This is a story about shipping 10,000 books from a rural post office: Why we had to do it, how we teamed up with a tribe of rural postmasters to make it happen, and how the story landed in national press. It’s a timeless story about the power of community.
Thank you for your support of the book, Half My Size with The Ridiculously Big Salad.
You have very nearly broken the U.S. Post Office with your orders.
We are currently shipping the book out of a very small and rural post office located inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument. By all accounts and local memories, what is happening this week in the monument’s post office has never happened in its history.
Too Small for Amazon
First, the reason it has all come to this and that we are not selling on Amazon like regular people, is because Amazon will not approve our store. Amazon will not approve our store because it cannot verify our location.
(I wave frantically trying to get the attention of an Amazonian. I’m right here!!!)
Though our house dates to 1908, our location has only had an official physical address for about 30 years. It was 30 years ago that all of the emergency 911 centers went digital and their systems required an official link between land-line phone numbers and actual, official physical addresses. That’s when our little road got a legal name.
What a moment.
I spent my teen years in this exact house and when I got my driver’s license in 1987, the physical address on the license read “End of Road M-xy-B,” wherein “M” stood for “Mountain Road,” “xy” was the road number, and “B” distinguished us from whomever lived at the end of little road “A.”
Yes, that was on my license because, in fact, we live at the end of that road.
“Though our house dates to 1908, our location has only had an official physical address for about 30 years.“
Truth be told, my parents made up that physical address just for the purpose of getting that driver’s license. I’m not sure what the handful of other residents did who lived on the same road, but who were not lucky enough to live at “the end.”
These days, we have an actual-government-assigned physical address, but it comes in the form of at least two different spellings, causing the robot brains of places like Amazon to explode. Some of our utility bills have the historical versions of our physical address, further playing with those robot brains.
Most utility bills come to our rural post office box number, and post office boxes are apparently a tell-tale sign of internet spam. To boot, our post office box number is “37” — number 37. The post office boxes here range from #1 all the way to #147.
We don’t need to be all big city starting our boxes at A001, demarcating the “A” corridor of the post office.
Ours post office boxes are easily found. In fact, I am standing in from of 2/3 of the boxes in the photo at the top of this post. In the photo above of my son Frederick, you will see nearly all 147 boxes in one shot, and we didn’t even have to work to get those in one frame.
Apparently, the various signals we are sending to our would-be Amazon patron are unbelievably small-time, blowing the minds of the Amazon robots and missing the human ears, wherever those ears may be.
As a result, we find ourselves in the direct mail business, with a great and unlikely story of what can happen when actual humans do get involved.
—> Support your favorite direct mail business right here by buying the book “Half My Size with The Ridiculously Big Salad.” <—-
Direct by Mail
About six weeks ago, my husband Sander started working on mailing out these books via the U.S. Post Office. He approached our local postmaster a bit sheepishly realizing that our orders far exceed their usual volume. He was willing to drive the mail to a larger post office to be processed. Bakersfield is just over an hour away and is equipped for quantity.
Drive to Bakersfield?
Postmaster Sandy would have none of it. Sandy wanted that revenue right in her office and, as you’ll see, she’s willing to hustle to keep it.
She and Sander got to work on testing various shipping options and then placing bulk orders for the right priority mail envelopes. I am sure she was skeptical that we would sell through the 1,000 priority mail envelopes she and Sander accumulated and, frankly, so was I. Just before that Woman’s World issue came out, I emailed people interested in the book and offered a quick deal, letting everyone lock in.
It would be nearly three weeks before I would even put my head up on the issue again because all y’all just about broke this little rural post office.
Testing the Very Limits: The Books Per Day
First, all indications are that this post office (and all of the little post offices in the area) has simply never seen anything like the level of business it is seeing from this book alone. My guess is that the revenue in just the first week of shipping this book can be measured against the annual revenue of the post office branch, and maybe even on some multiple of its annual revenue.
Apparently, this situation is also just about like winning the Postmaster Lottery. Sandy may now be a bit famous in her network of rural postmasters for her windfall. I’m sure the little postal branches are operating at a deficit, needing repairs on all of the little things and basically limping along.
“All indications are that this post office has simply never seen anything like the level of business it is seeing from this book alone.“
To give the correct picture of the mail service, you need to set aside any preconceived notions you have of mail trucks and loading docks. Up here in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, our mail is brought in by a contractor hired by the U.S. Post Office. Our rural delivery contractor is Angela and she drives one of those small fuel-efficient economy cars. She delivers mail to our post office branch and then finishes her route for the day in the community just above us, delivering mail to the rural mail boxes along the highway. She takes any out-going mail back down to a distribution point.
Lately, that outgoing mail has included nearly 300 books a day, each in a priority mail envelope.
Angela is carrying “only about 300 books” because that is the absolute most she can fit in her little car and, frankly, it’s pretty impressive packing. In fact, that number will be a bit lower in the coming week because we have added bubble wrap to the orders, bulking those envelopes up just a bit. Our current daily limit of books in Angela’s car is about 250.
The Envelope Shortage and the Rural Postmaster Network
A glance at Angela’s car will have anyone appreciate the daily limits on shipping, but the other limiting factor we did not anticipate is this: The regional shortage of priority mail envelopes.
Sander and Sandy both planned well and acquired 1,000 envelopes before these books went on sale. When we sold through that number in a day, Sander immediately ordered more cases of envelopes. It typically takes about a week to get those cases via the U.S. Post Office. That was on about August 5. You may have heard that the U.S. Post Office as an organization is under a bit of stress and perhaps as an unintended consequence of all of that, we are still waiting on those envelopes. Even area branches are having difficulty sourcing these supplies.
“The other limiting factor we did not anticipate is this: The regional shortage of priority mail envelopes.“
By the time we started shipping the pre-orders on Monday August 17, we had 1,000 envelopes and 1,500 orders.
If you wonder why I did not mention the sale of the book in this time frame, now you know.
However, I come out today and tell this story because all of those books are now shipped. (Everything ordered as of Thursday August 20 shipped as of Saturday August 22. Orders now take about two days to process and ship.)
How on earth did we get those 500 envelopes?
(This is my favorite part of the story.)
Again, the context is that we could solve our shipping problems by teaming up with a Post Office branch in an actual city, but then Postmaster Sandy would be giving up her prize-winning lottery ticket.
Here’s what I learned: Those flat rate envelopes come in cases of 300. A Bakersfield postmaster told me he sometimes goes through a case in a day. He was clinging tightly to the six cases he had on hand. In a town like Ducor, population 600, the case may be a 5-year supply.
Q: Where would you find a nearly-full case of priority mail envelopes?
A: At a little rural post office.
Q: How do you find which little post office has 200-300 envelopes to spare?
A: Postmaster Sandy must simply call all of her postmaster friends, all equally excited about Sandy’s unexpected windfall.
“Some of the rural postmasters shuttled envelopes around, helping out their lottery-winning postmaster friend, Sandy.“
My husband Sander sourced those extra envelopes with the help of Sandy and her network of rural postmasters. He drove to several little branches picking up some hundreds of envelopes. Some of the postmasters shuttled envelopes around, helping out their lottery-winning sister.
I’ll add here, if you need a priority mail envelope and live in a rural area at the base of the foothills in Kern and Tulare County, I’m sorry.
One Fully-Employed Teenager
While I’m at it, I’ll give a shout-out to a kid some of you know. This is my son Frederick, known as the kid in the “Postcard from Yellowstone” photo, who is one month away from flying the nest. He’s an incoming Freshman at U.C. Davis in the Environmental Science and Management program.
He is in charge of packing up each of these envelopes, under Sander’s direction. He is filling up his pockets for college and I dare say that he will have far more cash in his pockets than I ever remember in my own pockets at his age.
Surely there is also a limit on the number of envelopes Frederick can pack in a day, but we have not hit that yet. He is impressively obsessive with this work.
(My goodness, look at how strapping Frederick has gotten. Heading off to college looking like that WITH cash in your pockets may be a real bad combination. I would not know. I never had either problem.)
The Books Are Not Signed
As just one added point, a lot of people asked for signed copies and I fully intended to sign every single one of them.
About one week ago, Sander and Frederick both sat me down, intervention-style. They said, “You cannot sign these books.” I hemmed and hawed, told them I’d just sign some and see how many I could get through. They sat there, all stern and adamant, “You cannot sign these books.” I took a step back right there and looked at this situation we found ourselves in: A family intervention over a book-signing. I said, “OK.”
Two days later, all haggard from packing envelopes, Frederick looked at me and said, “I think Dad and I saved you from a stroke.” Maybe so.
In any case, the books are unsigned but I am alive and well and the books are shipping, thanks to Sander, Frederick, Postmaster Sandy, Angela, and an unexpected network of rural postmasters.
Wrapped in bubble wrap, ready for the Priority Mail envelopes (with a view of Sander through the window, on the phone, probably desperately calling Amazon…)
Headed to the post office (with dirt from a trail)
Psst Amazon. I don’t think the spammers usually go to this length….
The Big Update (on all important issues!)
Thank you all for your support! We’ve had a whole lot of water under this particular bridge since I wrote this six months ago.
The U.S. Postal Service and its People Love this Story
First, postal employees really love it when you recognize their inherent awesomeness, apparently, because the editor of the magazine for U.S. postal employees found this story and reported on it. Please do read “Bear Necessities” at the publication Link (here).
I am honored and appreciate more than ever what a tight tribe the U.S. postal service has gathered. We received quite a few emails from postal service employees and I am touched to see such a strong and dedicated culture to maintaining communications in the United States.
Really, I do not know how we would have shipped all of these books without the U.S. Post Office.
That leads into the big announcement….
Yes, We Shipped 10,000 Books from a Zip Code with 256 Residents
Make no mistake, I do not mean “256,000 residents.” I do mean 256, with no additional missing zeros on that number 256.
If you think I’m back here pretending to be all small time, rest assured — no pretense is necessary.
We took a memorable series of photos to commemorate our project. In a community as small as this, I can assure you that this one will be told right along with the stories of the wild fire evacuations and the rock slides blocking roads — that is, the stories that are as good as it gets when you live here on private land right inside the borders of the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
(We all look worn out here for a pretty good reason. Most of us also look half-crazy and we do get that pretty honestly.)
Update on Our People
Of our critical field operations people, we’ve lost our linchpin — Sandy. Sandy has “retired retired“. During all of this, Sandy was just “retired and helping part time.” Now she has “retired retired” and we sure don’t think we could have done any of this without her postmaster experience and leadership.
We also lost Frederick in the process of all of this, but then we got him back. He went off to college and lived in a little COVID era dorm cave, only to come home again for the holidays and stay put probably until the coming fall. I have him developing some projects for me here at the house that we will be giving out as community prizes. Stay tuned for that announcement.
“If you think I’m back here pretending to be all small time, rest assured — no pretense is necessary!”
The Books Today
The sales of this book have been so brisk that they went on back order in late December until mid-February. In that time, we scrambled to find another solution because, in fact, we ordered an additional 15,000 and we knew first hand that even as ridiculously big as our house actually is, it is not big enough for fifteen pallets of books. Furthermore, the new Jump Start book is about to launch with its own pallet collection.
We spent January looking for a solution. We found a professional family-owned fulfillment center one in St. George, Utah, a location that is near and dear to my own heart and a car drive away for me. If you order a book today, it will be shipped out of a small town in Utah (though admittedly a far bigger town than that of six months ago since St. George even has grocery stores).