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Post office augments stamp business with merchandising

May 24, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Coming soon to a post office near you: Bugs Bunny on T-shirts and baseball caps, World War II fighters on stationery, spring flowers on all-occasion cards, birthday-party invitations featuring ferocious dinosaurs.

These and other items are going on sale in a new U.S. Postal Service marketing campaign to sell collectibles, clothing, jewelry and just about anything else it can think of.

Indeed, a few items are already available: bright all-purpose cards featuring the popular spring-flowers stamps and similar fare offered in many offices in time for Mother’s Day. Test marketing has gone on in some post offices.

But Friday’s launch of the Bugs Bunny stamp, first of a planned cartoon series, gives impetus for the big sales splash featuring 31 products in all. All will be sold in 454 Postal Stores across the country, and 3,000 post offices will have a limited selection of at least nine items, the post office’s Kaye DeShields said in an interview.

Another 24,000 offices will carry at least earrings and either neckties or baseball caps featuring Bugs, said DeShields, manager of retail products and services development.

Other products include letter openers with cartoon characters, pewter picture frames and business card holders, collectible cards for youngsters, a pewter box, coffee mugs and computer mouse pads.

Merchandise with company logos has grown into a $15 billion industry nationwide, DeShields said. The post office is hoping to get a piece of that action, possibly bringing in as much as $75 million by next year.

Postal officials say a major reason for the expansion into merchandising is to earn money to hold down the prices of stamps as long as possible.

The retail program returns the post office to a line of business that drew sharp criticism a few years ago, notably from businessmen angry that the agency was competing with them in product sales.

This time, the postal products won’t compete with anything on sale elsewhere because they will be sold only by the Postal Service, said. True, Warner Brothers will have products based on the Bugs stamp also, but not the same as those being sold in post offices, she said.

Congress was also critical of the earlier sales program on the ground that it interfered with the Postal Service’s primary mission of delivering mail.

To counter that, the products will be displayed on a retail wall display where customers can make their own selections _ just as in most stores _ and take it to the counter to pay. Clerks will not be involved in dispensing products when they should be handling mail, DeShields said.

The T-shirts and baseball caps are expected to be the top sellers, as well as computer mouse pads, she said, smiling from behind a black shirt with a bright image of the famous rabbit surrounded by other Looney Tunes characters.

``If you like to collect stamps there is every possibility you would like to collect stuff with stamps on it,″ DeShields said.

Most items will sell for under $10, she said, although a few will be higher. The baseball cap is $9.95, for example, the T-shirt $14.95.

Release of the film ``The Lost World: Jurassic Park,″ sequel to the smash ``Jurassic Park,″ should help boost sales of dinosaur products depicting a just-released set of stamps featuring dinos from the American West.

Party invitations, birthday cards and other products featuring the prehistoric images will be on sale by mid-June, DeShields said. Other products will feature images from a scheduled new stamp series honoring classic movie monsters.

Stationery will give airplane buffs a chance to recall their airborne favorites while promoting on their writing paper the post office’s set of classic airplane stamps. The letter-size sheets carry the image of one stamp in the corner, and the letter is written over a shadow-image of the famous plane from the stamp such as the Chance Vought F4U Corsair fighter of Pacific Theater fame.

In addition to the sales in post offices, a post office store called Postmark America in the giant Mall of America in Minnesota is offering ``Airmail″ brand clothing including leather bomber jackets both through the store and a Postmark America catalog.

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