Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Putting a stamp on a situation

The Post Office on the ground floor at the Capital Square building. The clerks offer fast, friendly service, but as this lunchtime picture shows, there just aren't enough customers to justify keeping it open.

  The post office on the ground floor in the Capital Square building where I work is scheduled to close this December. I had occasion to use this post office when I got my chess camp T-shirts well after the chess camp was completed due to a power failure in Marshalltown this past July. At 3 separate lunch times, I went to the first floor; got to the self-service counter, put the shirts in some envelopes, addressed the envelopes, and got to the counter. 2 times I had to wait behind a person or two, and two times another clerk came right up to help the next person in line. I was in and out all 3 times in less than 2 minutes at the counter, even though I was paying with a credit card and wanted delivery confirmation. What a difference between this post office station and the station at Urbandale, where I had to resort to trickery to get the line moving while the clerks were having a party in the back or the Post Office in Johnston where I got stuck in a 10 person line behind a person buying a single stamp while carrying on a 10 minute conversation with the clerk.

  I know the Post Office is losing money because people are sending email a lot more than letters, but a lot of their troubles are not of their own making. The US Postal Service is an independent agency of the government. This means that even though they don’t receive government money, they are regulated by the government and cannot raise prices without permission. It has to cost a lot more to send a letter or package from New Jersey to Alaska than it does from Marshalltown, Iowa to Des Moines, Iowa; but the Post Office is bound by law to charge the same amount for the shipment of any package.

  When you think about being able to send a letter anywhere in the country for less than 50 cents, it is pretty amazing and I can only remember 3 times where I mailed something that was never received and all 3 were checks to companies that probably misplaced or lost them. While I’ve had problems with some of the post office clerks I’ve encountered, I’ve never seen a lazy postal carrier and I’d like to offer some suggestions to help them keep their jobs.

  I have no problem with closing down as many postal stations as possible and just making them distribution centers. I know that in small towns many people use the post office as a meeting place as well as a post office, but most grocery stores already offer postal services and in smaller towns, somebody will be sure to start running a postal station out of their house if they can turn a buck so if the post office can cut costs by closing their offices, I’m all for it.

  Another way the Post Office is going around things the wrong way is by spending money sponsoring Tour de France teams and the like instead of being sponsored themselves. Instead of cutting Saturday deliveries, why not have ‘Saturday Mail Delivery presented by COKE’? Wouldn’t Pepsi then bid for Friday or Wednesday? Sponsors could pay premium for signage on the uniforms and trucks. If schools in Philadelphia can sell ad space, why can’t post office vehicles have TV’s mounted on them with paid advertisements.

A sampling of the collectible stamps for sale at the Post Office.
Does anyone under the age of 40 know any of the people on these stamps?
Selena (1971) is the only person depicted on any of these stamps born after 1930...
and she's been dead for 15 years!

  I used to collect stamps and even buy sets of stamps at the Post Office, but I never hear any of the kids at chess club talking about stamps. Because of video games and other distractions from the classic pastime of stamp collecting, stamps need to be freshened up for the modern age. I went to the Post Office to research this post and all the people on stamps were dead. No wonder kids aren’t excited by stamps. The Post Office recently co-opted one of my suggestions by allowing living people to be on stamps and anyone can already put themselves on a stamp for a surcharge (you can see here). But instead of slowly deliberating over which living person will be on the stamp, the Postal Service needs to streamline their printing operations to be able to act fast and jump on any available bandwagon as soon as the opportunity presents itself. For example, as soon as the last out of the World Series was recorded last Friday Night, not only did the winning Cardinals have caps and shirts proclaiming their championship, I was able to buy the same gear the champions were wearing as well as other celebratory merchandise by calling the toll free number that flashed on my TV screen at the first commercial break. How much could the Post Office have made by having a 2011 World Series Champion Cardinals $5 stamp available only for items mailed the next Monday and only in St. Louis. There would be people lining up to have the $5 stamp put on letters mailed to themselves as souvenirs. Combined sales from the World Series, Super Bowl, NCAA football championship, NCAA Final Four, and the Daytona 500 would be a windfall for the Post Office. I'm not sure if the Post Office can use anyones picture without permission, but if not Congress should immediately pass a law mandating that the all American citizens and corporations are fair game for use by the Post Office for postage stamps. I'd be first in line for a Cheetos Puffs stamp!

I don’t know who will be put on the first stamps, but I’d suggest printing a stamp a week honoring the latest media cause célèbre. For instance, this past week Nicole Leszczynski and her husband were arrested in Hawaii and their child placed in state custody for the night when the pregnant Nicole wolfed down 2 chicken salad sandwiches at a Safeway supermarket and left the store without paying for the sandwiches along with the $50 in groceries that she did pay for (here is the story in case you don't believe it). I’m sure it was an honest mistake and the Safeway certainly overreacted, but I also don’t know how many people at the Honolulu Safeway are gobbling down sandwiches and playing the ‘Oh, I forgot and I’ll pay for them now that you caught me’ card in the rare event of being confronted by store personnel. Just pay for the sandwich and then continue shopping, Nicole! But in any event, the Post Office can capitalize on her 15 minutes of fame by putting her on a stamp and maybe even donating a couple of pennies per stamp to her lawsuit fund. I’m sure many people would pay a premium for the sympathy stamp in protest against Safeway stores. Another good stamp topic for collectors would be to put the latest teen heartthrob like Justin Bieber (who's probably been old news for awhile if I've heard of him) on a stamp so all the teen age girls can mail each other letters or just save the stamps.

Having a quick turnaround of stamp design, printing and distribution will inevitably lead to more errors, but this can be turned to the Postal Services favor and be the biggest money-making idea yet. One of the most valuable stamps is the 1918 ‘Inverted Jenny’, which was an air mail stamp that had one sheet of a hundred stamps escape the printing presses with the airplane upside down. My dad showed me his copy of this stamp and told me that if it was only upside down, he’d be rich. I would suggest that more ‘errors’ be allowed to escape the printing process along with a new practice of having all stamps be sealed so no one knows whether the stamps inside the package contain errors. Imagine if this year’s Ronald Reagan centennial stamp had been discovered to have had a few dozen stamps erroneously depicting the 40th president with a pair of devil horns. Liberals would be buying stamps like wildfire in order to display them, while conservatives would also be trying to get their hands on the errors so they could destroy them and preserve the image of their favorite president. And Reagan's not even alive! Once the sales for his stamp start to die down, it would be time to repeat the process by making a Clinton stamp.