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 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.

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