The Post Office has seen the future, and it's a Bugs Bunny T-shirt.
Last September, at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the U.S. Postal Service opened Postmark America, a retail store that looks more like a Warner Brothers shop than any government facility. For sale: Merchandise with a postal theme, including Bugs Bunny stamp T-shirts, Marilyn Monroe stamp ties, Love stamp clocks, "Just Delivered" baby paraphanalia and a $225 Pony Express-inspired leather mailbag.
USPS is not a taxpayer-supported institution, and must cover all its costs from the sale of goods and services. In its business, it's either raise revenue or raise rates. "Postmark America is part of the Postal Service's overall strategy to generate new sources of revenue," explains spokesperson Jim Mruk.
The store manager is a career postal employee, but the sales staff comes from Manpower Inc. "It made more sense from a business point of view to hire people who had retail experience," says Mruk. Since the store does offer some traditional mail services, the sales staff has received the same type of training given to employees at USPS contract stations.
Not all Americans are happy shoppers. Postmark America "is a profit-driven venture...that flies in the face of everything the Postal Service and the government should be doing...which is delivering the mail," Rachel Southworth, executive director of the Coalition Against Unfair USPS Competition, told Bloomberg Business News in December. Also in December, more than 100 union members picketed Postmark America to protest the fact that some of the merchandise the store sells is manufactured overseas.
It cost the Postal Service $250,000-money spent on construction, fixtures, leasing and inventory-to launch the store. USPS expects the store to be in the black in its first year. After year one, the Postal Service projects the store will earn $1.9 million annually.