The post office is the ‘last mile’ in customer service

Postmaster Kevin Orlowitz, flanked by Erin LeBlanc (left) and Karla Bicknell, during a typical busy day in the Meeker Post Office. Doc Watson Photo

By Doc Watson

Special to the Herald Times

MEEKER | The United States Postal Service (USPS) not only serves its own customers but has become the “last mile” in serving the customers of other shippers as well. “We have ‘last mile’ agreements with several shippers simply because we go to every address every day,” said David Rupert, the USPS spokesman for Colorado in Denver.

“Last mile delivery” is defined as the movement of goods from a transportation hub to the final delivery destination, which is typically a residence. The two-fold purpose of last mile logistics is to deliver items as fast as possible to the end user and as economically as possible for the shipper. Due to the exponential increase of online ordering, last mile delivery is becoming more important than ever.

“Especially in rural America, shippers [such as FedEx, UPS and others] have found it more economical to pay us to deliver packages,” Rupert said. “When you order things off the internet (for example), always assume the postal service is going to deliver it, so use your P.O. Box number.”

Thursday morning in the Meeker Post Office means copies of the Herald Times protruding from many P.O. boxes.
Doc Watson Photo

Since some companies oddly do not accept a P.O. Box for the shipping destination, Rupert added that you might have to get creative when ordering. You can make it an apartment number or suite number, for example. “Just find a way to get it in there,” he said. “This will help your postmaster.”

These last mile agreements are actually a significant help to the USPS; they have helped to offset some enormous financial loss. Letter mail volume declined by more than five billion pieces last year, which obviously, in addition to some other factors Rupert mentioned, has resulted in a shortfall.

“We attribute that directly to what we call ‘digital diversion,’” Rupert said. “This includes mainly bill paying. People get their bill and pay it electronically. All that adds up because first-class mail is still our bread and butter.”

While the USPS used to receive tax dollars for operation, that ended in 1984. “We are on our own,” Rupert said. “When you open up a map of the United States, all those dots we serve. When you think of the infrastructure, the transportation, the personnel, and the buildings, that’s a huge responsibility that has been given to us, and we take it seriously.”

While letter mail volume has dropped drastically, parcel volume has increased dramatically, but as Rupert explained, “Sorting a parcel is way different than sorting a letter. When a worker cinches up the bag at the post office, a human hand doesn’t really touch [a letter] until the carrier delivers it at the other end. It’s all automated and relatively inexpensive. But parcels come in all shapes and sizes, so it is a much more manual process.”

All this came much closer to home with comments from Meeker’s own postmaster, Bailey, Colo., native Kevin Orlowitz, who came here in 2014. Letters and flats (magazines, etc.) have decreased about five percent each year while packages have increased about 30 percent, especially with the addition of Amazon.

“The national average is about 20 percent but is higher here because it’s easier than having to run to Grand Junction,” Orlowitz said. “We are at least getting back some of what we are losing from letters and flats.”

For a while the enormous work load at our local post office, including the Christmas rush, was being handled by only two workers, Orlowitz and Erin LeBlanc, and they logged a lot of overtime. A third worker, Karla Bicknell, was added in April.

The day begins about 6:30 a.m. when the mail arrives, with the goal of having it all sorted and boxed by noon. While that is going on, there are customers to tend to at the window, which continues till 4:45 p.m. when the office closes. The afternoon is also dedicated to working on forwarding mail, tending to a few packages that come in, cleaning up, and getting ready for the next day.

All of that just might put that new 50 cent stamp into perspective.

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