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,


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?
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

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.

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.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

I Was Wrong About Wendy

This past weekend, I was out of the store on a co-consulting job, meeting with some colleagues and helping out another small business owner in the retail packing and shipping industry assess their business, find areas of improvement and growth, and decide where and when to expand. Not 10 minutes after our appointment began, while in the middle of introductions and what-to-expect-from-the-day overviews, I got a text from one of my team members back at my home business, Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office, that said, “Wendy was expecting her packing costs to be lower and wants to know if the prices have gone up.”

I should have just responded quickly and quietly, telling my coworker that I’d look into it on Monday; that at that moment I needed to focus on my colleagues and our consulting client in front of me. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I got all hot and bothered, wrongly excused myself from our client for a few minutes while I anxiously pecked away at my phone, and snidely responded with, “Wendy has gotten a deal for years. She pays way less than a regular person and I’ve been trying to bring her up to speed slowly. She’s still below what we should charge. She is very price sensitive and if it’s an issue she’s welcome to pack her artwork herself. If she wants Uncle Marty’s service, she can pay Uncle Marty’s prices.”

I was irritated—not at my team member, but at Wendy. I hadn’t read her email and the only context I knew about her outreach was what my team member texted. I just assumed it was the result of a snippy email from her, once again upset about the price as she has been all too often in the past.

You see, Wendy is a local artist. She does ceramic tableware pieces and wall art and, by all accounts, does very well with it, selling some of her ceramic mugs for prices in the hundreds of dollars and some of her wall hangings for prices in the thousands of dollars. We deal with a lot of local artists and are highly favored and recommended in that community. It’s a lot of fun and we go out of our way to care for those relationships…and build our business as a result.

But we didn’t acquire Wendy’s business because of our network of artists or a recommendation from one of her peers. Instead, we inherited Wendy from a similar packing and shipping store near us that shut down. Because we had a good-neighbor relationship with that store, they very kindly recommended to all of their clients and guests that they transfer their business to us. We were so grateful for that classy move, putting their clients above competition and making sure they would be taken care of after their business shut down, and made a lot of new friends in our city as a result.

The thing is, that store’s model attracted more of a budget clientele, and their rates reflected that. Resultingly, we had a big challenge on our hands: training new guests who had previously done business there to the more premium rates at our store—fair rates, but ones that reflect the fact that you get what you pay for. We have always made it a policy to compete on service, not price. And our service and team quality are—unabashedly—the best. Regardless, Wendy was trained by that other more budget-targeted business that it costs just four dollars to pack a ceramic mug: box, materials, and packing service included. Yes, that’s right. That other store was charging just four dollars! For similar service, our retail rate at Uncle Marty’s would be at least four times that.

Against my better judgement, I gave in and said we’d make a special deal with Wendy and honor that four-dollar-per-mug price for a little while. She had alluded to a large volume of shipments and I thought maybe we could make up for it in a fulfillment type of pricing model rather than an individual piece price structure. But, to add insult to injury for my mistake of allowing that four-dollar price, we also soon realized with the first batch she brought in that not only did she expect to pay just four dollars per mug to pack, but she also then refused to use our shipping service and instead sent us prepaid labels she created herself online. It was akin to going to a restaurant and bringing your own food, but still expecting the wait staff to serve you. But she didn’t get that. She’d been trained very differently.

Now, I must also mention that this all happened very quickly at the start of the pandemic when that store closed with very little warning. Our business, on the other hand, was booming and had just been designated as an essential business. So, not only were we trying to keep our team and guests healthy and safe, but we were also dealing with an increase in regular demand for our services on top of the influx of new guests from that nearby store that had just shut down. In trying to do right by all of those new contacts and hopefully welcome many of them to our business as new clients, I made quick decisions I would normally have taken more time to consider.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’ve never been Wendy’s biggest fan. From that initial interaction and her issues with our rates—not initially understanding or appreciating our level of service that substantiated those rates—and what felt like, at the very least, a significant miscommunication on the type of business she’d be giving us, I’ve let myself get flustered and upset every time I see her name or hear that she’s reached out to us. I’ve had personality clashes with her in the past, felt very condescended to, and after she snubbed me quite publicly once at a gallery opening, have had a general distaste for her for years.

Because of my inherent anxiety trigger every time I hear her name, I was distracted by the thought of her email and how I was going to respond to it the entire day of consulting and ashamedly not giving my full attention to the client in front of us that my colleagues and I had each traveled quite a distance early that morning to meet at their warehouse, see their business in person, and dedicate a day of service to in trying to give them some coaching from our own experience. I kept telling myself, “Don’t let it bother you. Wendy does not have permission to bogart your brain today. Just deal with it on Monday.” But yet, I fumed on it all day, lost sleep that night, and had no interest in coming in on Monday to read her email and create a response to it.

As I’m prone to do, I had a migraine as a result of being anxious about Wendy’s email most of the day Sunday and still on Monday morning when I made it to my office and checked for her email in the inbox. I just knew in my overthinking-it brain that it would be negative, that it was going to upset me, and that I’d have to really bite my tongue and find some sort of grace in writing a response. I just knew it, deep down in my gut.

But her email wasn’t in the inbox Monday morning. I asked my coworker who had first received it on Saturday where it was and if he had any further contact from her and he told me that he had already responded. Sure enough, there it was in the archives and my team member had once again blown me out of the water with his professionalism, clarity, and diligence in the response he had given.

My first wrongness about Wendy was in assuming her email was negative and accusatory. It was none of those things. It was in fact quite pleasant and cordial! She was just surprised by the rate and wondered if our rates had gone up again. You see, I’ve been gradually increasing her pricing for years and am slowly getting closer and closer to a regular retail rate with her, and for this last job I did charge her more than the one before it, but still less than I would anyone else. So, she legitimately would question why her art packing cost more this time than it did last time. Her shockingly pleasant email was just her being curious as to what the current rates she should expect are so that she can accommodate for that in her retail to her clients. My coworker had responded quite correctly and politely and she, in turn, sent a big, happy thank you. It was so refreshing!

Just as she had been initially trained to expect a low price from a packaging business, I had been trained to expect a complaint from her. But, over the years, it seems that she’s successfully had a mindset shift and now expects to pay a reasonable rate and is cool with it as long as she knows what to expect. We’ve gained her trust and established a relationship where she knows that we’re not out to get her; that our rates are quite fair and that she’s getting exactly what she’s paying for: the best service anywhere. She’s fully empowered to go somewhere else for a lower rate, but she continues to come to us because of the value we provide. She’s transformed from a penny pincher to our exact target client: one who values our service, plain and simple.

But I had not retrained my impression of her, and for that I was very wrong. In reflection, the last few interactions I’ve had with her have been positive ones. She’s been very happy and grateful for our service…and I think I even saw her smile once! But, in my mind, I was still trained to be on the defensive and to expect a complaint. I was wrong. She’s turned out to be a different person than the villain I made her out to be in my mind and I need to work on retraining my own mind to not let the thought of her trigger me into a spiral of just wishing she’d go away.

I was wrong about Wendy. I’m sorry about that and, though for years in my coaching and consulting have hammered away at the importance of relationship-based business models, still thought of Wendy in a transactional manner. She’s proven to me now that people can change and come around to see the value, but in order for that to happen one must consistently and clearly show that value and earn that trust.

My team has, I’m so proud to say, earned Wendy’s trust. I am so incredibly proud of them for that and for the consistency and integrity and confidence they show in the service we provide. If we can do this, we can do anything, and the future is incredibly bright.



This essay is slated to be published in MBC Today Volume 25 Issue 6 on or around November 2, 2023.

Hiatus? What Hiatus?

Hi, friends.

Welcome back to askunclemarty.com. This blog has been on hold for a little bit, moved to the backburner of my priority list as life and its distracting ways have taken most of my focus, time, and energy over the past few years.

I’ve posted on this site here and there and have continued to write bi-monthly for MBC Today, the mail, business center, and retail shipping industry’s leading publication that I regularly contribute to (and now also edit and produce), but the day-to-day and added responsibilities have taken away some of the oomph I’ve had in the past to share some of that writing on here.

During the pandemic, my business—Uncle Marty’s Shipping Office—boomed as a designated essential business, staying open and incredibly busy as the world shut down, and keeping me away from home while the rest of the world was contrarily stuck at home. And somehow, despite interacting with countless people as an essential worker during that time and years since, to my best knowledge I’ve remained COVID-negative. Among other things, I thank sensible safety measures and early access to vaccines and boosters for the blessing of health I’ve maintained.

As a result of my business growing, my team has also grown. Along with it, I’ve also grown my responsibilities to them and to the positions I hold in my community and industry. With that growing team has also come some reprieve; my coworkers’ excellence and reliability, and the fact that I now have a manager, Clark, in place to handle most of the day-to-day that I used to do, has allowed me to take more of a breath lately that I’ve been able to take in well over a decade. I’ve traveled some, spent a couple of weeks in July in Bali—an amazing experience I hope to write about soon—and have been able to get organized and caught up on things that I had been putting off for years. I’ve also been able to put into motion projects I had been hoping to start for quite a while…and can’t wait to share more about them publicly in the coming months.

I have a lot of backlogged writing to post and will do so on here in small batches over time. For the past few years, my writing has been more about getting it done for the magazine and less about getting it done for my own therapeutic benefit, which is what my true reason for this blog is. (Well, that and to put my stuff out there in hopes of someday getting my Ask Uncle Marty™ column syndicated more widely than just its publication in MBC Today. So, editors of Inc., Entrepreneur, GQ, Attitude, Men’s Health, Vanity Fair, Fox and Hound, Sparkly Unicorn Aficionado, Platypus Living, or any other publication that wants a breath of fresh air as a heartfelt and slightly sly Ann Landers-style business and/or life advice column in your publication, feel free to shout my way!)

Another reason for my semi-silence lately is that a couple of years ago I decided to stop bringing my laptop home at night. I also removed almost all email and social media notifications from my phone and, as a general guideline that I do make exceptions to for deadlines and evening Zoom meetings, I try to stay unplugged when I leave the office. It has been an absolute game-changer. My anxiety levels have been much better as a result of putting up these boundaries (coupled with some good medicine) and allowing myself to not let the constant volley of notifications and outreach disturb my sanctuary. I’m allowing myself to do what I can do during business hours, for the most part, which has allowed me to say no to a few things that I used to say yes to out of obligation and not desire, and that has been truly a gift.

Unplugging outside of my office to create sanctuary space has consequently limited the amount of focused time I have for things like writing. Even today, as I try to bang this message out during business hours, every few minutes I’m called away from my intention by a phone call, client who wants to see me, doorbell ring (there’s a doorbell for my team in the front of my store that dingdongs in my office and lets me know I’m needed), or other various and sundry distractions. Once they’re handled, I come back and have to re-read what I was in the middle of and, just as soon as I get a few sentences in, the doorbell rings again, or there’s another call I need to take. That’s life as a small business owner and I love it in many ways, but golly is it tough to really get anything substantial done.

It’s fair to say that it’s been a nutty few years. And the world has gone considerably more insane during those few years as well. But, all in all, through the business of life and its distractions, its challenges and its triumphs, its rewards and its wind-taking blows, its confusion and its sanctuaries, I feel better than I have in a long, long time. It’s almost as if, as the world around us gets weirder, as divisive rhetoric circulates, as details distract us from essence, and as mercy, grace, empathy, humility, and kindness are too often forgotten, we can see how ridiculous humanity can be…and it makes us want to do better, to be better, and to live better.

I sold a greeting card at my business years ago that had a half-full wine glass on the front and a caption inside that read, “Some say the glass is half full. Some say the glass is half empty. But I say the glass is refillable.” And that’s how I feel lately. Our cups can still overflow, but it’s up to us to let the good in and to hold onto it. When we do, we can find peace and joy in the midst of chaos and confusion. We can trust in a power far beyond ourselves to make everything OK, like the quote that Dev Patel as Sonny Kapoor often said in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.” And you know what? That’s how I feel: restful, hopeful, and optimistic that we can all refill our glasses and toast to a bright future if we simply direct our focus that way.

Speaking of focus, I intended this post to be a short and simple apology for an unintended blogging break, but it seems it’s turned into a Sunday sermon. Maybe I just had to get that out.

Here’s to the future. I’ve missed this and am excited to get back behind the keyboard.

Talk at you soon...


#SundaySermon #OnaWednesday #AskUncleMarty