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Originally published May 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 23, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Growing postal fees stick it to businesses

Rising postal costs and changes in what package shippers allow are causing business owners to whittle down mailing lists, find cheaper ways...

McClatchy Newspapers

FRESNO, Calif. — Rising postal costs and changes in what package shippers allow are causing business owners to whittle down mailing lists, find cheaper ways to send products and rely more on communicating electronically.

Earlier this year, shippers including UPS upped their rates.

And on May 14, the U.S. Postal Service made it more expensive to send mail, increasing the price for first-class mail from 39 to 41 cents, among other changes.

"It is not good because the costs get passed along to the customer," said Catherine Soligian, co-owner of Martin's, a Fresno retailer of silk flowers, artificial trees and home-decor items.

From retailers to nonprofits, organizations are rethinking how they send their letters and packages as UPS and the Postal Service shift to a pricing system based not just on weight, but shape, thickness and size.

Mail and package providers say the changes are intended to defray rising fuel, labor and utility costs.

The new prices have shelved Soligian's plans to sell the store's products online.

The cost to ship some items, such as artificial trees, nearly equals the cost of the product.

Soligian is also cutting back on buying some products from the East Coast.

"Our shipping costs have gone up about 40 percent," Soligian said. "And it is not just us; it is a lot of other people who are feeling this."

Terri Adishian, vice president of Balloon Wholesalers International in Fresno, shares Soligian's frustration.

Her shipping costs have gone up 37 percent. And like others who ship light products in oversized boxes, Adishian had to reconfigure her shipping strategy to include smaller containers.

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A customer's shipment of small, inflated balloons that used to be delivered in nine large boxes had to be broken down into 35 smaller boxes.

"Believe it or not, it is actually more cost-effective shippingwise," Adishian said. "But you also increase the chance of losing a box, there's more handling on the customer's end and we are using more cardboard."

UPS spokeswoman Ronna Branch said pricing oversized packages based on space rather than weight is more efficient and fair.

"You could have huge boxes that only weigh 5 pounds but take up a lot of space," Branch said. "And the more we can carry, the less traveling we do. And we also want to make sure that our prices are evenly applied."

Businesses also are grumbling about the Postal Service increases.

Along with the 2-cent increase for first-class mail, large envelopes weighing 2 ounces have gone up to 97 cents from 63 cents, and postcards are 26 cents, up from 24 cents.

Ben Romero, local spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said that like UPS, the Postal Service is trying to deal with rising fuel and utility costs.

"It is hard for people to understand that it takes a lot to process and transport mail," Romero said. "We have 400 mail trucks in the city. And they are all in use."

Postal officials said for every penny increase at the pump, it costs the agency an additional $8 million to run its nationwide fleet of 216,000 vehicles.

The Postal Service in Fresno recently held a seminar for business owners and companies that provide direct-mail services to help them understand the changes and minimize the increases.

At Professional Print & Mail in Fresno, company officials are advising clients on money-saving strategies.

That advice already has helped one of its larger customers shave the cost of postage by using a smaller envelope, making it suitable for machine sorting.

"The post office is trying to do as much automation as possible," said Katrina Tonkogolosuk, marketing manager at Professional Print & Mail.

"So if you can put a bar code on a piece of mail, and it can be read and identified by a machine, that is what the post office is looking for."

Mike Green, general manager at the Presort Center in Fresno, said his company also is sitting down with its larger customers and culling their mailing lists of invalid addresses.

At the United Way of Fresno County, officials are looking to trim mailing costs by switching to an electronic newsletter.

"We have already tried to communicate as much as we can electronically to try and save money," said Allison Porter, the United Way's marketing manager. "Now we will try it with our newsletter."

Not everyone is stressing about the postal increase.

Real-estate agent John Walke sends out 500 newsletters a month to clients and about 300 fliers after he closes a deal in an area he likes. He has no plans to stop.

"I am a firm believer in mass mailings," Walke said. "And even though I am not really sure how much more it will cost me, I don't think I have a choice but to continue. To me, it is just the cost of doing business."

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