By focusing on service, Danville Mailing Center has outlasted competition

December 01, 2003|JOHN T. DAVIS

When Chris Johnson opened Danville Mailing Center in April of 2001, he didn't have long to get his business established before a national franchise came to town.

"We were worried, especially when we first opened and another store pops up, a national franchise," Johnson said of the other store, which opened five months after his business. "We thought, 'How are we going to go up against a national franchise?

"We decided to make service our focus - just to make everybody happy - and it worked."

Two-and-half years later, the national franchise and another competitor, a "UPS shipper" downtown are gone, and Danville Mailing Center, which is located at 270 Jane Trail, was recently recognized by Federal Express with a front-page article in its national newsletter that goes to account holders and shipping centers. The local business was honored by FedEx as one of the top-performing stores in the country.


The main obstacle the local store had to overcome, Johnson said, was letting customers know the services the business offered.

"Since we were the first pack-and-ship store in town with a whole gamut of services, most people didn't understand the concept. We had to spend a lot of time educating our customers. Most people automatically thought the post office is going to be the cheapest."

At Danville Mailing Center, customers get to choose: They can go with Federal Express, United Parcel Service or the post office, depending upon which gives them the best deal.

"We have all three services available; you get to have a choice," Johnson said. "It really caught on, being able to come into the store and see all of the options."

When customers bring something to the store to be mailed or shipped, Johnson works to find them the best price. If the box the customer brings in is larger than needed, Johnson will make it smaller.

"You're paying for extra space. If we cut it down, it's going to save you a lot of money."

A big part of the business' full-service approach is that it will not only mail or ship items for customers, it will pack them as well.

"A lot of people don't want to scrounge for boxes or packing materials, and they know they can just drop it off here and we'll box it up for them."

After receiving calls from people who needed to have large items shipped, Danville Mailing Center started offering crating and shipping services for packages that are above the UPS weight limit of 150 pounds or for items, such as art work, that FedEx or UPS won't insure.

They've shipped motorcycles, boat motors, furniture, deer heads, a bear skin (frozen), frozen cakes ("we've next-dayed them for wedding anniversaries," Johnson said) and a lot of other items. In fact, they've shipped just about everything but live animals.

"Some pretty weird stuff ... If you can think of it, we've shipped it," Johnson said. "You can't just take stuff like that to the post office."

Another service the business offers is international shipping. Johnson said Fed Ex and UPS have an advantage over the post office when it comes to shipping overseas because of the inefficiency of many foreign countries' postal services.

"When it gets to other countries' post offices, it gets stolen or it can take two or three months to get delivered," Johnson said. "With UPS or FedEx, it gets there."

Johnson and his wife, Aurora, who is Hispanic, used to own the Mexican grocery in Harrodsburg, and they have a lot of Hispanic customers. As a result, the most common destination for items they ship out of the country is Mexico, Johnson said. The top overseas destinations are Australia and Great Britain. They also offer Western Union, which is popular with Hispanics and other immigrants who use the service to wire money to relatives back home.

Johnson hopes to expand the number of business customers he has, as well. Danville Mailing Center offers free pickup to small businesses that don't have enough shipping volume to qualify for free pickup by UPS or FedEx.

So far, Danville Mailing Center seems to have outlasted the competition. Its national franchise competitor went out of business six months ago, and it is now the only pack-and-ship store in town, Johnson said.

"We're back to being the only one ... for now."

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