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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Postal Service making life easier for business

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kahala customer-service manager Jodi Nascimento, right, helps Summer Fergerstrom of Kaimuki with the automated postal center in the lobby. Fergerstrom was standing in a long line when Nascimento pointed out a faster way for her to mail a package to Virginia.

Deborah Booker | The Honolulu Advertiser


Jodi Nascimento works out of a cinderblock office in the Wai'alae-Kahala post office that lacks both windows and charm, but she fills it with the muddy work ethic of her family's vegetable farm on the Big Island.

Nascimento, 40, often worries about the plight of Hawai'i's small-business owners like her brother — the third generation in her family to grow daikon, lettuce and Chinese cabbage on their farm in Volcano.

So Nascimento eagerly embraced the U.S. Postal Service's push to have its postmasters and station managers think like business people and make life easier for businesses by cutting shipping costs and saving them the hassle of standing in line at the post office.

"I definitely know how hard it is to run a business," Nascimento said. "We can help them save money and 90 percent of the time they don't even have to come down here."

Faced with increased competition from UPS and FedEx and lost revenue due to fax machines, the Internet and automatic bill payments, the U.S. Postal Service started its "business connect" program just when Nascimento took over the Wai'alae-Kahala post office in February.

Although she's still referred to by the old title of station manager, Nascimento technically has the job of "manager customer service."

Along with her utilitarian office and the responsibility for 65 employees, Nascimento and other postmasters and station masters throughout Hawai'i inherited the new goal of meeting business leaders to tout Postal Service programs.

More than a dozen businesses that frequently mail packages have also arranged to drive up to the Wai'alae-Kahala post office loading dock at their convenience to drop off their loads.

"They've made it so easy for us — that's the main thing I wanted," said Adam Wong, the owner of Great Harvest Bread Co.

In January, Wong went shopping for a way to deliver bread and cookies to the Neighbor Islands less than 24 hours after they're baked.

"Even though it would make us more money, if it was too much of a headache I wouldn't do it," Wong said. "I have enough headaches as it is."

After working with the Postal Service, Wong now buys postage online and delivers his packages to the Wai'alae-Kahala post office loading docks.

"It's been so easy," he said. "I just drop it off, no lines. I just pull my car right up where their trucks go."

Station managers such as Nascimento are supposed to make at least two business contacts per month. But the edges of Nascimento's computer screen are littered with little scraps of paper filled with the names and phone numbers of businesses that might be helped by the Postal Service.

Nearly 100 phone calls and meetings later, Nascimento said she feels that she has barely chipped away at her goal of talking to each of the 1,004 businesses in the 96816 ZIP code that she oversees.

Most of the leads are passed along by window clerks who often see the same customers struggling with packages. Nascimento also talks to customers in line about how they can mail packages from home — or directs customers to the branch's automated postal center.

John Hino of Palolo, who runs his own eBay golf business, learned about the Postal Service's "click and ship," mail-from-home program through a flier that Nascimento mailed out about three months ago.

Since then, Hino simply leaves his packages for his postal carrier. But last week he came down to the Wai'alae-Kahala post office to ship an armful of eBay packages "to give the guy a break," Hino said. "He picks up my packages all the time."

Rather than stand in line, Hino walked directly up to the automated postal center after reading about it in another flier that Nascimento sent out.

"I mail stuff about three times a week and I used to have to stand in line," Hino said. "That was ridiculous."

When she was a postal carrier, Nascimento's station managers spent all of their time in their offices or in the back of the post offices.

"They never ever thought of going out to talk to a customer," Nascimento said.

With the Postal Service's new push, Nascimento estimates that 25 percent of her job is spent educating customers like Summer Fergerstrom, 20, who stood in line last week waiting to mail back a purse she bought from a Virginia-based online shopping boutique.

Fergerstrom was trying to get to her job as an accounting clerk when Nascimento pulled her out of the line at the Wai'alae-Kahala post office.

Nascimento helped Fergerstrom weigh and buy postage for her purse — and get to work on time.

"She was very helpful, very nice, very friendly," Fergerstrom said. "She walked me through the whole process step by step. I had been standing in that super long line. Now I don't think I'll ever stand in line again."

Postal carriers have a related program called "customer connect," in which they make notes of customers who use Postal Service competitors — or don't know about Postal Service programs.

Even before the carriers' "customer connect" program began in Honolulu last year, Joan Capinia, who has worked as a postal carrier in the Kaka'ako area for the past 15 years, was already talking to businesses about ways the Postal Service could save them money.

Capinia would have them stuff as much of their merchandise as they could into a flat rate box — and then watch their reaction when she told them it would cost only $7.70 to ship via priority mail.

Once all of the Honolulu carriers were asked to make two business contacts each month, Capinia volunteered to input her co-workers' notes into a computer.

"I'm tired of watching us lose our customers," Capinia said. "Just because we work for the government doesn't mean we shouldn't run the operation like a business."