After working as a shipping manager for Arrow Lighting Co. for the past 10 years, Michael Parker never thought his job description would change.
But as the UPS strike headed into its second week, Parker was forced to become creative. In fact, he's become less of a shipping manager and more of a travel agent.
Parker booked a one-way Greyhound bus trip to San Francisco for a 40-pound package of light bulbs.
"We stood there at the bus terminal and waved goodbye to the package," said Parker, whose Valencia-based firm makes industrial-sized lightbulbs for warehouses. "It was too expensive for the package to take a train or a plane. A $30 bus ticket was the best we could come up with."
The 600-mile scenic trip up the California coast might be among the more unusual methods that small businesses around L.A. are using to ship their products. But the strike by United Parcel Service workers has forced many L.A.-area businesses to innovate in all kinds of ways.
"Our employees are getting the same reaction each day from customers frustration and anger," said David Mazer, a Postal Service spokesman in Los Angeles. "Fed up with the lines, some are just walking out of the Post Office to do it on their own."
That's the case with Roberta Langevine, who owns Telegraph Publishing Inc. of Los Angeles.
During the first few days of the strike, Langevine said she wasn't panicked. She mistakenly thought that UPS competitors would be able to easily accommodate the 50 or so book shipments her company puts out each week.
"We were fine until (UPS competitors) placed limits on the amount of packages you can send in a day," she said. "Then they hit us with time limits of when things could be sent out."
So Langevine took matters into her own hands and launched a completely new line of business delivery.
She rented a U-Haul truck, packed the boxes and burned rubber. The 48-hour round trip took Langevine east to Riverside, north to Sacramento, and then back to L.A.
"I'm going to do the same thing next week," she said. "Only this time, I'm going in on a (bigger) rental with a friend of mine who is having the same problems with her own business."
Langevine said renting the truck saved money, but expended a lot more time than the minute or so it takes to fill out a delivery slip.
Others say coming up with solutions to the strike have hit them in the pocketbook.
John Talley, president of MegaGraphics Inc., needs to ship about a dozen 50-pound boxes next week to Miami for a trade show in which the software firm is participating. He's worried the other delivery companies might not get the items there on time if at all.
So he and other company executives have decided to take a cross-country trip.
"We're going to be a convoy," Talley said. "We've got five people at the company who own minivans. So we're going to drive straight there and all take turns sleeping."
Still other executives are returning to the mail room.
At the law firm of Fender, Snyder & Hollis, employees are being asked to do a few extra tasks on their morning and afternoon commutes. Every employee from the firm's partners to its secretaries are picking up and delivering important packages to destinations near where they live.
"We send out so much material each day that this was the best way to do it," said Mark Snyder, a partner at the Century City-based firm. "Most of our materials are such that we absolutely need to know it got into the right hands."
So far, the deliveries have worked and they have added a new level of customer service.
"I've got clients that are surprised to see me when I walk in at 9 a.m. to deliver a set of court statements," he said.
Employees at Sports Central Inc. of Inglewood have taken a similar approach. The company, which makes sports uniforms, has only a few weeks before school resumes and a new athletic season begins.
"This is our busiest time a year we typically turn out about 10 boxes a day to different schools and retail stores," said David Leggit, who co-owns the company.
So he has asked each employee to query friends, neighbors and family members about their end-of-summer vacation plans, and whether they would mind bringing along an extra "guest."
"We don't expect to ship everything out this way," he said, "but you'd be surprised how many people squeeze in a last-minute vacation and pass right through the town we need to deliver to. I'm not afraid to grovel when it comes to keeping my company alive."
The strike's economic impact remains unclear. While individual businesses are struggling to get their shipments out, it will be some time before the actual amount of lost business can be determined.
Meanwhile, business people frantic to send out packages have created huge overloads for the Postal Service, Federal Express and Airborne Express.
The Postal Service reports that volume for its Express Mail overnight service has jumped 70 percent since the strike began Aug. 4. Other national delivery companies have reported similar jumps.
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