A very different five-point plan

By Bret Evans

I’m a bit concerned that our ongoing postal review will completely ignore the wants and needs of the stamp collecting community.

It stands to reason, Canada Post is a huge organization handling literally millions of pieces of mail every single day. There is no doubt that while mail volumes are dropping, the philatelic market remains just a drop in the bucket. At least if you adopt the approach that the corporation has used for years.

But we should turn things around, and look at it a very different way: while most customers are looking for cheaper alternatives, the collector market is willing to pay extra, and often for stamps that never get mailed.

Canada Post will be talking all about cost cutting, the Unions will be talking about job retention, and most Canadians will probably think that this whole thing is about home delivery not sustainable profits.

So, in all modesty, I have created my own Five Point Plan, to make life better for Canada Post and the collecting community.

POINT 1: THE NAT’L PHILATELIC CENTRE

We have a small group of dedicated postal workers who spend every day trying to look after the needs of collectors, the folks at the National Philatelic Centre (NPC) in Antigonish, N.S.

Rather than empower these people, Canada Post has been outsourcing their jobs to call centres. My approach would be to have all calls sent to postal workers, encourage them to be as receptive as possible to the needs of collectors, give them access to a workable database of what products are where. I would also get back to the idea of selling stamps for other postal authorities, even if they are not kept in stock but are special order items. I used to get regular questions from collectors who wanted a really cool stamp from the USPS or Royal Mail but didn’t want to try and buy overseas. While we’re at it, let’s also throw in the various coin products as well.

The NPC is a viable profit centre and revenue stream; let’s expand it and make it better.

POINT 2: POST OFFICES

Personally, I don’t really care where I buy a stamp when I only need one, or where I mail my letters from, but I hate having to go the local post office at the back of some other business.

All too often I have stood and waited, not while the counter attendant did postal work, but while they were off doing something else, like stocking shelves or working cash at the other end for people buying snacks and cough drops.

I actually liked the idea of going to the post office to get my parcels. It would also drive traffic so that expanded product lines could be offered. Yes, I do think that some limited financial services would be possible. In fact I would have postal workers buying gold and silver; they could easily pay for more than most of those corner operations and still make a few bucks.

While we are at it, rather than spending thousands of dollars setting up and running government service centres in some Canadians cities, I would spend some of that money running those services at post offices, which are located in virtually every Canadian municipality. Or, at least should be.

While I’m at it, I would get away with those machines that spit out labels, and have postal workers hand over real stamps. If someone doesn’t like it, they can just smile and say in Canada we rock things old school.

POINT 3: PERSONALIZED MAIL

I think personalized postage is really cool, but not quite as convenient as I would like.

My plan calls for putting little photo booths and scanners in post offices so that Canadians could make their own personalized stamps on the spot, while they wait. I mean, if I have to pay a buck for single stamp, I’d probably pay another 50 cents if I could make it cool and special, either by smiling for the camera, or bringing in a photo of my cat. This way, while charging a small premium for vanity, the minimum order would be as little as one stamp.

I know there is a concern about making sure that stamps aren’t controversial, but under my plan these stamps would be approved on the spot by trained postal workers. The booth could also be used to produce passport photos while you wait, another source of revenue using existing services and people. Heck, I’d even put pop up kiosks at locations such as Niagara Falls and Banff, so tourists can order and send friends personalized postcards of Canadian tourist destinations.

POINT 4: CANCELLATIONS

OK, this is purely selfish, but I would force each and every postal worker to swear a solemn oath to never cancel a letter with a device intended for writing or marking. Really nice hand cancels are not that expensive or heavy and they could be issued to key workers.

At the same time, I would teach them what a really nice philatelic cancel looks like, and they don’t need to be re-cancelled, or put through and ink jet machine.

POINT 5: MAIL HANDLING

That brings me to my final point, the actual process of handling mail.

First off, let’s get back to those little sleeves that marked a piece of mail as collector-oriented and therefore are handled with care. I know that no system is perfect, but it would reduce the re-cancels, mutilations and mishandling that drives collectors crazy.

I would also tell counter workers that there is nothing wrong with handback service. If I bring in a piece of mail addressed to me, ask permission to apply the cancel myself under supervision, and then take it home with me, it is pretty obvious that the stamps had been cancelled and the letter delivered to the recipient under Canada Post’s supervision.

Notice, I never once mentioned home delivery.

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