Convenience store owners see postal counters as a draw, but not as a big revenue source

Jason Soifer/The Daily Courier<br>Amanda Burns, assistant manager at the Twin Lakes Market, helps Ed Santiago mail a package.

Jason Soifer/The Daily Courier<br>Amanda Burns, assistant manager at the Twin Lakes Market, helps Ed Santiago mail a package.

Ed Santiago hits the back counter of the Twin Lakes Market three times a week.

That's where Santiago goes - past the Twinkies and soda - to mail packages for work.

Santiago also occasionally buys snacks and plays the lottery, but he primarily comes for the mail service, because it's easier for him to get to the store than to drive to the post office on Miller Valley Road.

"It's a lot faster for me to come this way because it's less traffic," he said.

Convenience was a driving force behind the U.S. Postal Service's move to expand its presence in markets across the country.

The Twin Lakes Market in Prescott and Robert's Marketplace in Prescott Valley are two of the 140 businesses statewide the agency has such arrangements with going back to 2008. U.S. Postal Service spokesman Peter Haas said another five may come online by the end of the year.

The concept was to get convenience stores to set aside about 150 square feet of space for a counter, register, signage and scale that would allow customers to do virtually everything they normally do at regular post offices, except for getting passports, money orders and post office boxes.

The logic was to provide customers with an easy way to mail letters or packages near their homes without driving miles away for a post office.

That was one of the points Sharon Dale, former co-owner of the Twin Lakes Market, made in a 2008 Daily Courier Story.

Dale pointed out that the nearest post office is about six miles from the business, which is at the roundabout at Highway 89 and Willow Lake Road.

Bill Benson, who bought the business a couple of years ago, has a different take on the postal counter.

Benson said it does bring people into the store, but he's unable to track the business people do at the counter with what they might buy in the store because the two computer systems don't communicate, and people who mail a letter at the counter can't buy a soda in the same transaction.

The counter also is a burden to his business because he's responsible for buying supplies, such as labels, staples and a credit card machine, and employing someone to run it.

If he had his choice, Benson said he would have made the space a sandwich or deli counter.

"I think there are way more profitable things to use that space for," he said.

Annual events like tax season and Christmas mean a lot more business, according to Benson, who said that it also creates a problem because of long lines and parking problems.

"It's not as profitable as I would have hoped," he said.

It's a similar story for Robert Hamill, owner of Robert's Marketplace on Robert Road in Prescott Valley. He said the counter doesn't make money, but it's not all about profit.

"It's kind of like the bathroom. It doesn't make any money, but you want people to use your bathroom because they show up here at the business," he said.

Hamill said he notices that postal customers come in to get stamps or mail a letter and leave. "Nevertheless, there may be a customer or two that's buying a donut or a soda," he said.

Like Benson, Hamill said the inability for customers to mail a letter and buy a snack in one transaction is a bit of a headache. "That's kind of a problem because they don't want to stand in line twice," he said.

But Hamill said the key is to get the customer in and start thinking about future purchases.

"In the convenience store business, I tell ya, we're dealing with nickels and dimes - you've got to have a lot of them," he said. "You're really looking for high volume, and anything that could bring in additional customers, you just go with it."