With the holiday season officially underway, a tidal wave of gifts is flooding shipping systems across the country.
At The UPS Store in Kalispell, owner Chris Vidulich said that while orders get taller, he and his staff enjoy stepping up during the holidays.
“When you do six months of business in one month, it’s good,” he said. “It’s a longer, tougher day than normal but you get used to it. We definitely look forward to it.”
Getting each package to its destination is challenging, not only because of the volume but the mix of package sizes, weights and shapes. Vidulich has seen and packaged it all: Christmas wreaths, Christmas trees, two taxidermy raccoons paddling a canoe-shaped log; a custom-made Ferrari fender; a box of 24 live lizards and even a frozen pizza from Moose’s Saloon in Kalispell. Packaging these gifts for customers means keeping an ocean of packing peanuts and industrial-sized rolls of bubble wrap on hand.
“You’ll see peanuts and packing tape all over the store,” Vidulich said. “The local people get a kick out of it.”
Brad Stodgill, regional UPS manager for the area that covers Western Montana, said this flare in shipping means companies have to stack resources ahead of time.
“There seems to be a trend nowadays that people ship packages out early rather than wait for the last minute,” he said.
Stodghill said things really start moving in mid-December, although this week will be another rush due to the growing popularity of Cyber Monday, the online version of Black Friday. Around this time of year, UPS stores hire on about 95,000 seasonal employees company-wide, according to Business Insider, to take orders, complaint calls or help pack items to be shipped.
UPS retail stores are independently-owned businesses that serve as a store front for the corporate shipping company, so they have to make adjustments each holiday based on that store’s needs. At the Kalispell store, Vidulich even patched another register together out of older models in his inventory to cut down on customer wait times.
The U.S. Postal Service generally runs the same play-book. Postmaster Josh Schlecht said the Kalispell post office just hired two more employees. By comparison, the Billings post office hired 30 temporary employees for the holiday season, Schlecht said.
“We ramp up,” Schlecht said. “Our deal here, especially in Montana, is we deliver the holidays.”
Schlecht said another reason the package volume is up this year is because Amazon, for the first time, is using the U.S. Postal Service in Montana.
The Kalispell post office shipped 2,500 packages this week last year. This year, the agency shipped 5,000 packages during the same week. While Amazon might not be directly responsible for the entire jump, he said the online retail giant is certainly making a mark on shipping in Montana.
Regardless of doubling the workload for his staff, Schlecht said USPS embraces the holidays.
“Funny thing — we love this time of year,” he said. “We know we’re delivering what they’ve sent out to grandparents or grandkids or family around the county. We’re honored to be a part of the holiday season.”
Vidulich at UPS enjoys packaging the shipments. He touts the store’s “Pack and Ship Guarantee.” He said his store will pack things like an ostrich egg with a miniature nativity scene, and if anything breaks, UPS can refund the shipment and pay for the item. He did wonder about a box of 24 lizards that was shipped last year, but “I never heard back from them, so I assume they all lived.”
In the coming weeks, Vidulich is expecting to start shipping between 200 and 300 packages a day. That’s up from about 100 on a busy day in July. That might feel like Vidulich and his staff are putting in Christmas-elf work, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy it.
“There might be a sigh of relief around the 23rd or the 24th [of December] when it slows down, but I really think every store looks forward to it,” he said.
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