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Wholesale Observations: Postal issues, part 1
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

Over my 45-year career, it became abundantly clear very early on that the U.S. Postal Service plays a pivotal and critical role in our lives, both business and personal. Although changes in technology have brought about major challenges and forced changes in the way we do business, the Postal Service remains an integral partner to every business and consumer in this country, and has attempted to adapt to current conditions. Not easy, when you’re an organization that large, and with thousands of inter-related moving parts. I have always been a huge fan of the U.S. Postal System. Yes, we all have stories about delivery failures that caused problems, but when you consider the enormous volume of items put into the postal system each day, the actual percentage of errors are very, very small; and the cost per item remains, relatively speaking, very low. And they do deliver everywhere, which no other delivery service will do.

Having said that, I do have a few stories of my own to share.

When I got out of graduate school in 1975, and came home to Savannah, I wound up going back to work for my family’s wholesale business, but in different capacities than before. We had over 1,000 retail customers across eastern Georgia and South Carolina, and northern Florida.

These were serviced by territory salesmen who sent in their daily orders by U.S. Mail, neither computers nor fax machines having been invented yet. “Add-on” items were called in by telephone to our sales desk, all of them hand-written on three-part carbonized forms, and then sent out to the shipping office to get worked up. We provided our salesmen with pre-addressed, over-sized #11 brown manila envelopes; all they had to do was write their name and address in the return-address portion, along with the order numbers enclosed. We logged them in when they arrived in our mail, and could tell if we were missing any, that way. One of my jobs became going to the main post office n downtown Savannah every morning to collect and pre-sort the mail: salesmen’s orders, customer payments, supplier invoices, and everything else. That way, when I got in to the office, the different groups could go directly to the section that needed them. It was a basic system, but it worked well.

Our salesmen’s orders usually came in on a regular schedule by customer; and normally we tried to work and ship the orders so they would get delivered before the weekend, which was usually the biggest day for many of our retail customers. So timing was important.

At one point, the postal service began changing their collection and delivery schedules. Some of it seemed to make no sense. I will never forget the call I got one day from the fellow in Allendale, SC, about an hour up the road off I-95, who not only complained about his orders not reaching us timely, and thus being late being shipped to his customers. He also lamented that he had gotten accused by his mother-inlaw of forgetting her on Mother’s Day!

He protested in vain that he had not forgotten her, he had in fact put her card in the inside-drop at the Allendale Post Office – where her box was less than four feet away – on Friday morning. All they had to do, he said, was hand-cancel the stamp, walk it down four feet, and put it in her box. So why did it take a week later to get to her?

It turns out that the new “collection and delivery system” no longer had local items processed in that Allendale post office. Instead, all items deposited there were now being bagged and shipped to a regional post office in Columbia, SC, from which they were trucked to the Atlanta Regional Processing Center, then trucked back to Savannah, then on to Charleston, then back to Allendale.

All for the price of what was then probably a 10-cent stamp.

Ah, scheduling! Next installment: More anomalies.

Semmes is a Savannah native, a graduate of UGA and a Midway resident.

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