Business, ZingLife

Stages of Mail Order

Last week, Zingerman’s Mail Order Managing Partner Mo Frechette sent us this relevant meditation on the mail order business during the holiday season:

The 3 Stages of Mail Order Holiday Grief

1. Hiring grief: will we get enough people?

2. Order grief: will we get enough sales?

3. Shipping grief: will we ship them all out the door on time?

The third stage has arrived. You can tell it’s in effect when someone says something like ‘Thank God it’s Tuesday. It was Monday for three whole days.

We’re now quickly rolling through the signposts of the last phase of holiday grief. The deadline for shipping a box to arrive with UPS ground shipping has passed. The deadline for 2-day shipping is gone. The deadline for overnight packages looms. Then there’s overnight with Saturday delivery on Friday, select zip codes only, sorry!

This year Christmas falls on a Tuesday, the absolute worst day of the week for folks sending mail orders, especially those of us in the food business. Perishable foods don’t like to travel over the weekend. It means the last day for most folks to ship for Christmas is today, Thursday, for delivery on Friday, five full days before Christmas. Bah humbug!

Now for the crazy numbers: We’ve been packing orders at a rate of one every 9 seconds 24/7 for the last 10 days. Nine per second means 400 boxes per hour. Back in 1992, the first year I did a mail order Christmas, we shipped 113 boxes on the biggest day. (It almost broke me.) This year it was 12,000, the week will total over 30,000 boxes. To put it in perspective, that’s equal to what we shipped in June, July and August combined.

You might have noticed I didn’t mention much about grief. That’s because we kind of skipped the grief part of the third stage this year. Outside of our order release computer refusing to work the night shift (it crashed in the evening, and started back to work each morning), most everything hummed along. We’re hand-wrapping bread, cutting cheese to order, and making every gift one-at-a-time.

Friday afternoon it will go ghost quiet, a holiday cliff we cross every year and whose predictability does not make it feel any less eerie. The phones will go quiet. The boxes will be gone. The food will be absent. The shelves will be empty. Most of the crew will have left. Until then we hum with the sound of a hundred people gathering food and stacking boxes into an endless stream of fifty-foot UPS trailers.

The last of the holiday orders ready for shipping.

It’s Christmas Eve now, and the shipping deadlines have all passed. The holiday crew has gone and incoming orders have dropped off to a trickle. The hum in the Mail Order warehouse has become a whisper.

A lone order makes its way down the processing line.

Still, a few dedicated staffers remain. They’ll continue to box and ship the few last-minute orders until the time comes to call it a season and go home. Some will return the day after Christmas to handle the new orders in the system, because Zingerman’s Mail Order never truly stops. But, the business will mostly settle back into its more moderate pace.  Until the fall, when the cycle begins anew…

“See you next year!”