Helping Each Other Succeed
When it comes to small-business support, Barry Risch is the person you’ll want to talk to. In an industry that changes constantly, Risch is an ardent member of leading organizations for pack-and-ship professionals, both as a user and as a mentor for other store owners. Support groups are what keep Risch’s business alive, he says, and he stands strong in his commitment to pay it forward.
“I’m glad to share my personal experiences and those of my peers with anyone to help them succeed,” Risch says.
Risch has owned The Shipping Depot Business Center in Allison Park, Pennsylvania, for nearly 16 years. During that time, he’s gone from knowing next to nothing about the business to digesting everything he could find online to becoming highly involved in trade organizations and mentoring others.
An Avid Support Group User
As a novice store owner trying to make a profit, Risch manned the counter pretty much on his own for about 10 years — his family pitched in when they could. The pack-and-ship industry was a new venture for him and he had a lot of questions, but at the start, he didn’t know anyone he could turn to.
At the time, the Association of Mail and Parcel Centers (AMPC) was the only established trade organization for the industry. [It changed to the Association of Mail and Business Centers (AMBC) in 2014.] Risch became a member early in his career and soaked in all the information he could without going off site. When Retail Shipping Associates (RSA) was founded a few years later, he joined that, too.
“By monitoring what [the organizations] were doing, reading the magazines, watching the websites, getting to know who their vendors were, that certainly helped me,” Risch says. “It probably kept my success going.”
Around 2013, business was doing well enough that he was able to hire some help, and that’s when he became an active participant at AMPC and RSA events, and later with the AMBC.
“That was a whole other world,” he says. “It’s when I really started to meet people. I found people who I feel are my mentors today — other store owners. I was able to talk with them and share ideas. It was the shot in the arm that I needed to push me forward.”
An Enthusiastic Mentor
Eventually, Risch was elected to join the AMBC Board of Directors as the director of mentorship. In that position, he helps his peers find answers to questions they have about their business or the industry. And if he doesn’t know, he’ll hook them up with the people who do.
Store owners might ask when mail prices are expected to increase, what other types of profit centers to pursue in their stores, how to get lined up with a vendor and where to get training.
When asked for the best advice he could give to a fellow store owner, he’s quick to say, “Diversify or die.” The industry is changing, Risch says, and with the rise of e-commerce stores offering free shipping, store owners need to offer other services to complement their shipping sales. Risch’s store offers predominantly shipping services, so he’s also searching for other profit centers to help boost his business.
Types of Support
Risch highly recommends AMBC (#MembersHelpingMembers) and RSA — he categorizes them as “similar but different.”
“The organizations know what’s happening in the industry,” he says. “Because everyone comes together with their ideas, the organizations have a pretty good handle on all of those things.”
Here’s a summary from Risch on how members of the organizations can benefit:
- Online forum and discussion groups. Real-time “newsfeeds” permit participants to engage in discussions, ask questions and state concerns. They might put out a request to help a relocating customer find a pack-and-ship store, get tips on how to pack an unusual item or ask for other owners’ experiences shipping internationally.
- Conventions. Every year, RSA puts on a large-scale, three-day national convention with training, workshops, vendor booths, small-group sessions and roundtable discussions. “It opens your mind about what’s going on in this industry,” Risch says.
- Regional events. AMBC periodically offers classroom training to 30–50 attendees in various parts of the country. Participants get individualized attention with the smaller groups and the opportunity for networking.
- Vendor training. Risch credits his memberships in AMBC and RSA for connecting him to vendors whose products and services he wouldn’t have known about on his own. It’s a way for pack-and-ship store owners to diversify their services with new profit centers. The vendors provide training seminars, small-group activities and ongoing support, and they often attend shipping conventions.
- Data analytics. Business coach Steve Merrick and his former partner, David Shappee, both previous pack-and-ship store owners, developed a database of pack-and-ship stores from which Merrick can pull and analyze a location’s financial performance based on square footage and annual sales. This data, Risch says, enables Merrick to offer pointers to clients of his company, SRM Spirit Group, such as whether too much or too little is being spent on labor or advertising at their stores.
A Wide-Reaching Network
If limited financial resources and staff make attending conferences and training sessions difficult, Risch advises, store owners should make use of online support and networking, and reaching out to peers by phone or through store visits.
“We’re a very interesting family,” Risch says about the pack-and-ship industry. “Everyone is willing to share with each other and try to help with the next person’s success.”