IN a strip shopping center near Jersey Village in northwest Houston, Frank Bivens is making his last stand.
A FedEx sign hangs in the window of his Mail Boxes Etc. store, a symbol of his defiance.Bivens, who’s owned and operated the store since 1993, owns the last remaining Mail Boxes Etc. store in the Houston area. Since UPS bought the chain in 2001, all other owners have either converted to the new UPS Store format, closed or “gone independent.”
Bivens is among more than 130 Mail Boxes Etc. owners nationwide who are fighting UPS, refusing to submit to what they say in a lawsuit are strong-arm tactics by the shipper that will make their stores less profitable.
“They made it all for their own benefit,” Bivens says. “I wouldn’t be a UPS store if they begged me.”
UPS wanted store owners to embrace a marketing strategy that required them to push UPS products and would reduce their store margins, the lawsuit claims.
Bivens says the strategy would alienate long-standing customers who prefer using other mail services. He says UPS also wanted franchisees to expand into printing and document processing, which he described as a big investment for little return.
“Stapling and copying and binding and stuff is not our business,” he says. “That’s a print-shop store, not a shipping and mailing business.”
UPS spokesman Rich Hallabrin in Atlanta says the lawsuit is without merit.
“The case we provided to the franchisees was a strong one, and one that has been borne out by the results we’ve seen” since UPS began converting stores in 2003, he says.
Some store owners who switched to the UPS format are unhappy, too. More than 200 filed their own suit against the company earlier this year.
UPS disputes the claims in that case as well.
Bivens opened his shop as a way to keep busy when he retired from AT&T after almost 29 years.
“I used to have fun doing this,” he says. “This was the greatest thing I’d ever done in my life. I’m just not having fun anymore.”
After he refused to switch formats, UPS withdrew much of its franchise support, Bivens says. His shop isn’t listed on the store locator on UPS’ Web site. People calling UPS customer service looking for the nearest store are steered to other locations, he says.
Business has fallen by 40 or 45 percent since the dispute began three years ago, he says. He’d sell if he could make enough to recover his retirement, but he can’t find an interested buyer.
“Nobody wants this business like this,” he says.
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