Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Next Chapter

The time has come to publicly and officially share some exciting news that I’ve been antsy to shout from the rooftops for a while: I’m selling my business!

Here’s a letter my coworkers and I will be sending soon to our clients, guests, and community, which should give some more details:





In addition to this letter, we’ll do a press release and other outreach to let everyone know that this sale is a very good thing. Clark and Codey Noel will take the Uncle Marty’s brand to the next level with some forward-thinking plans in the works, including a second location in downtown Ithaca, licensing and franchising opportunities for shipping stores in other areas that want to come on board with the brand, model, and systems, and an app currently in development that has some great potential to change the game for—and exponentially expand—one of our top profit centers. It’s exciting!

We’ll be having an open house on December 30th at Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office to celebrate, thank our outstanding community for their support, and toast to the bright future of the business. If you’re local and free to stop in for a few minutes that day, we’d love to see you!




In addition to selling Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, I’ll be stepping down from my formal director roles with the Collegetown Small Business Alliance (CSBA) and the Association of Mail and Business Centers (AMBC). I will, however, retain my editing contract with AMBC to continue to produce its magazine, MBC Today, and will advise and/or assist each organization upon request, as needed.

What’s next for me? I’ve committed to be around the first half of 2024 for an ownership transition period and to assist Clark and Codey Noel in May for the busy student move-out season, and to possibly manage while they go on their honeymoon at the end of June. After that, I hope to have my home in Ithaca sold and find a little place in lower, slower Delaware. Why Delaware? My parents and brother moved there years ago and it feels right for me to now head there too so I can be closer to them and to some of my wonderful cousins who live nearby. It may not be a permanent move, but for now it’s where my heart is telling me I should be.

Going forward, I hope to do more editing, consulting, and writing, continuing to grow my Ask Uncle Marty™ column. A close colleague and I also have a collaborative motivational podcast and coaching enterprise that we’ll be doing some test runs on soon. So, while I’ll officially be retiring from shopkeeper life, I certainly won’t be retiring from the hustle. I’ll just be much more flexible to work remotely from wherever my travels take me, be available to spend more time with family, and keep my options open for whatever lies ahead. As Clark often reminds me, I’m incapable of just sitting around, so even though the thought of taking it easy for a while is very tempting, I’m sure I won’t hibernate for long.

I’ll sure miss the Ithaca community that has been so good to me and faithfully supported my business as it has grown for the past 12-plus years from the quirky little shop around the corner that I ran mostly by myself—where every other guest would come in and say to me, “You’re not old enough to be an uncle!”—to the fully-staffed neighborhood anchor destination that has become Ithaca’s go-to trusted packing and shipping hub. If you’ll indulge my parental pride for a moment, I’ll mention that Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office was one of the first AMBC Certified Gold Stores in the country, has been featured in the FedEx ShipSource® publication four times (pretty sure that’s a record), and, what I’m most proud of, maintains a consistent and authentic five-star review rating on all platforms. As I mentioned in the letter we’ll share with clients and neighbors, our growth and recognition as a model business in our industry and community is a direct result of the truly caring professionals that I am proud to call my coworkers, all of whom plan to support Clark and Codey Noel the same as they have supported me. Just as I’ll miss our community, I’ll miss working alongside this crew every day even more; they mean the world to me and truly have become family.

As is the story of many entrepreneurs who invest everything they have into a project, hoping and trusting they can make something of it in lieu of a pension or other securities of a more traditional career path, I spent a number of years putting nearly every dime I netted (and then some) back into the business, commuting an hour each way six days a week for my first seven years, eating a whole lot of ramen with paychecks often non-existent, and investing time and heart waiting on each guest who came through the doors in order to build formidable relationships in the community and understand local needs in order to adapt services offered accordingly. I depended on my outstanding family to fill in the gaps by volunteering countless hours to help when I needed them. It was years before I started to grow a team and take any time off to speak of, and there certainly were some unforeseen challenges along the way.

The year after I opened, I faced my first major challenge when I was diagnosed with a super weird and very rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. One of the first questions I asked my oncologist wasn’t a traditional question you’d think a 33-year-old with a large tumor in his tonsil and an uncertain prognosis would ask, but rather I just said, “What about my business!? I can’t leave it to go through treatment.” That’s where my headspace was: obsessed with being at the office, making sure guests were taken care of, and non-negotiably finding a plan to stay open even when I’d have to be hospitalized on and off for months to get some of the strongest and most aggressive chemo that is given to cancer patients, as my cancer was one of the fastest growing ones there is (the fastest, according to the rare lymphoma specialist who took my case at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute). Thankfully, mercifully, and through abundant grace shown to me, I not only survived, but thrived. And while I was down and out, at my behest my then-retired mom and dad devotedly dug in and kept the business going…and growing.

A few years after my cancer battle, I faced another major challenge when construction crews, without warning, shut down our street and blocked access to my business for all pickup and delivery vehicles (which is obviously not ideal for a shipping store). They did this in May, smack dab during our busiest time of the year when students are moving out, and then kept the street shut down for the better part of two years while developers leveled much of the block across the street and built shiny new buildings. It was quite the hurdle, but somehow we found a way to navigate amidst the dust. Daily, my drivers had to drag carts full of packages (often through the gravel and dirt) to their trucks that had to park on other streets. I would often pick up shipments at clients’ homes after hours because they didn’t have a way to bring them to us because of the roadblock, and I advocated at City Hall for loading zones to eventually be cut into the construction site. I even befriended some construction workers who, out of kindness, would sometimes use their forklifts to get pallets of boxes to our door. Eventually, the shiny new buildings were built and the street was opened back up and, though some of my neighbors didn’t, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office survived…and continued to thrive.

And who could forget the major challenge faced by every business and individual just a few years ago during the pandemic. When it hit and the world started shutting down, we found ourselves classified as an essential business. The local health department had protocols we had to follow, which we gladly did to keep everyone safe, and so we worked every day in-store while most of the world contrastingly sheltered at home. The local universities shut down overnight and our busy student move-out season, which is traditionally a six-week period in May and June that peaks over Memorial Day weekend, got condensed into a few days in March of 2020 with no warning or ability to stock up on supplies. Students had to catch next flights home and leave their stuff behind, so with no other option I and my coworkers pivoted right away to add the service of going to students’ apartments, video chatting with them while we packed their belongings into boxes, and then put those boxes in storage, shipped them, or donated them. It was months of late nights and doing things we had never done before, while doing the things we had always done in different ways, but we survived. And, once again, thrived. In fact, during the pandemic our business boomed!

Facing, navigating, and overcoming challenges is the core story of business ownership. Like life, business is beautifully unpredictable, with chapters full of plot twists, ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, and speed bumps large and small. There are no guarantees, but if someone keeps turning the pages, keeps the goal in view, focuses on the abundance of positives amidst a few negatives, and tries really hard to keep the momentum going, they just may end up understanding more and more of the story as time goes on and, eventually, get to a very happy ending.

Reflecting on the past 12-plus years, I believe that different challenges the business faced have not only defined it, but they fortified it; they allowed it to understand the need to be flexible and adaptive, and to blossom where it was planted because of a cacophony of Ithacans who also believed in that little shop around the corner, its mission, and, for some crazy reason, that too-young-to-be-an-uncle fellow who was running it. And, when I finally started building a team, those same Ithacans embraced my beloved “work kids” too. On days I’m at the office now and come out of my back-office lair to visit with guests, instead of commenting that I look too young to be an uncle (those days are long gone), they see my name tag and say, “Wow! There’s really an Uncle Marty!?” and that makes me smile. I’ve hit my intention: created a business that I now run instead of it running me and built a brand and has transformed the always-up-front shopkeeper into the somewhere-in-his-office-unless-he-slept-in-again caricature founder. I know the time is right for the business to be passed on to its next caretakers. Systems are in place, a phenomenal team is in control, and the future is ripe with opportunities.

I can’t begin to express how surreal it all feels to have gotten to this point, how grateful I am, how excited I am, and how optimistic I am. There’s so much I want to share, do, see, experience, and explore, and there are so many things Clark and Codey Noel will do with Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office that I neither have the oomph to do, nor the young, creative mind to fully tackle. But they have oomph, youth, and creativity in abundance. It’s working out and our guts tell us it’s the right next chapter for each of us; we feel a lot of peace with this decision.

So, friends, that’s my big news, which I fully admit could be shared in just a short paragraph instead of this longer-than-your-great-aunt’s-Christmas-letter narrative. But I wanted to share some history, context, and hopefully some encouragement to others pouring their time and effort into a project they believe wholeheartedly in. Because this little shipping store I started in 2011 with the hopes of somehow eking out a living has become something that now will allow me to semi-retire at just 44 years old, which is unbelievable, and lend my time and energy to things that I feel drawn to dig deeper into. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m dang excited for it…and profoundly grateful for each beautifully unpredictable page and character that has led to this point.

If you have any interest, please subscribe to my newsletter at askunclemarty.com to receive periodic updates on new projects, articles, hopefully a podcast launch before too long, and more. And you can always follow me on socials @askunclemarty (Instagram and TikTok). Also, please show Clark and Codey Noel all the love you can by continuing to support them and the Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office brand expansion by visiting unclemartysoffice.com and following the socials they’ll soon take over @unclemartysoffice (Instagram) and @unclemartys (Facebook and TikTok).

Here's to the next chapter.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

The November/December 2023 Issue of MBC Today

The latest issue of MBC Today has just dropped. This is the magazine that I started writing for maybe 15 or so years ago when it was called MPC Today, and then after the industry shifted and many of the businesses in it changed from "mail and parcel centers" to "mail and business centers" to be more inclusive of what they actually do with printing, etc., the industry association changed its name and the magazine consequently did too, replacing the P for "parcel" with a B for "business."

Anyway, after writing for it for years, I started assisting the production person with proofreading. Soon, I took on the title of Editor and, after another year or so, when she retired, I started producing the magazine too. I created many regular columns, including my own Ask Uncle Marty advice column, MBC Funnies, Oops!, Lessons From the Archives, A Little Something Extra, Did You Know, and more, which are rotated through depending on available space in each issue I put together. I also added Shrimps, which are little nuggets of wisdom, recommendations, and inspiration peppered throughout the publication (and called "Shrimps" because that's what a long-ago association head, Charmaine, would call little bits of awesome that she'd interject or hand out at industry events, so that name is in honor and remembrance of all of the positive things she did for our industry).

Years later, I now do all of the production and editing, with some proofreading assistance from my team and advertising coordination assistance from colleagues. I set the magazine's production schedule, solicit submissions, work with featured businesses to share their stories, and do all of the layout, graphics, and formatting. I've learned a lot through the process and absolutely love this type of work. And the thought that for some reason this industry and its thousands of stores and shopkeepers have any interest in anything I have to say still kind of blows my mind. But, for some reason they do, and so I keep cranking it out.

I wanted to share the latest full issue of MBC Today (Volume 25 Issue 6) with you all here so you can see what keeps me out of trouble at night. I also want to remind the world that I'm always open to discuss the occasional editing and/or producing contracts, whether it's full publications like this or just the occasional eblast, bio, resume, article, blog post, website, or newsletter. I'm not cheap, but I'm efficient and meticulous...and, as you can see below, not too shabby at it. ;)

Click this link and see the full issue. Enjoy!



Friday, November 3, 2023

Days With Knight

Bobby Knight, legendary basketball coach, passed away on Wednesday, November 1st, 2023just two days ago. He had a reputation and was an oft-seen figure in the news, and I’ll admit I didn’t know him well, but he did have an impact on me that I’d like to share.

I’ve never been very athletic, nor have I ever had a penchant for sports. So, working in athletics wasn’t a place I imagined myself to ever be. But, after moving to Lubbock, Texas in 1999 to study business at Texas Tech University, a job opened up as a student assistant in the athletic department...and I jumped at it.

I had already studied a couple of years at Binghamton University, but instead of studying business my focus was initially on biology with pre-med intentions, then I switched to psychology for three semesters. While in Binghamton, my hometown, I continued to manage my parents’ three Pack & Mail stores, an industry I had been in since they opened their first in 1991. So, when I moved to Texas, my job at the athletic department was actually my first-ever job outside of the mail and business center industry (an industry I’ve found myself back in over and over again for well over 30 years now), and my first time considering a career in business instead of in the sciences.

One big reason for my move to West Texas was to be near my grandmother, whom my siblings, cousins, and I called “Mam-ma” (pronounced “ma’am-maw”) who lived in Lubbock. I had some other family there too, as well as some friends I had made from visiting there over the years. I was excited for the move and transfer, as I’ve always been a lover of adventure and change. I bought a pair of boots, made dear friends, found my tribe, and was able to take Mam-ma out on a shopping and dinner date every Tuesday—days I still treasure and remember fondly, gossiping over chicken fried steak at the local dive restaurant while she puffed on her Virginia Slims (back then, you could still smoke in restaurants in Texas), going to JC Penny to find the special brand of taupe pantyhose she preferred, playing Skip-Bo back at her apartment while we drank Coke from glass bottles that she opened with her old beer bottle opener, and snacking on her famous Frito pie made with the flattest Vidalia onions we could find while watching the Cowboys play, trying to spot my distant cousin Angie, one of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, in the lineup, Mam-ma using the wall calendar Angie had sent, signed by all the cheerleaders to “Dear Aunt Hullie” (as she was nicknamed by her niblings), as a visual reference to try to pick out which blonde dancer among them might be Angie.

While I technically did work for the Texas Tech Athletic Department, my primary responsibility was working in the Double T Shoppes, which, even though plural, when I arrived was just one store in a small building next to the football stadium. This was the football stadium of 1999, not the behemoth they’ve built since in its place, though still it was considerably more colossal than any stadium I had experienced in Binghamton. That’s for dang sure. Football is certainly a giant part of the culture in West Texas.

One thing that we did at the Double T Shoppes was merchandise concessions at all of the major sporing events. I also did merch concessions at non-sporting events, which is how I had my own private Elton John concert, a true story I shared on askunclemarty.com in April of 2017 (in case you want to go searching in the archives to read it). Anyway, for sports concessions we had satellite booths in the football stadium, baseball stadium, and old basketball arena. When I came there, Texas Tech was in the process of building a gigantic, shiny new basketball arena—the United Spirit Arena—and, when it opened, the old arena was eventually converted into the home of the Lubbock Cotton Kings, the first ice hockey team to come to West Texas, which was…let’s just say…entirely amusing to experience.

Inside the new United Spirit Arena, the Double T Shoppes opened its second full-on location and I got to be part of that store’s design and layout and on the team that got to open its doors for the first time to the public. It was exciting! It was right inside the main entrance to the arena, at the foot of the grand staircases, surrounded by glass, and absolutely beautiful.

Around the corner from our store in the arena were the offices for the Lady Raiders and Red Raiders management and coaching teams. Marsha Sharp, legendary Head Coach of the Lady Raiders, less than a decade past winning the national championship and still going strong, would be in and out often and usually wave while she walked by the store coming to and from her office. I liked her a whole lot.

Not long after we opened that location, news broke that Texas Tech was hiring a controversial new Head Coach for the men’s basketball team, the Red Raiders, which to this day I believe was in part to help them get attendance up at the new arena so men’s games could come up to somewhat par with the oft-sold-out popularity of the Lady Raiders games. Bobby Knight was going to come down from Indiana where he was making national headlines and move to Lubbock to be our new coach. It was a local (and national) media event that was very exciting to be in the middle of!

Before he arrived, my coworkers and I had t-shirts made to welcome him. See, in Indiana Coach Knight had been involved in an incident where he threw a chair at a player. It wasn’t cool. He had temper problems and I am in no way condoning that behavior. But, the chair had taken on a life of its own and, by the time he was coming to Texas Tech, was all over headlines. So, we capitalized on that and had an image of a chair on a shirt that just said “Welcome, Coach Knight” on it…and people ate it up! It sold out fast.

In my experience, Coach Knight turned out to be a very nice man, and his two sons who coached with him were also nice to be around. (Well, speaking frankly, one son was much more amiable than the other, but neither was completely unfriendly.) Like I mentioned in the beginning of this ramble, I didn’t know Coach Knight well, but he would wave like Coach Sharp from time to time and the good he did at the university during his tenure there as Head Coach was very worthy.

In 2001, as a going away present when I left the Texas Tech University Athletic Department, Coaches Sharp and Knight both signed a basketball for me. I treasured that ball for a few years, though eventually gave it away when I went into mission work in 2004 and downsized my life considerably.

Thank you, Coach Knight, for adding excitement to my life while I was in Texas and for being one of the first famous people I got to know in my younger years (aside from Coach Sharp, aside from my former Binghamton University theater castmate and friend, Ingrid Michaelson, who wasn’t famous at that time but is now, and aside from, of course, Elton John). And thanks for playing a part in getting this notoriously unathletic guy who didn’t have much interest in watching a game if there wasn’t a theatrical halftime show or a find-your-cousin challenge into one who enjoyed and somewhat followed college sports, even for just a little while. I left my comfort zone, learned a lot, became much more understanding and appreciative of a world that I didn’t often experience before, and made friends that I certainly may not have encountered otherwise.

Rest in peace, Coach.

AMBC4ME

For many years now, it has been my sincere privilege to serve as a director with the Association of Mail & Business Centers (AMBC). 

I had actually worked on staff when it was called AMPC (Association of Mail & Parcel Centers) as Director of Member Store Marketing and Director of its flagship store, Mailboxes & Parcel Depot, in 2010-11 when I lived in Rockford, Illinois. I had gone to Rockford as a consultant hired by AMPC to help get their flagship store in shape. I lived in a hotel for three months while I worked on the store, switched their software, deep cleaned, painted, fired the manager with a poor attitude who was hurting business, hired a new manager with an upbeat and positive attitude, put new systems in place, got new products and services aligned, and within three months turned a profit that hadn't been seen in quite a while. They liked what I did so much that they hired me on...and so I stayed in Rockford for a while.

Then, in preparation to open my own business in 2011 in Ithaca, New York, I left AMPC, it soon transitioned into a non-profit and changed its name, and then I was asked to join the initial non-profit board of directors at AMBC as a store owner and member. I started on that board as Secretary and Director of Marketing and eventually became Board Chair and Director of Communication. After fulfilling two terms on the board, no longer able to serve as a voting member due to term limits, I volunteered to continue on as an ex officio non-voting director and also serve as official Advisor to the Board. 

And now, after many years of service, it's time for me to officially step down and just be available as an unofficial advisor, as needed, and help when requested at in-person and online and seminars as a speaker or instructor. I will still continue as Editor and Producer of AMBC's magazine, MBC Today, as that has been my pet project and a position I hold as a contract outside of my volunteer service to the board. All of this is in preparation for some very exciting career news that I hope to share with you all next week. 

Until then, here are some excerpts from the issue of MBC Today (Volume 25 Issue 6) that I just finished today that talk a little bit about that transition. This issue will officially drop in a day or two, but my readers here at askunclemarty.com are getting a sneak peek of my editorial letter, as well as the current Board Chair Norman Froscher's message that contains kind words that have meant the world to me. 

Enjoy!

Letter From the Editor

Dear Readers,
 
On behalf of my fellow former AMBC Board Chair Fahim and myself, I want to express our profound gratitude for the opportunity to serve this important, forward-moving organization. As Norman mentions in his letter, we both will be stepping down from our official director and board advisor roles on January 1st, but will of course continue to participate in the organization, help as needed at events, share stories and advice in our own coaching and in MBC Today, and I'm going to keep editing and producing this magazine, a task I thoroughly enjoy and can't wait to keep growing, so you really won't be getting any breaks from either of us talking at you anytime soon.
 
Truly, it has been our honor and privilege to serve in leadership positions with AMBC for many years now and, as Fahim often reminds me, seeing the current board of directors thriving and growing our organization warms our hearts, almost with a parental type of pride. It's awesome. We are so proud of each who volunteers and gives so much time, energy, and heart to guide this group, with special accolades to Norman for his years of tremendous service as current Board Chair, Crysta as Vice Chair, Steve as Treasurer, Mary as Secretary, and Tom, David, Ayden, and Tommy as board members each serving an important role.
 
As Norman mentions in his letter, 2023 was a very good year for AMBC with three very successful events. For myself, it was also a very good year with my business continuing to grow and some exciting projects and opportunities that are looking hopeful to come to fruition in 2024, more about which I hope to be able to announce in a couple of weeks. I've got a big ol' trick up my sleeve, so stay tuned!
 
This year-end issue of MBC Today is, once again, packed full. Please read it in its entirety and share it with your coworkers so all can benefit from its inspiring content. As this is the November / December edition, per tradition we'll be mailing it not only to all of our current AMBC Members, but also as a special gift to all of AMBC's contacts, including former members, prospective members, and friends of our non-profit organization. If you're getting this magazine only once per year, please visit ambc4me.org and check out the benefits of membership, then log in to see your current membership status. We sometimes find that folks who get our eblasts and follow our social posts may not realize that they're not actually current AMBC Members and are missing out on so many of the other benefits of membership, including the other five issues of MBC Today that we send out each year. If you have trouble, email hello@ambc4me.org and Kim or Brad will get you set up.
 
I hope you're utilizing one very important benefit of AMBC membership: access to decades worth of MBC Today archives in the members-only section of ambc4me.org. I like to look back at them every November to check out each year-end issue's holiday preparation content, which helps get my store ready for the December rush and reminds me of little things that I might have otherwise forgotten to do to gear up for it.

Please plan to join AMBC in Vegas in March. It's gonna be spectacular with class upon class of great content (as you've come to expect from AMBC events), workshops, fun activities, some of the best networking at any industry event you'll ever attend, a trade show, and, as always, meals that you won't want to miss.
With care,
Marty

A Message From the AMBC Board Chair

Dear Fellow AMBC Members,

As we draw to a close in 2023 and prepare for what’s hopefully an exciting and profitable holiday shipping season, I wanted to look back briefly on this year before focusing on 2024 and the future of AMBC.

We changed our approach to our conventions and instead of trying to do one all-encompassing event, focused on smaller, more intimate regional events. We limited the attendance and narrowed the agenda to be more specific. Our 2023 regionals started off with Mailboxes and Mochas hosted at my store, Espresso Mail, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in February. In June, we had an amazing Paper and Pallets event in Springfield, Ohio, hosted at Steve Dick's store, Box King. And we finished the year strong with Retail and Relationships in September, hosted at Seema and Fahim Mojawalla's store, Island Ship Center, in Niagara Falls, New York. The response and feedback from the attendees at these events was very positive. With a variety of instructors, classes, and settings, the regionals as singular events were outstanding in themselves; together, under the AMBC tent, they showed the strength of our organization.

Preparations are well in hand for our next event in March 2024 in Las Vegas. Not only has it been several years since we’ve had an event on the West Coast, but we’re also adding something new to our event mix: piggybacking with ASD Market Week (asdonline.com), touted as "the most comprehensive trade show for retail merchandise in the United States," which will be happening next door to our hotel that same weekend. The combination of an outstanding agenda and the opportunity to attend that event too promises to be a week that will bear fruit for your stores for years to come. Don’t gamble on missing this event. (See what I did there?)

As 2023 ends, our former Board Chairs Fahim Mojawalla and Marty Johnson will be transitioning out of their official advisor and director roles with AMBC. On behalf of the industry, AMBC, the current board of directors, and as a mentee of both of these outstanding people, I want to offer my sincere thanks and appreciation for everything they’ve done for our industry. They truly embody the #membershelpingmembers spirit. Their sacrifice and volunteering have set an example the rest of us on the board can only hope to emulate going forward.

In addition to the Las Vegas event, we’ve got some very exciting things in the works for our membership. We’ll continue to improve our industry-leading training, both in-person and online. And since you’re reading this, you’re already enjoying our industry’s leading magazine.

Here’s hoping your holiday shipping season is the best. Looking forward to seeing you in Las Vegas in March.

Thanks as always for your trust,
Norman

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Go Forth and Cookiefy

I want to share another editorial letter from my archives with you, as I'm sure I'll be doing plenty over the next few months in my attempt to dig through countless articles and letters I have that were never shared on this site. This letter was published in the March / April edition of MBC Today (volume 25 issue 2) on March 2, 2023. It's about cookies. And relationships. And lots of warm fuzzies. Enjoy!

Letter From the Editor

Dear Readers,

I buy a lot of cookies. But, because I'm sugar-free, I don't eat them. Instead, I've been giving them away at my shop.

We started this long ago, celebrating birthdays and workiversaries of team members with cookies, cupcakes, or some other sweet treat, and instead of just getting a few for ourselves, we got a bunch and gave them out to guests who visited on those days. In December, we often load up on Christmas cookies to give away on a pretty platter at our front counter. And now, just for funzies once in a while, I or one of my coworkers (usually Julie) will pick up a batch of cookies, cannoli chips, muffins, or chocolates to sweeten up guests who visit on any random day we feel the whim to make sweeter.

We now have a dedicated treat tray (with a sealing lid for sanitary purposes) for this, as it's become such a regular practice. Just today, we had a guest in, who I hadn't met before, and after offering him a cookie, he said, "I was offered a cookie last time I was in here. Is that something you always do!?" He was so impressed.

Giving people treats does wonders to keep our guests in great moods; they literally leave with a good taste in their mouths. Guests remember the experience and it makes an impression that they tell their friends and family about, continuing the word-of-mouth grassroots marketing that we have built our business on.

I recently spent some time with my cousin's stepson, Devon. He has a powerwashing business and is doing so well at it that, even with a couple of employees, he's able to take most of the colder months off and sustain the whole operation with booming demand in warmer months. He's clearly doing something right. So, I asked him...

What is it that he does differently that keeps his clients coming back again and again, and recommending his services to their friends and neighbors? He simply said that he makes sure he and his coworkers all take extra time to ensure jobs are done right, and done more thoroughly than anyone else would do them. He always likes to do a little extra on each job too—something the client didn't ask for and didn't expect, so they feel they got more than they paid for and were special. And to that, Uncle Marty shouts a hearty, "Amen!"

Devon went on to tell me that when he was young, he used to go to the bank with his dad and they always gave him a Tootsie Roll. He remembered that experience so clearly that now, as a nearly-30-year-old with a successful small business of his own, he still banks at that same bank because they proved to him that they're in the business of relationships.

As I put together this issue and read through Ayden's article, "The Postmarked Story," I sure noticed that he mentions the Hershey Kisses he gives out to guests. Ayden gets it, and I guarantee those Kisses are a key part of his relationship-building strategy. Please glean all you can from his story. It's an important one!

We're all mourning the loss of AMBC Member, friend, and colleague, Bellenda, and you'll see a tribute to her on page 11 of this issue. One thing that always stood out to me about her was her bubbling-over-with-joy spirit. She lit up a room! And I can guarantee that every guest and client who walked through the doors of Pack 'N' Mail in Warrensburg felt the same. She knew exactly what it was to build relationships and keep people coming back again and again.

Are you in the business of relationships? I hope so. I sure am. Devon sure is. Ayden sure is. Bellenda sure was. My peers on the AMBC Board of Directors sure are. And AMBC Members who follow the relationship model constantly and consistently show how it does wonders for our growth as small businesses.

How do you get started on this path of relationship-based business? Read this issue of MBC Today cover to cover, because AMBC's mantra and focus is relationships, relationships, relationships. Also, please attend one or more of the upcoming AMBC regionals to see first-hand how the relationship masters do it.

And then, go buy some cookies and start giving them out. It works. I promise!

With care,
Marty

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Tried and True Hiring Advice

Hiring is a topic that readers often submit questions to my Ask Uncle Marty column about. Business owners and managers have always struggled with finding the right people, and many also struggle with retaining those people once they've come on board.

I've addressed this in a number of columns, and I'm sure will continue to do so in the future. One thing I've always shared is how I very rarely will advertise the fact that I'm looking for new people. Primarily, I prefer to ask my current team if they know anyonefamily, friends, connectionswho would be a good fit. A recommendation from someone I already know and trust, and who knows my business inside and out, is the best recommendation in my eyes. 

If my team doesn't have anyone in mind, then sometimes I'll put up a sign on my door that simply says, "accepting applications." Why not "we're hiring" or "help wanted?" Because those are too desperate-sounding and may attract the wrong people, however an "accepting applications" wording is more discerning and will attract people who expect to compete for the job and not just have one handed to them.

Why on my door and not online? Because I want people who are already in my shop to be the first to apply. Those are the people who know what we do...and, more importantly, appreciate what we do because they're already clients. They know the value and therefore can sell the value.

On the very rare occasion that we just can't find someone through the aforementioned means, I might do a blog post or online search. But, I'm very careful with the wording. I came across the following post we did a couple of years ago when we were looking for a manager at the shop. Maybe its wording will be helpful to you when creating your own.

Remember the old adage passed down to me from my mom and that I've always shared in my coaching and teaching: "Hire the smile; train the skills." A team member's willing attitude and positive demeanor is exponentially more important than any degree, background, or on-paper skillset in almost any circumstance and/or enterprises.


Growing Collegetown Business Taking Applications

Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office continues to grow, and we’re currently accepting applications. We hope to hire some new associates with the potential for one to develop into a full-time store manager for our Collegetown shop.

Previous experience in packing, shipping, storage, printing, or mailbox rental—our core services—is not required; we’ll provide training in those areas. What matters most is a warm, welcoming personality, a kind, respectful attitude, a willingness to adapt as the business grows in an ever-changing industry, and, above all, the ability to take care of our valued guests and clients with the level of consistent and exceptional service that they expect at Uncle Marty’s.

Salary and benefits will be discussed with each candidate on an individual basis, depending on what you bring and learn, responsibilities, experience, and added value. Our goal is to not only be fair, but to ultimately be a steppingstone for someone’s future life and career goals. Permanent, year-round Ithaca residents are preferred, as we hope for a long-term arrangement.

We can usually be flexible with schedules, however our busy season when we need all team members available is during local university finals and student move-out weeks in May and December. Candidates must be able to commit to being available during the May moving season (including all day on Memorial Day, our busiest day of the year after Cornell’s graduation), as well as the couple of weeks leading up to December holidays when we experience another busy time.

We encourage anyone interested to first check out our site at unclemartysoffice.com to read our mission statement on the home page and learn about our current team and services, and also take a look at our socials (Instagram @unclemartysoffice) to see more about who we are and what we do. Then, if you want to apply to join our team, please do so with our online application, email hello@unclemartysoffice.com to request an application as a PDF, or stop into our Collegetown location at 206A Dryden Road in Ithaca to snag an application in person.

Let’s grow together!


Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Power of Relationship-Based Business

I want to share the editorial letter I wrote for the November / December 2021 edition of MBC Today (volume 23 issue 6). Following it, I'll share an article that was published in the same edition that I co-wrote with my dear friends and colleagues, Seema and Fahim. This is the article referenced in one of the Ask Uncle Marty letters that I shared in yesterday's from-the-archives post.

The message of relationship-based business practices is something Seema, Fahim, and I have been pushing in our coaching and consulting for years, and something that we've been also promoting heavily through our work with the non-profit AMBC (Association of Mail & Business Centers) for which all three of us are all former board members; Fahim and I are also former board chairs, currently serving as official advisors to the board and ex officio Director of Motivation and Director of Communication, respectively).


...


Letter From the Editor

 

"What if the only things we woke up with tomorrow
were the things we expressed gratitude for today?"

Dear Readers,

I've seen and heard the above quote mentioned a few times in different places and different iterations, but can't find where it was first said. Most recently, I read a version of it in Jim Kwik's book, Limitless, which Fahim recommended in a recent issue of MBC Today. Regardless of its origin or exact phrasing, the quote has power. Gratitude is so important. Gratitude reminds us of what truly has value.

Speaking of gratitude, Thanksgiving will be here before we know it, and then the holiday rush will be in full swing. Are you ready for it? I've been connected to this industry for over 30 years, with plenty of holiday shipping seasons under my belt, and I have a gut feeling that this year will be entirely unique. I don't know exactly what to expect (other than to expect the unexpected), but I do know that it's essential that we get ready early and make it the best it can possibly be!

One of the best holiday preparation tips I've heard this year is to order early. Get the supplies you'll need to make it through the holiday shipping rush in hand as soon as possible. With supply chain issues all over the news and their effects very real on our own pending back orders, sourcing frustrations, and feelings of still-in-this-pandemic angst, there's a very good chance that ordering at what you in other years may think is a normal time will in fact be ordering too late. Make sure you have enough thermal labels, receipt paper rolls, tape, boxes, bags, and bubblepack in back stock before the bustling busy season begins.

Send your business's holiday cards as soon as possible so your clients and contacts know you're thinking of them. Decorate early. Blast those festive tunes. Brighten your neighborhood with sparkly displays and colorful lights and spread holiday cheer in your stores with warmth, kindness, and abundant gratitude.

Thank your guests and clients for their loyalty and support through the past nearly two years of trying times. Thank your teams for continuously doing their best to show up and work with you, despite what challenges they may be facing at home or school. Thank your family and friends for their patience with you as you've navigated recent uncertainty. And thank yourself for not giving up, but instead buckling down, pivoting, and growing through it all.

Please enjoy this issue of MBC Today. It's chock full of important articles, reminders, ideas, and stories that speak to gratitude and the relationship-based business model that we push at AMBC. We remain so grateful for all those who submit content, and for all of you who take the time to read this publication cover to cover...and then implement what you've gleaned from it in your businesses and lives.

As this is the November / December MBC Today issue, per tradition we'll be mailing it not only to all of our current AMBC Members, but also as a special gift to all of AMBC's contacts, including former members, prospective members, and friends of our non-profit organization. If you're getting this magazine only once per year, please visit
ambc4me.org and check out the benefits of membership, then log in to see your current membership status. We sometimes find that folks who get our eblasts and follow our social posts may not realize that they're not actually current AMBC Members and are missing out on so many of the other benefits of membership, including the other five issues of MBC Today that we send out each year. If you have trouble, email hello@ambc4me.org and Kim or Brad will get you set up.

I'm really excited to see all of you in Memphis next June! It's been so long since we've been able to have an in-person event and we're gearing up to make AMBC's Meetup in Memphis an outstanding four days of awesomeness, networking, education, and enjoyment. There are so many new AMBC Members to meet and so many old friends to catch up with. I can't wait!

With care and gratitude,
Marty 


...


The Power of Relationship-Based Business

by Seema Mojawalla, Fahim Mojawalla, and Marty Johnson
 
Earlier this fall, on Boss’s Day, Seema, Fahim, and Marty met for a long-overdue dinner. It was the first time the trio had all been together since the pandemic hit and, as they feasted on dish after dish of amazing Turkish food, they talked about their families, friends, businesses, teams, challenges, hopes, and opportunities. As the evening went on, and as their conversations often tend to do, they focused on what they agree to be the be-all, end-all key to their entrepreneurial successes and future growth: a relationship-based business model.
 
The opposite of relationship-based business is transactional-based business. This is exactly what it sounds like: maximizing the dollar you’re able to get out of someone before they eventually go somewhere else, or, perhaps less cynically, simply seeing each person who comes through your doors as a customer—a transaction, a number, or someone whose name you don’t need to remember because you really don’t care how their experience was or what they say, think, or do next. While the transactional-based business model is all too common and might lead to temporary financial gain for some, it’s not sustainable for the long run. It’s also not going to provide the true success—as in going to bed content that you’ve done the right thing and made a positive impact—that a relationship-based business model will.
 
Seema, Fahim, and Marty have been teaching and preaching a relationship-based business model for years in their coaching, in their writing, in their classes, in industry forums, and with their teams. Growing the right relationships is essential to thriving in the 21st century business world. So important, in fact, that they wanted to highlight the message once again with some examples from their own experience to show just how valuable positive relationships are.
 
Schenectady, Scotland, and a Singer
This past summer, an energetic retired couple walked into Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office toting a heavy antique Singer sewing machine. They had just driven almost three hours across Upstate New York to get to Ithaca from Schenectady, based solely on a recommendation from a friend of theirs that Uncle Marty’s was going to give them the best service and packing expertise that they could find anywhere. The Singer machine was very important to them and needed to be packed as safely as possible, then shipped to their daughter in Scotland.
 
When they arrived and told the Uncle Marty’s team that they had come so far for their service, the team was incredibly touched. And amazed. And humbled. And frankly flabbergasted! Of course, the team did their absolute best packing job on it and the couple’s daughter in Scotland was thrilled when she got it safe and sound. Do you know who recommended Uncle Marty’s to that couple? It was Marty’s former competitor, Joanne.
 
The word “competitor” is used to give some context, but that term really doesn’t apply in this situation. Before Joanne retired and left the industry last year, she and Marty were more compatriots than competitors. Joanne owned an independent shipping store in the same town, just about a mile away from Uncle Marty’s, and their businesses indeed overlapped on a number of core services. They gave each other space, tried to respect each other’s core strengths and territories, and through it all knew they could count on each other for a little boost, advice, recommendation, or—in a pinch—a bag of peanuts. They never bad-mouthed or attacked one another, and instead built a mutually beneficial relationship. When she retired, Joanne recommended Uncle Marty’s to her friends, family, and clients. It was an outstanding act of grace and kindness, and Marty will be grateful for the snowball effect of that mass endorsement for years to come. And, of course, for telling her friends from Schenectady the best way to get their Singer to Scotland.
 
Customers Guests
Seema and Fahim don’t allow bad words to be spoken at their store. They don’t use them in their own conversations, they don’t allow their team to use them, and they try their best to limit their guests from using them. It’s a simple choice that makes the environment at their business, Island Ship Center (ISC) in Grand Island, New York, a more positive, inclusive, non-offensive, and welcoming place. Do you know what one of the most-banned bad words at ISC is? It’s the word “customer.” And why is that a bad word? Well, “customer” refers to a transaction—an exchange of money for goods or services with not much deeper value to the interaction or relationship than that.
 
Instead of “customer,” the ISC family uses the word “guest,” because a guest is someone you invite, welcome, appreciate, go out of your way to accommodate, and try to get to know. A guest is someone you value and want to show your gratitude for. A guest understands that they’re in someone else’s space, and their behavior reflects that understanding just as the ISC family’s behavior reflects the understanding that guests are to be welcomed at ISC just as they’d be welcomed at anyone’s home, with warmth and smiles.
 
Another word choice that Seema and Fahim make is that team members at ISC are referred to as members of the “ISC family,” not just “employees” or “team members.” It’s another simple vernacular shift that makes a huge difference in individuals’ feelings of value and worth, and in others’ understanding of what type of relationships are important in their company culture.
 
Rosie’s Wonders
Marty met Rosie at a gift show a number of years ago. She had a booth selling her delightful line of greeting cards, Rosie’s Wonders. Marty loved her line and ordered a small tabletop display, picking out his favorite styles to sell at his shop. The quality of the cards was great and he thought they’d appeal to his market, adding more flavor to his catered, hand-selected mix of unique and hard-to-find greeting cards that Uncle Marty’s has become well known for.
 
In very short order, the display and cards arrived…and they did quite well. Eventually, when they dwindled on the display, the remnants were mixed into Marty’s big wall of cards so that the floor space in his small shop could be freed up for another new line, continuing the cycle of change and fresh product that is essential to any retail operation.
 
Rosie’s Wonders and Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office’s business accounts followed each other on Instagram, and every now and then a like would pop up between the two. It was a relationship of appreciation that was established years ago and continues to this day. Then, this past summer, Rosie sent a hand-written postcard (of her own design, of course, and consistent with her distinctive brand), checking in, saying hi, expressing genuine, heartfelt gratitude for that now-years-ago initial order, and offering a discount code in case Marty wanted to do a reorder.
 
Marty was so impressed! What a shining example of relationship-based business! Of course, he hopped right onto rwcards.com and placed an order for more styles, appreciating some of the new designs Rosie recently released. Right away, Rosie sent a note of thanks for that order and the cards arrived in just a few days—accompanied by an Instagram post sharing with both her and Marty’s audiences that they had been shipped, which Marty reciprocated with a post after they were received.
 
Border Blocks and Buffalo Bills
Like most businesses, Island Ship Center (ISC) was dramatically affected by the pandemic. Being seven minutes from the Canadian border, ISC has many mailboxes (virtual and physical) for their Canadian guests. Fahim, Seema, and their entire team have personal relationships with every mailbox holder at ISC; they even purchased a separate iPhone in January 2021 to keep in touch with every mailbox and package holding guest via text message, making it easy to connect and follow up with their needs. As a result, they’ve seen an increase in their international shipping (specifically to Canada) by 35% in the past year; many clients who were frequenting other businesses for their mailbox needs switched to ISC’s mailbox and package holding services based on this relationship model and ISC’s service flexibility.
 
Many U.S.-based clients rely on Seema and Fahim's shipping services based solely on their reputation for excellence and their social media presence, which concentrates on their relationships with clients and their team. One such guest is Sandy from South Carolina, a delightful woman who was originally from Buffalo and had moved to the south to retire. She is a devout Buffalo Bills fan and even has a coveted, signed Jim Kelly football as part of her treasures. When she visited her son recently in the Buffalo area, she picked up all her Buffalo Bills belongings and brought them to Island Ship Center, refusing to take them with her on the plane. She knew that Fahim and Seema would pack and ship her items to her home in South Carolina safely and with much care. When the items arrived, she texted them with glee, “Everything arrived safely, and a day before I was expecting them. You are the best. Thank you so much!” 
 
Happy feelings like this are what is created from a relationship-based business—one that prides itself on empathy and collaboration. In the end, the transactions are also much greater! ISC is growing its print, mailbox, packing and shipping model gracefully and regularly every month as a result of focusing on guest-centric relationships. 
 
Cut Out Negativity
Positive relationships are essential, but keep in mind that some people just aren’t going to be your people...and that’s okay. There are jerks, egomaniacs, and all kinds of unkind, selfish people in this world. While you can’t always avoid them completely, you don’t have to give them any more of your time, effort, or emotion than absolutely necessary.
 
There are times when forming a positive relationship will just be flat-out impossible, and occasionally positive relationships can turn sour. If you find a connection you have with a person, business, or organization has become something that drains you, hurts you, breaks your trust, goes against your code of ethics, or stresses you out too much, do your best to cut it off and let it be.
 
Since 2017, Marty, Fahim, and Seema have met up in Toronto each fall to attend a summit—a multi-national gathering of entrepreneurs, business leaders, thought provokers, artists, authors, and influencers. There, they’ve learned from amazing minds like Lisa Nichols, Elizabeth Gilbert, Daymond John, Haben Girma, Lewis Howes, Jim Kwik, Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, and dozens of other speakers and attendees. They’ve taken countless pages of notes and applied lessons learned to their personal lives and businesses many times over. The summit has always been a favorite event of theirs and something they valued so much that they upgraded their registrations for the 2020 event.
 
When the 2020 summit was postponed until 2021, and then again until 2022, eventually landing on a weekend when the trio could not attend, it became apparent that something within the organization that hosts the summit had changed. Not only had the re-rescheduled summit been moved to a difficult weekend when many people would not be free, but there was now a strict no-refunds policy on prepaid registrations for attendees who could not make the new date.
 
It was a shocking policy. Whether the event’s hosting organization changed hands or they just had a dramatic shift in mindset and heart is unclear. But whatever the cause, the organization had clearly taken a major wrong turn from a relationship-based business model to a transactional-based one, and that was not only unacceptable, but went against the principles Marty, Fahim, and Seema had so gainfully gleaned from the positive, forthright speakers the summit had hosted in years past. Disappointed, the trio had to write it off, unfollow, unfriend, and unsubscribe from the organization…and just let it be.
 
In Summary
Relationships are found in all areas of business. We build them with our coworkers and teams, with our suppliers, with our carriers, with our drivers, with our communities, with our fellow entrepreneurs, with our neighbors, and with our clients and guests. Like most good things, relationships often start simply with a smile, a kind word, a show of faith, or a little encouragement. Once established, they may take some care to nurture, require a little more effort to build, and then come full circle when they get to the point of trust, advocacy, and genuine care for each other’s best interests. Really, it all boils down to the golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself. With this simple formula, you have nowhere to go but up.
 
Volumes could be written with countless examples of how time and effort invested in forging positive relationships can lead to significant business growth. It’s something Seema, Fahim, and Marty see every single day, without fail. Extra care for a neighbor shipping a piece of artwork can lead to an auction client from whom you bill nearly six figures annually. Upbeat participation in some committees at City Hall can lead to winning a printing bid for the entire gamut of city officials’ business cards, and eventually the municipality’s banners, signs, and custom stationery. Doing your best on a small printing job for one university department’s administrator can open the door to being the go-to printing and shipping solution for dozens of other departments, and eventually earning the business of the university president herself.
 
There are a number of ingredients to successful positive relationships, including respect, empathy, understanding, trust, and gratitude. Each ingredient is very important; when one is missing, the formula isn’t complete and the magic isn’t wholly there. When you start frequently hearing things like “I hear you’re the place to come to” and “I couldn’t get over how many five-star reviews your business has” and when you start receiving thank you cards and emails from clients and guests who are just so impressed by the experience they had that they had to express their gratitude, then you know you have the magic. This is the sweet spot. This is when a business is on its way to becoming a true success.


Friday, October 20, 2023

Ask Uncle Marty™ Archives: The Security Question & Tell Them Uncle Marty's Sent You

The following two Ask Uncle Marty™ letters were published in the November / December 2021 edition MBC Today (volume 23 issue 6) on November 2, 2021. Though they're written in response to questions asked by shipping store owners, the basic concepts of setting a non-negotiable standard when it comes to security and safety, as well as taking the high road when competition tries to take your spirit, can be applied to nearly any business. Enjoy!
...

The Security Question

Dear Uncle Marty,

I've seen you mention a "security question" before in Ask Uncle Marty and maybe in an article or two you've written elsewhere. What do you mean by that? Is it something I should be asking at my store?
 
Sincerely,
Still Kinda Green in Greenville

Dear Green,

Absolutely! Asking a security question is very important when screening shipments coming across your counter, including both drop-offs and paid shipments.

It's not just any old question. It's actually an official security question—
the security question, if you will—that has been prescribed by the United States Postal Service and required of all USPS Approved Shippers to ask each client, each time.

From the USPS Dangerous Goods & Export Compliance Awareness Training (DGEC) required to be understood and signed off on by all USPS Approved Shippers, the "standard HAZMAT question" (or, what I like to call "the security question") that must be asked for each package accepted is:

"Does this parcel (item, article) contain anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous such as lithium batteries, mercury, or perfume?"*

Years ago, when this requirement first came out, the USPS sent secret shoppers to check on their USPS Approved Shippers to make sure the question was asked. I got secret shopped twice at my shop, and after I aced the challenge both times, a local USPS manager (who was himself the secret shopper) told me that I was the only business he had visited that got it right. It solidified my outstanding relationship with my local Post Office and Postmaster as a trusted partner of theirs, and not a liability.

We have this question laminated by each monitor at each station at Uncle Marty's Shipping Office. We ask it to everyone, regardless of carrier or drop-off / paid shipment status. Asking it is non-negotiable. Our team knows it by heart, and many of our regular clients do too. In fact, Daniel, who drops off USPS boxes nearly every day (he has a sneaker reselling business that must do very well) gets a kick out of reciting it back to us each time he drops things off.

Because we ask the security question, we're able to screen packages better. We're alerted to liquids and can inspect each liquid shipment for proper packing at that point, as well as screen for any prohibited liquids. We're also alerted to lithium batteries and can then screen to make sure those shipments are packaged appropriately and sent correctly. And we're alerted to anything fragile and other things that may be red flags so we can address them proactively. As a result, I am very proud to say that Uncle Marty's has probably one of the lowest damage claim rates in our industry. Not only does our team screen well, we also take initiative to take action once we're alerted to any potential problems up front to provide repacking service and get everything to its destination safely.

After we ask the security question and the transactions or drop-off interactions are complete, we have each guest and client sign a disclaimer. It prints on the bottom of any shipment transaction receipt or drop-off receipt through our POS, and we're able to edit it. Our disclaimer reads:

"I, the undersigned, understand and am abiding by the terms and conditions posted in this store and on unclemartysoffice.com. I confirm that none of my articles contain anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous, such as lithium batteries, mercury, or perfume, or that any such articles have been declared."

This signed receipt protects us and confirms that, should a problem arise, we've done our due diligence to make our clients aware of our terms and conditions (check them out at
unclemartysoffice.com/terms-and-conditions/).

So, yes, I highly recommend asking the security question not only because it's required by the USPS, but also because it's just good business. The additional repacking service you'll sell will be well worth the few seconds asking the security question takes at each interaction, and the headaches it saves on the back end are priceless.

Ship safely,
Uncle Marty

...

Tell Them Uncle Marty's Sent You
Dear Uncle Marty,

I've got an annoying neighbor. They're a competitor of mine and are being very aggressive lately with negativity and flat-out lying to their clients about our business. I've tried to be nice, but the harder I try the more aggressive and back-handed they seem to be toward me. What should I do? I don't want to do negative ads or spread negativity by bad-mouthing them in my shop, but I do need to defend myself.

Sincerely,
Frustrated in Fort Myers

Dear Frustrated,

Your situation is eerily similar to my own. I can't tell you what to do without really seeing the type of tricks this competitor of yours is playing, but I can tell you a little bit about a neighboring business I have and how I've learned to deal with them.

First, let me tell you that this response is not referencing Joanne, whom I mentioned in the collaborative article I wrote with Seema and Fahim in this same issue of MBC Today. Joanne was on the same page as I was regarding working together for the betterment of our community, but not all "competitors" will respond as well as Joanne did in that example.

With Joanne retired now, the last "competitor" standing for me in my town is a carrier franchise store that opened the same week as I did in 2011, changed hands a few years ago, and currently remains in business right around the corner from my shop on the very same city block. I had a decent relationship with the former owners. It wasn't perfect, but they were at least respectful and I believe understood my intention to be good neighbors and work together for the growth and benefit of both of our businesses.

The new owners are a different story. In the spirit of not bad-mouthing or spreading negativity, as I so respect your attitude in your letter, I'll spare you the details and stories I hear from former guests of theirs, from our drivers, and from other sources. Let's just say that they're obviously threatened by Uncle Marty's and do whatever they can to prevent their guests from learning about us.

It's flattering, really. We don't mean to be a threat. We honestly do wish them well and know the local market is plenty big enough for all of us to have a good slice. But, in their minds it's a battle. And, if that's the case, we've resolved to win by taking the high road.

The tactic we now use when dealing with this neighbor is the polar opposite of the one they're using to "compete" with us. While they try hard to prevent people from coming to us (or even knowing about us), we send all guests with drop-offs for their franchisor brand to them. Sometimes, like I did today, we'll even walk someone over so they know we brought them. Why? Because we know that guests who experiences the environment in our store and compare it to elsewhere almost always come back to us more grateful and loyal than ever.

The cherry on top is that when we send people to their store, we always ask them to "Tell them Uncle Marty's sent you!" We want our neighbors to know how many people we send there each day, as we still hold out hope that one day they'll realize we're not trying to do battle, but simply work together to build our neighborhood up.

The way to beat negativity isn't with more negativity. It's with rising above and sharing positivity, even when it may seem hard to do.

Keep staying positive,
Uncle Marty
...
*Please note that the first letter shared above is from 2021, and in 2023 the USPS updated the security question to include the word aerosol. The current (as of October 2023) question required to be asked is: "Does this parcel (item, article) contain anything liquid, fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous such as lithium batteries, mercury, perfume, or aerosol?" Please check with your current USPS guidelines regularly for any future updates to the question.