U.’ve got mail: An interview with the head of Mail Services

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Since arriving in September, you may have noticed that many things on Brown’s campus had changed from last year. Francesca’s on Thayer replaced what was once chainlink fences and crumbling cement, “Imagine Brown 250+” is gone, and, most notably, the mailroom has undergone a dramatic makeover. Elizabeth Gentry, Assistant Vice President of Business and Financial Services, sat down with BlogDH to discuss what happened, why it happened, and where to finally find that mailroom playlist.

Gentry first explains that most first-years don’t realize what the mail system was like last year. “We’ve long outgrown our space, especially during peak times, at the start of semester, especially the start of the year. So, we had two locations: the mailroom in J. Walter Wilson, and what used to be ‘The Gate.’ The system turned out to be very confusing for many students. It just wasn’t as efficient as it could be.”

Packages were delivered to either location based on which carrier (USPS, UPS, FedEx, to name a few) delivered them, but as Gentry points out, this system was always so simple. “UPS began this program called ‘The Last Mile,’ where UPS would deliver your package to, say, the US Post Office, which would bring it the rest of the way to us. So, to the student, the carrier is UPS, but to us, the carrier is USPS. It was confusing.”

Not to mention, package deliveries skyrocketed. “We began getting direct deliveries from Amazon,” Gentry notes. “They didn’t notify us beforehand, but one day we got five pallets [pictured below] full of shipments directly from the Amazon fulfillment center, because so many deliveries were coming straight to us. I’m talking pallets as tall as me, five of them. And they just kept coming.”

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There were two major reasons the renovation was necessary. “The first was space. We found out early last year that we wouldn’t have two locations come the start of this academic year. The approval to renovate came in October of last year, when we found out we wouldn’t have the secondary location, and I presented before the BUCC the following April.”

“The second reason was that we’ve long outgrown mailboxes.” For those who aren’t familiar, J. Walter Wilson’s first floor used to contain thousands of mailboxes, each assigned to a student. “Students who were abroad had their mailboxes reassigned, and had a different box when they returned. Eventually, we were running too low on mailboxes to keep up with the number of students we were serving.”

Mail Services has grown exponentially over the past few years. In the 2002 fiscal year (measured from June to July), Brown Mail Services received 21,215 packages. In 2010, the number more than tripled to 68,715. So while the amount of letter mail has dropped, the number of packages has been increasing.

On top of this, package size has increased, as students are getting rugs, mattresses, and bicycles [pictured below] delivered.

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September and February tend to be the busiest times of year for Mail Services, with dramatic spikes in the amount of incoming mail. Just this year so far, Mail Services has received 49,650 packages from July through September, with September alone bringing in 40,450.

Renovations began immediately and continued throughout the summer. “When the school year began, we had to stop what we were doing, and get to serving the students. The renovations aren’t completely done. You can see that they’re still working on track lighting now. Benches are coming soon. We also saw that students were leaning on the walls and getting marks on them, so we’re working on finishing the walls so that won’t happen.”

In September, Mail Services served an average of 1,167 students per day. “That’s including Saturdays, when our hours are shortened,” Gentry explains. The median pickup time for packages ranged from 2:03 minutes to 4:57 minutes. “But, remember, the number of packages students were picking up ranged from one to twenty-seven. So, the student who’s picking up one package isn’t waiting nearly as long as the student picking up twenty.”

So far, reception has been great. “We conducted a survey, and 80% of students have loved it, while nearly none strongly disliked the changes. Our primary complaint was that students don’t want a wait time for a letter to be as long as for a package, so we fixed that. Now, we have one worker who is designated each day to get letters. They’re in charge of that, so that the wait is shortened.”

“The new layout also just looks much nicer, and it functions much better than the desk we used to have. Now students can actually see the shelves where their packages are, and appreciate the amount of work our employees are doing. There’s more transparency. The letters on the shelves are movable, so we can organize packages more efficiently. We also got a floral case for perishable items, whereas those used to be delivered to ResLife. We’re working with CIS to be able to look up parent names of students for when packages aren’t addressed to students’ names.”

Gentry also explains that the new layout has reduced the tendency of waiting in a line. “Students always used to queue in a line. Now they wait in a group. Lines never work, because someone behind you picking up one package is going to be called before you, if you’re picking up six.”

And of course, the playlist. “Students have really loved the music. My area manager has told me how often he sees students nodding their heads to the songs.” When asked where we can find these playlists, Gentry notes, “We use Spotify. If you ask, you can probably request a song. They also do themes for each day.”


When will Mail Services treat us to “The Bachelor Party!”?

When asked if Mail Services was planning on hosting a club night, “It’s not in the plans. Maybe if we get more space.” No word yet on the Blue Room-Mailroom Merger. Till then, students will have to be satisfied with Spotify and free document shredding. It’s a fair deal.

Images via, via Elizabeth Gentry, Asst. VP of Business and Financial Services, and via Anthony DeRita ’18.


1 Comment

  1. Sam

    Actually the new Mail Services is a stressful neo-capitalist nightmare. (One example: when you get a letter the notification comes from an email belonging to OfficeCorp. That’s dystopic and terrifying and also hilarious.)

    And no mention in this article about RICOH’s use as an organized labor-busting tool because the damn 80s Spotify playlist is of course what matters here.

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