Our Story and How It All Began
Prior to opening In Out Parcel, we were two typical Canadians wanting to save a few bucks (sometimes a few hundred bucks) by shopping on USA websites and having the items shipped to a USA parcel pick up location. We initially went to Blaine, WA, for our mail pickup services (back in early 2000’s). At that time, we tried various locations along H street, and tried some residential locations that accepted donations for package pickup. A few years later, we found out about Point Roberts, WA, (the Point) a cozy little border town beside Tsawwassen, BC. Because we live in Vancouver, Point Roberts is closer than driving to Blaine, therefore, the Point became our parcel pickup destination. Throughout the years that followed, we used the 3 largest parcel service providers and USPS at the Point, jumping amongst them as their service level and prices changed.
The one thing that we experienced from all the service providers at the Point is that the line-ups for parcel pickup can get excruciatingly long, especially during weekends and major holidays. In addition, there is usually a line up at both sides of the the border during the busy pickup periods. Most people work 9-to-5, so it is difficult to pick up packages during the weekdays. Customers would have little choice but to come in on a Saturday or Sunday when the border traffic and parcel locations are filled with people. It is not an enjoyable experience when you have to get up at 9am Saturday morning, drive 20 minutes to the border; wait in line for 30 minutes to cross the border into the USA, then line up for another 30 minutes to 2 hours at a parcel pickup location. The frustration continues when you have to line up again to cross the border back into Canada. Often times the line-up back to Canada can range from a few minutes to 30 minutes or more. You can easily lose 3 hours of your day just to pick up a package. To make things worse, waiting in line for 2 hours outside a parcel location, in the rain, freezing cold in the winter months is not the best way to spend your Saturday. Often times, a rain coat, umbrella, and a warm jacket are the required dress code during the winter pickup season.
Last year, things took a turn when the previous landlord of 145 Tyee Drive, put the building up for sale. At the time, the building had already been on the market for a few months, yet strangely enough, there were no takers. We contacted a realtor at Julius Realty, and informed them that we were interested in purchasing the building. The realty agent, Maureen, suggested that we hire a professional commercial building inspector to ensure we knew what we were buying. We took her advice and arranged to have an inspector come to view the site. Even before the inspection report, we were already aware of numerous issues with the building. We knew the pre-existing building condition was not the best, and that purchasing this building would require love and care to bring it back to life. The $2000 we spent on the inspection fee was money well spent, as it uncovered additional flaws that needed to be addressed.
Over the next few weeks, with Maureen’s help and her expert advice, we went through several rounds of price negotiations. The selling agent did mention there were other competing offers, so that somewhat affected our offering price for the building. In October 2013, we settled on a price to purchase the building. The price paid was not for the valuation of the physical building, rather it was for the rental income potential, as commercial properties are very rare in Point Roberts. With no prior American property acquisition experience, Maureen’s help and professional advice, helped us to complete the deal smoothly.
Our first American investment property acquisition seem to be a good idea generating rental incomes with the existing tenants. We could simply be the landlord and collect monthly rents to pay off the mortgage, repairing the building here and there as needed. The building’s rental income would pay itself off in just 25 years!
After we acquired the building, our next step was to meet with all the tenants. They informed us that there were problems concerning the roof HVAC system installation on the west side of the building. There was also a problem with the washroom (H) not working properly. We started working on the necessary repairs, and work on the roof is still a work in progress.
With the paperwork settled, insurance purchased, and all the tenants taken care of, life moved on. During the winter of 2013, we were lining up, yet again, outside the various parcel stores, fully geared in the rain, waiting for our turn to pick up our package. One good thing about the line ups, especially when you are outside in the cold, is that your mind tends to wander. Wondering about various random things in life, such as why we are standing in the cold for 2 hours just to get a package so we can save $50 over a Canadian retailer. Also, wondering why we are holding cups of coffee in one hand and an umbrella in the other hand early on a Saturday morning, and why only certain brands are exclusive to the USA market and Canadians cannot purchase these goodies unless we purchase them online and have them shipped to a USA address. Wondering how the package pickup process could be more enjoyable and efficient and what we could have done instead of spending countless hours waiting in line for our parcels. The list goes on and on.
We came up with the idea of opening our own parcel place, so at least we didn’t have to wait to pick up a package. But this still didn’t solve the problem of having people lining up at the borders and outside the store when there is a high volume of people picking up packages at the same time. The research began to find a solution to this problem that plagues all the traditional parcel pickup locations.
During the winter months of 2013, we started our research to find out what we could do to solve this line up problem. We started by looking into the process of traditional parcel stores. With traditional parcel stores, they are limited to the number of employees and computer terminals, in which they can serve their customers. In a large scale traditional parcel pickup store, there could be 4 employees, using 4 computers at a customer service counter, with each employee taking an average of 2 minutes per customer (including sign ups and dealing with various issues). It would take 10 minutes to process 20 customers. With 2 computers at the service counter, the wait time increases to 20 minutes. To optimize the last step, ‘delivery’ (the process of delivering the package to customers), and to enhance the customer service experience, the delivery process must be changed.
In the early Spring of 2014, we found that parcel pickup automation could be an efficient way to solve the lineup issues. Large scale adaptation of automated locker usages were already being used in many European countries, South Korea, and China. There is also a large institutional deployment in USA (Video). These places provided us insight to develop a process that would work well with the setup at the Point. Most automated parcel pickup locations use just one pickup terminal. We went into further research and development to allow for multiple users to pick up parcels using multiple pickup terminals at the same time, thus providing the fastest automated parcel pickup service available to our customers (H).
In late Spring 2014, we decided against renewing the expiring lease on the building, and let the existing 5 year lease expire. No lease renewal terms or rental amount were discussed between the involved parties, as the non-renewal was not related to rent. We needed the building to pursue something new. A letter was written and sent to all the tenants informing them of our decision to not renew their leases.
Because the tenants still had possession of the building, we waited until the leases expired before beginning our renovation project. The renovation was the beginning of a two month, labour intensive grind with a lot of work going into the building to once again bring it up to acceptable conditions (H).
The renovation was mostly trouble free, thanks to the team from Optimum Contracting and various expert local service providers from Point Roberts. In two months, we were able to revamp the floors, remove a lot of clutter and aged debris from the building and surrounding parking areas.
In October 2014, our new lockers arrived. Point Roberts US Customs Officers were startled to see three 40’HQ trucks arrive at the border hauling our new lockers in ocean freight containers. It’s rare for the Point to see ocean freight containers, as there really aren’t any companies that handle ocean freight imports / exports at the Point. The Officers took their time to inspect the containers, ensuring everything was in compliance, and released them so they could be unloaded and we could install the lockers.
Locker installation was fairly quick: it took 3 people 2 days to unload and unpack all the lockers and a few more days to properly arrange them on the floor. These lockers look fairly simple in design and function: they look just like a typical coin operated storage locker that you see in shopping centers, except our lockers don’t have keys or coin slots. These metal locker clusters, 140 of them too be exact, do cost a pretty penny. By the time we launched, the combined locker hardware cost + software development cost was much higher than the cost of the building, which cost a little over $500K USD when you include the building repair cost such as roof repair, sewage, etc….
We officially launched in November, 2014, with our “no lineup, no waiting” automated approach to package pickup service. Not only are we hoping to eliminate the dreaded lineup common to all the package pickup locations, we also hope to reduce the border line up’s by allowing our customers the freedom and convenience of picking up their packages without any time restrictions on a 24/7 basis. Customers can now come to the Point to pick up their package when it suits them. This eliminates the need to line-up and wait for your parcel and gives you back your Saturday mornings.
We want to thank you for your business. Our goal is to offer you the very best and enjoyable customer service experience. Welcome to In Out Parcel!
Dave and Robert
In Out Parcel