*UPS to Open Pack and Ship Stores

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United Parcel Service Inc., Atlanta, announced yesterday it will begin opening stores next month designed to help consumers and small business owners pack and ship packages. The new venture will compete with mailing-service companies, such as Mail Boxes Etc.

The stores will hold packages for customer pick-ups, sell office supplies and provide copy services and mail box rentals. They will be situated in densely populated areas, and some will be large enough to hold onto certain packages--giving customers who aren't at home when a UPS truck pulls up a new way to pick up their packages. They will also sell UPS products at UPS rates, which are cheaper than what mailing-service companies offer.

The first planned UPS store, will open in March in Alpharetta, GA, an Atlanta suburb 12 miles north of UPS headquarters. Three more will open a month later: one in the southeast, and two the west. If the initial test is successful, UPS could gradually expand the pack-and-ship stores into other areas of the country.

The stores are aimed at new kinds of customers for UPS -- small businesses who are occasional shippers and need basic mailroom services or who find the existing network of shipping-only offices at UPS to be inconvenient.

"These people are not regular commercial accounts of UPS," said Norma Black, UPS spokesperson. "There is no driver swinging by their doorstep everyday to pick up packages to ship to customers."

Black said the concept grew out of an experiment UPS began last year where the carrier put branded UPS shipping counters in 50 Office Depot stores in the southeastern U.S.

Black said the experiment was extremely successful, and this year, UPS will enter a full-blown national rollout with this concept at Office Depot.

"We've found that setting up counters in retail establishments offers a customer a great alternative to visiting the local post office down the street," said Black. "That's why we've gone ahead with the experiment and have set up our own shops."

Black, however, warned, that the program is not being done to launch a direct assault on "our partners in the authorized shipping business."

Still, the plans at UPS are sending shivers through the mailing-service industry, which is made up of about 11,000 pack-and-send stores that steer shipments to UPS or rivals such as FedEx Corp., Memphis, TN. These companies, which produce millions of dollars of revenue for UPS each year, fear that UPS' stores could easily wipe out their business.

UPS also said Wednesday that an independent arbitrator ordered the company to create 2,000 full-time jobs under its 1997 contract with the Teamsters union. UPS was ordered to pay back wages to employees who fill the new positions, a move the Teamsters estimated would cost UPS about $80 million. UPS declined to say how much it expects to pay in back wages -- even though it plans to go along with the ruling.

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