Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Deep Blue Gratitude

This essay, Deep Blue Gratitude, was published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 6 on November 4, 2022. For context, below it I've included my Letters From the Editor for both that November/December issue and the preceding September/October one (MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 5).



In my last Letter From the Editor in the September / October issue of MBC Today, I was reveling in the fact that I had just made my team member Clark the first official Manager of Uncle Marty's Shipping Office and that he had taken over the scheduling and found two weeks for me to get away at the end of October. I had booked a cruise right away and, frankly, it all felt like a dream.

Cut to today, October 27th, 2022, sitting at a corner table on the lido deck of Holland America Line's pinnacle class Nieuw Statendam ship, en route from our last stop in Saint Thomas to our next stop in the Bahamas, looking out the window on the "most perfect day at sea" that Captain Noel has seen "in years," watching flying fish pop in and out of the bluest water on Earth, with my feet up, the table in front of me spread with a big glass of iced tea and a generous slice of sugar-free almond cake with sugar-free berry ice cream on the side, and my laptop on the table as I put final touches on this current issue of MBC Today that will drop in a few days. I've never felt more chill; l've not had a vacation like this in...well, ever!

We small business owners aren't supposed to relax like this, are we? For the first week away, I felt serious imposter syndrome. Shouldn't I be working? Shouldn't I be checking the store cameras all day long? I felt that guilt, but I fought it. I didn't check my email for well over a week, forcing myself to stay away from everything that was waiting on the other side of that screen. I still have yet to check any cameras. I turned it all off. I unplugged. I put my complete faith and trust in Clark, Julie, Elijah, and Carter, knowing that they had everything under control at the shop…and would check in on my house and cat, Prince Comet, to make sure all were well cared for.

I'll be back at work on November 1st, ready to tackle two crazy months as a shipping business operator. My team and I will order all of the supplies we'll need for the holiday rush first thing to ensure we have everything in on time, and the Santa hats will come out, garland will go up, and twinkle lights will light up the early nights in our snow-blanketed Upstate New York town. That's all waiting for me next week. But today? Today, I'm sailing away, abundantly grateful for what I have, who I have, and this outstanding privilege I'm enjoying. I've worked very hard for many years, and now I feel like I can enjoy a little bit of the reward.

I've met a lot of different people on this cruise. Many are genuine class acts—kind to the crew, enjoying each experience, and patient with their fellow passengers. There are, of course, a handful of miserable people—rude to the crew, entitled to everything, pushy to fellow guests, and complaining about the most trivial, ridiculous things. It’s never been more abundantly clear to me that being miserable is a choice. Here we are, sailing through one of the most beautiful places on Earth on a new, gorgeous, immaculate, no-expense-spared luxury liner, being waited on hand and foot by the most gracious, outstanding crew to sail the seas (If you ever want a lesson in how to treat guests and how to build relationships, take a Holland America Line cruise. Wow!), and truly in paradise, yet there are people who still choose to be miserable. I feel so sorry for them. And I refuse to become them.

I was trying to think about what I could possibly complain about if I chose to do so. What, that it rained on Saint Thomas and I had to miss a day of snorkeling? That I nearly lost my phone when the waterproof case I bought for it sank and got buried in the sand when it was advertised that it was supposed to float? That the sand I’ve been digging my feet into all week has destroyed my pedicure? That there are too many food options here, making it hard to decide what to eat next? That I was so enthralled with the comedian at the club onboard that I was late to the dance performance on the next stage that I had intended to go to? That I sleep so well in my pitch-black cabin to the gentle rocking of the ship and have turned my alarms off for the first time in a long time that I’m sleeping solid for 12ish hours each night without regret or disturbance and missing most breakfast options? Seriously, what does one have to complain about in the midst of such perfect leisure?

Clark did some research recently. He wanted to know what people were really saying about our business in comparison with some other shipping and storage options in our town. (I refuse to use the word “competitors,” as that makes it seem like we’re trying to compete with these other businesses. And we’re not. We don’t compete. We simply do our best and let others make their own decisions. If we were to “compete,” we would be entering into negative space, and one of our core missions is to stay positive.) Clark dove deep into subreddits to see real talk about our town and the shipping and storage options that are here. What he found was so incredibly encouraging! Other businesses (one in particular) had overwhelmingly negative chatter about them—some downright vile, one local student even making a hilarious video to air his frustrations. Uncle Marty’s, however, had nothing but positive, glowing things said in the local subreddits. I am so proud of my team who consistently do their best to make our guests have positive experiences. You see, we are grateful for each guest...and it shows.

I’ve timed this trip so that I return home on October 31st, and this year that day serves as the 10-year anniversary of the day I found out I had cancer: October 31, 2012. I’ve spoken of my experience before in blog posts, articles, and other writings, and won’t rehash my diagnosis, prognosis, and aggressive treatment here in this essay, but I will just say that the experience changed me forever. As I’ve reflected on that these past two weeks, I’ve experienced a whole new level of gratitude as a survivor and as a silver linings believer.

Gratitude combats misery. By living in gratitude for all of the wonderful things we have in our life and focusing on them—not on the lack that we can often perceive we have, but on the abundance of what we actually have—we can live happy, positive lives. It’s such a simple formula, yet so much of humanity is missing it. There is a lot of bad influence in our world—so much distrust, so much contempt, and so much animosity—that it’s easy to fall into a negative space. But, I believe that by simply being grateful for what and who we have in our lives, we can come out of that and learn to live better by the golden rule, treating others as we ourselves would want to be treated, loving our neighbors, embracing our differences, respecting one another and one another’s beliefs and decisions, and lifting each other up to make this world a better, more caring, and more loving place. Maybe I’m truly in vacation fantasy mode and this is just a pipe dream. But, no, I don’t think so. I think sometimes we just need to remove ourselves from our hustle and bustle to refocus, reset, and rejoice in what we have in order to move forward positively, and be a positive force in this world that needs it so much.


Marty Johnson is a shopkeeper, wordsmith, mentor, and survivor. He owns Uncle Marty's Shipping Office in Ithaca, New York, runs the Collegetown Small Business Alliance, volunteers as ex officio Director of Communication and Advisor to the Board for AMBC, and serves as Editor and Producer of MBC Today. Learn more at askunclemarty.com. #AskUncleMarty



...

Letter From the Editor published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 6 on November 4, 2022:

Dear Readers,

I shared a story with participants in the last AMBC certified professional packing course that I led in October. It was about an experience we had just had at Uncle Marty's Shipping Office and one that felt very pertinent to the course material.

You see, a few weeks prior we had shipped a piece of art for a guest. It wasn't anything seemingly unusual at the time, and in fact I wasn't even there when the guest was in or the shipment was packed and processed. My team are all trained and certified as AMBC Professional Packing Specialists, and we advertise that fact and have built a very successful and reputable profit center in packaging delicate things—particularly art. Anyway, this guest was in and shipped his art and it was all in a day's work at Uncle Marty's; my team took excellent care of both the guest and his artwork.

Then, a week or two later, the guest came back. He told us that he was the great-grandson of Christian Dior and the art he had shipped through us was an original Dior heirloom being sent to become part of a collection. He didn't tell us who he was at the time, nor how significant the art was, as he didn't want to call attention to it. He simply did his research, read our reviews, and decided that we were the best option to pack and ship his item. He was thrilled it got there in great shape, and thrilled with the level of care and professionalism he received.

As I shared this story with the certified packing course attendees on Zoom, I told them that we have a new internal motto at Uncle Marty's: treat every item as if it was a Dior heirloom, because you never know when it really will be!

We are in such a unique position in our industry. We go through our days taking care of our communities, neighbors, and guests. We know our regulars and we build reputations that are unmatched in our markets. We have listened to what AMBC has preached for years about relationship-based business versus transactional-based business and have worked hard to foster those ever-important relationships in many different corners. And, every now and then, we get to handle something incredibly special.

We make a difference. We're not just selling something or providing an arbitrary service, but we're actually problem solving for our neighbors and making their lives much easier; we were essential during the pandemic for a reason!

As the December mayhem approaches, keep in mind that this coming season is the best time to really seed and grow those so-important relationships. Treat each guest as if they were the great-grandchild of Dior, because they just may be. And treat everything they send as if it were the most precious heirloom. The care you show them and the respect you exude will come back to you in a multitude of ways.

Do your best. Be kind. Treat your guests like gold and your coworkers like the diamonds that they are. And don't forget to smile, smile, smile. In doing so, you'll ensure that 2023 will be set up to be its best.

Happy everything! May your holidays be merry, bright, and full of delight.

With care,

...

Letter From the Editor published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 5 on September 2, 2022:

Dear Readers,

I did something incredibly exciting last week: I hired my first manager!

Well, to be clear, I didn't hire fresh for this position, but rather promoted my longest-serving team member, Clark, to the responsibility after some good discussions with him on his goals, my goals, and how we could work together to continue to grow the business.

I am overjoyed! Already a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. It's only been a couple of days, but he's already taken over so much of the day-to-day that I would normally triage and manage, and he's even done a schedule for two months out and finagled a way for me to take two whole weeks off at the end of October—a first since I opened my doors 11 years ago. I've already booked a cruise and am eagerly anticipating laying on the ship's deck with no phone service, forced to simply lounge, read a book, and perhaps even take a nap. Oh, what a dream!

Putting this issue together, I got such a boost from Crysta's article: "Do You Know How to Hire Yourself Out of a Job?" It was spot on! I had just done this in promoting Clark—or, at least taken a step in that direction—and her words were reaffirming and encouraging.

Our teams are everything. At my business, I've been very grateful to have had continuous growth and this year have already smashed most of my previously-held records. It's exciting! Yes, as an entrepreneur it has taken very hard work and very long days, weeks, months, and years to get to this point, but eventually I've come to a place where I just may be able to take some deep breaths and step away for a minute while Clark and the rest of my team—Julie, Elijah, and Carter—take the helm for a bit. As Crysta points out, it takes trust and faith; letting go isn't easy, but it's essential if we want to continue to grow and also keep our sanity intact (or what's left of it, at least).

So, here's to the future, my friends! Here's to "letting go to grow" (a keystone phrase of Fahim's and the title of one of the classes he taught this year at AMBC's Meetup in Memphis event).

I'm so grateful for all of the contributors who have helped shape this issue of MBC Today. From our featured AMBC Trusted Supplier, GO Logistic, to our featured AMBC Members, the Shiras, the Draytons, and Andi Smith, to all those who have written in and shared tips, tricks, and photos of their uniforms for our first-ever MBC Today fashion spread.

MBC Today is your magazine, and we want to hear your voices in it. Please continue to send in ideas to marty@ambc4me.org and let us know how we can continue to sculpt this information-sharing venue to be what you need it to be.

As always, the AMBC team is here when you need us. You can reach out any time to Kim Galloway, AMBC Director of Operations, Brad Risch, AMBC Operations Executive, or any member of the AMBC board of directors. All contact information and bios are on ambc4me.org.

And I'm always here for you, too. Unless, of course, you reach out at the end of October...because then I'm going to be unabashedly out of touch, floating in the middle of the Caribbean, and working very hard on an epic tan.

With care,



Saturday, March 12, 2022

FedEx Feature Article

 

It's true my honor to have just been featured in the March edition of FedEx ShipSource® alongside my good friend Norman Froscher of Espresso Mail in West Palm Beach, Florida. We were interviewed by FedEx about how to grow a small business and attract other small businesses as clients using FedEx and other tools. The article, "6 tips from FASC pros to attract small businesses" is available at https://www.fedex.com/en-us/shipping/fedex-authorized-ship-center/shipsource/6-tips-to-attract-small-businesses.html.

This is the fourth time in the last 10 years I and my business have been featured by FedEx in their publication. It's an incredible honor and I am so grateful to be a top small business partner of FedEx, knowing that they care so much about small businesses and our success.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

January 2022 Letter From the Editor

I don't often publish my editorial letters on my blog, as their contents are usually quite specific to each issue of MBC Today that I work on, and catered toward the readers of the publication--fellow shipping store owners and managers, industry professionals, suppliers, and those interested in the retail mail and business center industry. However, this month I felt that my letter may have some value outside of the industry, so I wanted to share it here.

The following is my "Letter From the Editor" published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 1 on January 4, 2022:


Don't expect the unexpected. Let the unexpected expect you." - Kiara Maharaj


Dear Readers,

Life is full of surprises.

On December 21st, four days before Christmas and just 10 days before the new year, a client brought us some packing material to reuse and asked, "Hey, are you still going to be taking this stuff after the peanut ban goes into affect in January?"

I was in my office when this happened, so my coworker poked his head in and said, "Hey, do you know what this client was just talking about? He said there's a ban on packing peanuts in New York State staring on January 1st."

"That can't be right," I said, "why don't you google it to see what they're talking about. Surely someone would have let us know if that were the case."

Long story short, it was true. New York State was banning all expanded polystyrene (EPS) loose fill as of January 1, 2022.

I knew a couple of years ago that New York City was planning to ban single-use EPS, and I had disseminated that information in the AMBC certified packing classes I lead. I figured that if the city was banning it, eventually other municipalities or areas may be affected—including, I surmised, possibly New York State as a whole. But, I figured it would be a long time before that happened, and surely we'd have advance notice. Nevertheless, I wanted people to be aware of the possibility, as well as prepare for that eventuality at my own New York State business.

My team and I have always kept sustainability as a focus. It's written right into our mission statement at Uncle Marty's Shipping Office, and we're known in our community as the place to bring clean, dry, previously used packing material so it can be reused. After all, reuse is the best form of recycling.

For a few years now, we've even taken chunk pieces of what traditionally has been single-use EPS (coolers, electronics packaging, etc.) and have broken them down using a machine one of my coworkers made that has a hot wire grid to cut through and cube those big single-use chunks into smaller, reusable, roughly one inch cube pieces. The final product acts like loose fill, but is made from repurposed material, so we've dubbed it "ReFill"...and it's been a huge hit in our green-minded community! Such a hit, in fact, that my two-car garage is half full (seriously) of donated single-use EPS that we've been working on breaking down into ReFill, and every now and then I or one of my coworkers will spend an afternoon in my garage working on it.

We have made ReFill largely due to the knowledge that New York State may eventually ban single-use EPS material, and we assumed that by repurposing some of those bigger single-use pieces into smaller, reusable pieces, it would be making a difference. However, we had no idea that the ban would come so swiftly and without warning, nor that it would be on all EPS loose fill, whether new or repurposed, instead of on the larger single-use EPS pieces that we had been working so hard to convert into reusable ReFill.

Because I needed clarification and to state my case, I contacted the New York State department administering this ban. Their response is shared in part in the "Industry News" section of this issue of MBC Today. Indeed, they would prefer us to dispose of all of our existing EPS loose fill, including all peanuts, new or used, and also the ReFill that we make. There was no middle ground and no consideration for repurposed materials or recycling / reuse programs like the one my business has been so successful with in our community.

We're disappointed, as we have diligently been trying to make a green impact with the programs we've run, and our community has truly rallied behind them. Our ReFill program has been shared on local reuse listservs to the point where we've had to reduce our intake to "small household quantities" after trucks started showing up at our office full of EPS coolers that they wanted us to break down into ReFill. It's to the point where some colleagues and I have been starting the process to form an LLC, with hopes to manufacture economical hot wire grid foam cubing machines so more businesses could start ReFill programs in their communities. But now, instead of continuing with a program that we truly feel made a difference and was helping the root problem of reducing single-use EPS, we must cease from producing ReFill and dispose of any that we have in our possession after January 1st.

I refuse to throw the stockpile of EPS that I have out. I won't just put it in the landfill after working so hard to prevent that. And the "recycling centers" that New York State asks us to bring leftover EPS loose fill to after the ban takes effect are no where near where I am, and with so much ReFill stock in my garage the "mail in" option that they then suggest is laughably impractical. So, I'm now working with stores in neighboring states to have them come and get materials I have, in hopes that it can still be used by someone and not just thrown away. And we're not giving up on that LLC yet. Perhaps it could find a good home in another state where ReFill programs may still be possible and effective in reducing single-use EPS. 

To be clear, I do believe that, as a result of all of this, my business will be an even more sustainability-focused operation. That is a big part of our mission, after all. All of the last-minute mishigas aside, the end result and practices going forward will be better. I just wish we had warning and time to prepare. While we support the ban's good intentions, we scratch our heads at its hasty execution, absence of communication, and choice to permit large single-use EPS pieces while banning reusable loose fill. But, no one asked us.

So, why do I share all of this with you and take up two full pages of prime MBC Today real estate with a "Letter From the Editor" that traditionally should be short and sweet? (Though, all of you long-time readers know me all too well to ever think I would keep something short and sweet.) I share this story because I want you to know that sometimes life throws you a curve ball...and that's just life. As a survivor and someone who has overcome a number of other obstacles over the years, I once again want to show that a challenge isn't something to bring you down, but rather something to prove your resilience—an opportunity to pivot, grow, and come out again on top.

Please enjoy this issue of MBC Today, as it's once again full of great advice, inspiring stories, fresh ideas, and #MembersHelpingMembers guidance.

Pay close attention to what Crysta talks about in "Do You Know?" and how her story of adding more retail to her businesses has made a huge difference, and consider what it is that you could do differently or add to your business to make an impact.

Read about the two outstanding new AMBC Members that we're featuring in this issue, Kim Maxson and Jimmy and Michelle Costanzo, and be inspired by their business models, fresh insight, and unlimited potential.

Check out the AMBC Trusted Suppliers we share in ads and features. All of our vendors have been vetted and, as we are a non-profit, are shared and permitted to advertise because we believe in them, trust them, and know they'll make a difference to our fellow AMBC Members.

Please join me in congratulating Norman and Crysta on becoming our new Board Chair and Board Vice Chair, as well as welcoming our two new board members, David and Tom. Please also once again thank Fahim for his outstanding service as former Board Chair these past few years, and his willingness to stay on in an advisory ex officio position. We are so grateful for all of those who are taking on new positions, and especially those who remain tried and true in current roles like Barry, Steve, Mary, Kim, and Brad. We have the best team at AMBC, and it's my honor and privilege to be a part of it.

With care, 





Marty Johnson
Editor, MBC Today
Director of Communication & Advisor to the Board, AMBC
Owner, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office
Co-Founder & Facilitator, Collegetown Small Business Alliance
askunclemarty.com | #AskUncleMarty

 



 

Published in MBC Today Volume 24 Issue 1 on January 4, 2022. 
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