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Businesses scramble, innovate to fill gap

August 15, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ People leaving Wyoming are being encouraged not to go empty-handed.

Wyoming’s Commerce Department hopes they can carry a package or two to out-of-state freight handlers to help out businesses hurt by the United Parcel Service strike.

``Operation Cargo Connection″ is one of many offbeat ways businesses around the country are trying to cope with the delivery disruption caused by the strike.

Local chambers of commerce and economic development groups in Wyoming are acting as clearinghouses for information on people who may be headed to other cities where other major freight handlers do business.

``We are looking at collecting material and then taking it to Salt Lake, Denver, Billings (Mont.), to get it on other means of distribution,″ said Gene Bryan, state Commerce Department director.

They’re still working on how best to get packages delivered into the state.

In other states, business 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.

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 so that dealers can satisfy their customers’ demands to find out the latest on Superman, The X-Men and Archie.

``Comics are like fresh produce,″ explained company spokesman Charles Deglionimi.

The company is also using Greyhound buses for the roughly 15 percent of accounts that are located too far from drop points.

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.

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.

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.

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