on Aug 8th, 2011 in Post Offices & Retail Network | 26 comments
 
The U.S. Postal Service recently announced that it would study approximately 3,700 postal retail facilities which are candidates for consolidation. Many policymakers and Postal Service customers have expressed concern over the effect these potential consolidations will have on access to postal services and as well as the social life of rural communities where the local post office acted as a gathering point for the community. In an attempt to address some of these concerns, the Postal Service revealed plans to offer its services through authorized third party vendors, including drug stores, grocery stores, and office supply stores. These Village Post Offices (VPO) would be operated by the vendor and sell popular products and services such as stamps and flat-rate packaging. The Postal Service’s primary benefit would be lower labor and facilities maintenance costs from replacing traditional, free-standing post offices with Village Post Offices. There are also potential benefits to consumers. First, postal services could be more conveniently accessed by customers who already patronize the third party vendors. Second, the co-location may actually help to strengthen community ties. Third, the VPOs may be open longer hours. However, there may also be drawbacks to switching from traditional post offices to VPOs. First, the quality and level of service may vary between communities as VPOs would be managed by many different private vendors. In addition, as with any effort involving public-private partnerships, oversight issues may arise. Finally, because VPOs will be operated by private vendors, the role of the post office as a public space may be lost. Are Village Post Offices a viable substitute for tradition postal retail facilities? Can service standards be maintained? Which type of vendors do you believe would be most suitable as a host for a VPO?

26 Comments


More change from $25 per hour +plus wages to $8. wages is all part
of moving forward? Thank you for all of the change in this
country, Mr. President.

Can there ever be a serious discussion thread these days without right wing troll rubbish being interjected?

I have been retired since November of 2003 from USPS. I can see that some things never change. USPS trying to cover up incompetent management on the backs of the clerks, mail handlers and carriers. When will you look in the mirror and see the real problem?

How can management be blamed so much for a problem where it costs $200 plus per day to man a post office when it only brings in $50 in revenue. Sounds like a business decision to be made. So when USPS management suggests shutting down these places, everyone blames management. How else do you fix the deficit issue at a retail store?? It is like paying a kid $25 an hour to sell 5 one dollar snow cones an hour. You don't stay in business too long doing that.

The Village Post Office concept, along with its attached "Study List" of 3700 Post Offices being evaluated for closure, is a serious step backward for labor, for management and for public safety/security. First, does anyone believe that any of the 3700 post offices on the "Study List" will not be closed? The studying has already been done. The facilities on the list are targeted for closure to "rightsize the network". Consolidation is an important step to controlling costs, I agree. We are now talking about placing control of our company's image, service standards, the safety of the public(aviation security), and customer satisfaction in the hands of the assistant manager at Food4Less, who hired his nephew to run the Village Post Office. No hiring oversight, no background check, and no motivation to preserve the USPS image, to the public, as the most trusted government agency. What guarantees are in place that your mail, which you just handed to the minimum wage employee at Walgreen's Village Post Office, will be arriving at its destination? Oh, sorry, I'm not even sure that they will be accepting outgoing mail at the Starbuck's Village Post Office, and equally unsure is the server/postal clerk that just told you your latte is ready. There is no reason to believe that it will be any easier to usurp the aviation security requirements, and send a package containing dangerous and/or prohibited contents. Or is there? Our SSA's do a great job enforcing the hazmat requirements. When that package containing the "prohibited contents" that caused the next great disaster is traced back to the Cantonese All-you-can-eat Buffet Village Post Office (no offense meant to any ethnic group, just an example), we can all wonder, "What happened to the Post Office I used to trust." Lost in the smoke and mirrors illusion that is leaner, faster, and smarter.

Bravo! You said everything we've been thinking.

It takes a Village

Security.......Mom and Pop are short handed. Bring in Joe Numbnut to help out. He screws up pricing, accepts anything and doesn't give a hoot. This is paradise for drugdealers and terrorists. And...it is a nighmare about to happen.

Some truth to your statement. As the USPS contracts out to a third party we will lose the professionalism and ownership of the service and customer transaction. A worker at the Village Post Office will not have a vested interest in selling additional postal products or such things as EDDM to produce revenue for the USPS. We will lose that close customer contact.

Yes, I do like this idea. I think its a workable model (just ask Starbucks) that lets you scale the services as needed.

There are many questions however I assume that the people working here will be federal employees and assume all current rights/privileges that federal employees are allocated to them, including salary.

I would piggy-back this idea with another partnership - retail packaging and mail services companies. There are 3300+ UPS stores and 330+ Mail Annex locations, many of them are franchises. Partner with these companies and have them provide similar services as these village locations would. I think this would strike a balance between services and viability, as well as provide support for US based businesses. This could even drive others in this space to move-in when the USPS moves-out.

You have to take a generational perspective to the evolution of the USPS. The kids today are the digital Millennials. They communicate, share, and gather electronically - online, phones, etc. How many of these kids regularly send out paper mails? This generation and all the following ones will not be heavy users of the USPS. They are adopting technology at a much faster rate than older generations and that is why the USPS must act fast in order to be relevant and continue to survive. This is a battle that only innovation and change have a chance of winning.

Idea: Make the post office the representtaive for everything in government. You could get your mail, mail packages, apply for social security, get a new social security card, register for umemployment, etc. Then the USPS becomes a government service rather than a for profit quasi-gov agency.

ZDNet has an article about the USPS planning to lay off 120,000 workers in the context of whether the USPS business model is no longer viable and in the greater context of whether the USPS itself is simply obsolete. I posted a lengthy reply there that I might as well repost here:

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Some pretty clueless comments here. I live by Cambridge, MA, which is likely the techiest area in the entire US, and their post offices are usually hopping, especially the one in Harvard Square. And the UPS stores around here are even busier. The issue isn't the need for regular mail services, which is still strong among the immigrant families and the elderly (gotta have those Blair catalogs) but package services. As retail shopping become more and more frustratingly homogenized at the low end and middle and more eye-rollingly expensive at the boutique-ish high end, online shopping keeps booming. That means packages, lots of them, plus returns. Thanks to history, the USPS has great locations for their "stores" and are nicely spread all over. So why isn't the continuing explosion in package delivery helping their bottom line?

The issue is that they have been abysmal in updating themselves for changing needs. So abysmal that a huge industry of competing private companies like UPS and Fedex have grown and flourished rather nicely while the USPS struggles to break even. Actually the USPS's efforts so far to update itself have been laughable: at one small but very busy post office near me that looks like it physically hasn't been updated since the 50's, they installed this outlandishly bulky and poorly designed "Automated Postal Center" that mostly just got in the way for the people in line. I tried it a few times but found it useless for buying stamps (I know better than to casually use an ATM/Debit card for anything other than cash withdrawals at bank ATM's), cumbersome for getting international postage, and not very useful for immigrants sending packages back home. After a while, the APC was finally removed for lack of use, despite the overall high volume of this post office. By the way, just try to Google up what those APC's cost -- apparently it's a big USPS secret, with the best estimate being around $20,000, not including maintenance.

Ironically, another post office not that far away and much bigger in size, although not as busy (slower service and shorter hours) had plenty of room for an APC, but did they get one? No. But what would have been much more useful is an old school stamp vending machine (some of us just want to pick up some stamps, as well as prefer colorful stamps for personal mail than shipping labels), a scale, and a plain old dedicated PC for postage calculation. Off the shelf items that wouldn't require the $20,000 or so of an APC. They can even include free shipping tape, which UPS centers have but which the post offices are strangely loathed to do.

But if they really wanted to go hi tech, they can take a good look at Deutsche Post's "Automated Packstations" -- that's how you do it. (By the way, "DHL" is a division of Deutsche Post.) The USPS has just been doing a lousy job at what they do, and if they undergo massive shrinkage, they have only their own incompetence to blame.

The whole idea that "postal services" are obsolete is just not-too-clear-thinking rubbish. Remind yourself that the next time you excitedly open up your latest delivery from Amazon.
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Also the comment by "My2Cents" about making post offices represent the US government at large is a good one. In the age of Skype, it would be trivial to set up a little, secure booth or room for people needing to talk face to face to a rep from IRS, FBI or such and to exchange and view confidential documents securely, as well as a place in general to have very important or confidential documents delivered or transmitted to when a standard home mail box or possibly infected PC won't do.

First, Direct Employees of the Postal Service, have legal authorities and protections civilians don't.

Second, the training and background checks can be cost prohibitive, when you have high employee turn over.

Third, if the value of the square foot allocated to the USPS is less than the retail value, your out.

Forth, apathy, will quickly replace due diligence.

Village PO is not a new concept, its former name is CPU. Rather than wasting valuable resources to "spin" and "sell" a tired old concept, the Postal Service should look into partnering with local government town centers, public libraries and banks to leverage their infrastructure for self-service postal needs and possibly centralize deliveries.

I think enough is enough. It is a time for dynamic changes. Postal employees made lot of overtime, penality overtime, and union agreements made the Postal Service economic conditions worst. Why in the real world, any employee should be able to keep his/her job and get promotions and other priorities based on seniority, rather than capability? It is a worst business policy. Layoff clause must be valid in the new union contracts.

No sanctity or security to the mail in a village Post Office. Just watch mail theft and tampering increase. And take all these postal jobs and replace with low wages and no benefits. How does that help an already ailing economy?
Rural Post Offices want to provide so much more to thier communities but the 2006 law took all of that away. Its time to start serving the people, not the systems.

I am a retail owner that really wants to add a VPO to an existing retail operation. We can absolultely assist USPS. Please open up VPO's for more locations as soon as possible.

If every town has a Town Hall and not all have a store as such, why can't the new location be in the Town/City Hall instead? The savings are huge as there will no longer be a full building and associated costs involved but perhaps a small desk space in the Town Clerks office and still keeping a postal employee on staff would be a more economical suggestion. They would already be trained, have security clearance, way less turn over, and keep in touch with the rural character feel. It would eliminate small town politics, favorites, and/or additional liability as a result of possible waste, fraud, and or abuse. It would be centrally located and be an overall win-win for the postal service and the customers. Towns may be more apt to allow voting by mail, town clerks could easily mail all tax bills, tag registrations, etc., and who doesn't go to their Town Hall for something or other throughout the year (Town Reports, School Reports, Abatements for property values)...

Your comment indicates you are one of those people who thinks all the person behind the counter does is to sell stamps and thus the operation wouldn't take up much space. Look at a small post office; look at all the stuff behind the counter and out in the lobby--start with the PO boxes and the space they require. Plus a computer, printer, equipment to transport the mail, a good-sized safe to store the stamps and accountable items. Shelving to store the packages people haven't picked up...it goes on and on. Then think of putting all that stuff--equipment, etc., in the Town Clerk's office. Not practical unless the building has a lot of unused space, and where there is space for a vehicle to drop off the AM mail and pick up the PM outgoing mail. Even the smallest of post offices require this. PLUS there are safety issues for customers coming to mail or to pick up mail--handicap accessible, etc. A nice idea, but not practical.

Union contracts should not be negotiated. The PMG should walk away. The earlier agreements should never have been negotiated. It is time to recognize that there are federal laws to protect employees and unions have outlived usefulness. Let them strike. There are so many out of jobs, they would welcome this opportunity for employment. This would provide jobs across the country. I recognize this is simplistic, but unions are not needed any longer.

Postal employees are not allowed to strike...that's part of their union contract.

I was visiting Wichita this summer where they have mostly stamp vendors in the Dillon's grocery store. The lines at their service counter were longer than any I've seen at the po. I drove to another town to but stamps. The security of the mail would also be greatly compromised. Mail theft increases as the # of Christmas casuals increase. They have nothing to lose and know that the inspectors don't prosecute temps often. Several years ago a UPS employee told me that their biggest problem was employee theft. I wonder how secure Fed ex can be when they won't even come and get their mail improperly placed in our boxes!

A postmaster in a particular small rural town who truly only does about 2 hours of work a day and goes home after 4 or 5 hours to justify her 80,000/year salary should be made to supervise 2 other local offices that are each very close by, and the other two supervisors at those offices should be let go. That saves at least 160k per year in one small community. If we take that across the board we could save a ton of money, instead of always trying to rob it from the people who actually work,a la "handling the mail."

The Village Post Office concept will be legalized theft in the making without consideration to any USPS customers and American citizens and the USPS employees. The USPS has the right to investigate and criminally prosecute any USPS employee that steals mail, money or commits USPS fraud. However, in a Village Post Office who will retain accountability and ensure criminal behavior is prosecuted? USPS should never forget the first committment to protect customer's mail and services first. If the USPS wants to venture into Village Post Offices then do it but do not take away a career USPS employee position or USPS postal facility to make it happen. Unions are needed to protect jobs and positions. The PMG position should be the first cut of business to be disposed of. The salary, bonuses and financial gain and USPS control that the PMG has is ridiculous for any position in any company to have especially one as large and huge as his roles and responsibilities in the USPS operations. The USPS could offer other state and government services, applications and provide services beyond postal operations in a post office if their employees would be trained properly. The USPS does not teach its employees to be innovators and verbal speakers for the company to create the change USPS needs because if USPS allowed this most positions of seniority in this company would cease to exist. Carriers know their operations and routes better for savings than a supervisor can dictate to them. A postmaster of a rural community knows the needs of their economic community even more so than their Congressional representatives and Census data and USPS. If you ask me, maybe, it's our whole dang goverment that needs examination toward one another. Rural areas demand different needs versus urban areas. But the biggest fear of USPS and even our government offices is that if the American people become proactive and educate each other about the kind of authority we want to see in USPS and our government in our own communities, then how can they continue to legally rob and legally discriminate against the human race that we are in our geographically challenged locations?

Yes, I'm Tulungagung. Very Agree because benefit would be lower labor and facilities maintenance costs from replacing traditional, free-standing post offices with Village Post Offices. There are also potential benefits to consumers.

I think VPO's are a viable substitute for basic postal services. For example, I have two USPS locations within 5 miles of my house, but for basic services (stamps, boxes, mail drop-off), I go to a shipping store 3 minutes from home. It saves me time and money (less gas). Thanks.

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