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Businesses scramble, innovate to fill gap

August 14, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ In suburban Atlanta, a gift retailer has been loading up her van each day to make her own deliveries. Workers in Minnetonka, Minn., fill their cars’ seats with dog and cat food. Superman, The X-Men and other comic-book heroes are traveling the country by bus.

Across America, bosses and workers are using their imaginations _ and sometimes, their own vehicles or feet _ to try to replace the United Parcel Service deliveries and pickups that have disappeared with the 11-day-old strike.

Owners are patching together makeshift networks that might involve a half-dozen different companies, or devoting employees to spending hours standing in line at post offices to ship parcels.

Or, they simply do it themselves.

``The wait is inconvenient,″ said Wanda Worley Roland, who operates Georgia Gifts and Memories in Snellville, Ga. She’s making more use of the post office to replace UPS, but it often is quicker to use her own van.

She’s been expanding her delivery area, on Wednesday packing up jams, sauces and hand-painted terra cotta pots to a McDonough, Ga., customer more than an hour’s drive away.

In suburban Minneapolis, Ward Johnson and two employees of Sojourner Farms have been loading their cars with packages of pet food and then post office-hopping because of Postal Service limits on four packages per window.

Like other small businesses, he’s fighting to keep his customers happy, even though it’s costing him more.

Johnson’s shipping costs are up 30 to 50 percent, and since the strike began, sales have dropped about 40 percent because his customers assume they can’t get his pet food, Johnson said.

The Postal Service is keeping workers on overtime and hiring temporary help in some locations to handle the extra business. The Federal Express Corp. and other competitors are straining to keep up with Christmas-level volumes, but are declining new accounts and putting limits on current customers.

Bob Ebert of Fastenal, a Salt Lake City-based nuts and bolts shipper, said his company has used FedEx, Pony Express, the post office and common couriers for deliveries.

Also in Salt Lake City, employees of Gift Basket Affairs are making their own deliveries for in-town customers.

Some businesses are renting small trucks.

Budget Rent A Truck in Annapolis, Md., is experiencing a significant increase in business from small companies that have decided to make their own dropoffs or deliveries, said Kim Lilly, assistant manager.

The rental center usually has 40 to 50 10-foot trucks on its lot, she said. On Thursday, the lot was empty.

Package deliveries by bus are also surging.

Dallas-based Greyhound Lines says its package business has doubled since the strike, with new customers shipping auto and tractor parts, tires, blood supplies and comic books.

In Timonium, Md., Diamond Comic Distributors has rented its own trucks to take about 7 million comics to 25 drop points around the country each week. It’s using Greyhound for the roughly 15 percent of accounts that are located too far from drop points.

``This thing is a logistical nightmare,″ said company president Steve Geppi. The makeshift system is costing $40,000 a week, not counting labor, he said.

In Lincoln, Neb., Speedway Motors uses a combination of trucking companies, post offices and bus lines to try to keep its auto parts moving to car buffs and racers. The business also is asking customers within 500 miles if they can drive to Lincoln to pick up orders.

But Bill Smith, who founded the company 45 years ago, said he’s getting out fewer than 300 packages a day, compared to 1,000 daily carried by UPS.

He has laid off eight of his 85 employees, and more cuts are likely if the strike continues.

``If it (the strike) lasts for a month or two, it could be a total shutdown,″ he said.

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