced plans to cut back to five-day-a-week mail delivery starting the week of Aug. 5.

The agency, which last year reported a $15.9 billion net loss, says it expects to save about $2 billion a year once the plan is fully implemented.

The agency plans to continue Saturday delivery of packages to street addresses, however, and to continue to operate post offices currently open on Saturdays. At least one courier service provider here says its workload could rise as a result of the change because it handles pickup and delivery of bulk mail for businesses that rely on time-sensitive materials.

"The business community in general doesn't seem to have a problem with it, because much of the business community isn't open on Saturdays," says Ernie Swanson, Seattle-based spokesman for the service.

Post offices that are open on Saturdays will continue offering bulk-mail pickup that businesses or couriers typically have requested on a will-call basis, enabling them to pick up large-volume, separated mail at the post office when they're able to do so, he adds.

Fred Hiatt, owner of Walt's Mailing Service Inc., in Spokane Valley, says retail advertisers likely will adjust to Friday schedules for requested delivery of fliers that often are timed to arrive in residential mailboxes on Saturdays to attract weekend shoppers.

"Some of our advertising customers would like a Saturday delivery, but for the most part, I don't think our customers are going to be affected that much," Hiatt says. "They'll just put in a Friday delivery request."

However, Hiatt adds that some advertisers have a theory that Fridays aren't ideal for delivery because people generally aren't focused yet on weekend shopping chores.

Spokane-based DeVries Business Services provides courier services for businesses, as well as records-management and data-protection services. Clients include insurance and pension-plan processing centers here that rely on DeVries' couriers to pick up their incoming bulk mail from the post office, including on Saturdays, and deliver it to them early in the day for processing paperwork, says owner Patrick DeVries.

"I have some Saturdays scheduled for businesses that want incoming mail that day," DeVries says. "Spokane has a number of regional processing centers that have a reliance on large-volume mail that comes in, and they have to get the mail early and count on it."

He adds, "There may be other commercial clients that are getting mail on a Saturday now and would look at someone like me to service their Saturday mail. I could see that happening."

Cheryl Wagner, owner of Nine Mile Falls-based Property Management Partners, says she focuses on the postmark date on envelopes containing rent checks, rather than the day she receives them, to determine whether payment from a tenant is late.

"The tenants' rent is due on the first, and they are delinquent if the rental check envelopes are not postmarked by the fifth," she says. "Then they pay a late fee. I think tenants know that, and I take into consideration when the fifth falls. As far as me getting the money, I don't work on Saturdays anyway."

She adds, "I'd much rather as a business person see the Postal Service eliminate the Saturday delivery than raise the postage much higher than it is. That just takes the money out of our pocket."

Rich Hadley, Greater Spokane Incorporated president and CEO, says he hasn't heard any concerns from that organization's members since the Postal Service announced the plan. "A lot of businesses rely on packages delivered by UPS or FedEx," he adds. "Many businesses are closed on Saturdays anyway."

The Postal Service says it's had a 14 percent volume increase in its package deliveries since 2010, and it attributes that growth at least in part to people buying products online. Swanson says mail-order pharmaceutical packages also will continue to be delivered under the service-reduction plan, but that the delivery of DVD movies such as through Netflix doesn't fall under the package category.

"Netflix would not be included in Saturday delivery; it's not a package," Swanson says. "Packages generally are based on the rate the mail is sent. It's generally the classification of mail."

He adds, "Magazines and newspapers would not be delivered on Saturdays. Hopefully, publishers will adjust their schedules to where those would come out on Fridays now instead of Saturdays."

Swanson says delivery five days a week would require fewer postal employees, but that the exact number of jobs impacted in Spokane isn't known yet. Nationwide, the agency expects it will need 20,000 to 22,000 fewer employees under the new delivery schedule, he says, but he adds, "A lot of that has been accomplished by not filling vacancies and through normal attrition."

The agency's Feb. 6 announcement of its intention to halt mail delivery on Saturdays said that, "Since 2006, the Postal Service has reduced its annual cost base by approximately $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000, or 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations."

Major news outlets have reported that much of the Postal Service's red ink comes from Congress passing a 2006 law requiring the agency to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency has to do.

Hiatt, of Walt's Mailing Service, says he thinks that's the real reason for the agency's budget woes, and that he's more concerned about postal employees losing jobs as future delivery shrinks.

"I'm concerned about the hit on the middle class," Hiatt says. "Postal workers are among the more affluent in the middle class. If they start laying off, I think it's a slippery slope to pick on a group for what I think are not valid reasons."

Hiatt says Walt's Mailing Service, which is named for his father, employs 15 people to assist clients with bulk mailing, inserting, automated statement processing, and printing services. He says most customers don't rely on a weekend delivery date, however.

He adds, "A lot of our customers will select a certain day they'd like delivery, and the U.S. Postal Service will try to meet that. Saturday has occasionally been one of them."

Dan Mitchell, the mailing service's sales manager, says businesses likely will adjust their schedules in the future regarding time-sensitive material, either for mail going out to the customer or in watching for receipt of funds.

"Those affected most are those looking for financial notices or payments, but for the average business, even those receiving funds and posting it to their account, they'll adapt," Mitchell says.

Businesses that want advertising fliers or correspondence to customers just before the weekend will have to start on those projects a day or two earlier than usual, he adds.

"They'll have to get it in early if they want advertising in people's hands in time for the weekend," he says. "Some advertisers have that in mind. Procrastinators will be the ones hurt the most."

Congress previously has included a ban on five-day-only delivery in its spending bills. However, because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure rather than an appropriations bill, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has said the agency's interpretation is that it can make the change itself, several news outlets have reported.

Whether Congress moves to block the plan after the temporary spending measure expires March 27 remains to be seen, but the Postal Service is very much moving ahead, Swanson says.

"The Postmaster is very adamant that we're going forward with this," he adds.

Treva Lind
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