UPS store banks on shipping skis

Store offers retail shipping rates, convenience to skiers

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Niki and Jim Titus have tapped into the modern trend toward shorter Alpine skis in ways that ski designers could never have anticipated.

The Tituses are the owners of The UPS Store in Central Park Plaza in Steamboat Springs. They opened their business just before the December holidays and were stunned at the number of vacationers who have figured out that it no longer pays to haul ski equipment through airports.

"We were very busy the week after Christmas shipping people's skis and ski clothing home," Niki Titus said. "A lot of people, because of airline restrictions, have been thinking outside the box. It costs less to ship them than it does to pay the fee for extra baggage. And today's shorter skis are less expensive to ship."

Shipping skis can cost as little as $20, Jim Titus said, and his store is willing to pick up customers' skis at their hotel room. They can ship them in a ski bag for the same retail rate that UPS would charge at its corporate shipping and receiving center on the west side of town. However, The UPS Store has more flexible hours.

The Tituses' new store is a result of UPS' recent purchase of all 3,000 stores in the former Mail Boxes Etc. chain. Since the purchase, the number of stores has grown to almost 4,500, Niki said, and the company's goal is 7,000.

"UPS wanted to provide a better retail shipping environment," Niki said. "Mail Boxes Etc. had the most stores across the country, but its market was stagnant. It wasn't growing."

UPS saw an opportunity to greatly expand its retail presence by acquiring the chain and revamping its model of charging a premium price for shipping that comes with a high level of service. The Tituses say they are devoted to a high level of customer service, and their arrangement with UPS allows them to provide that service without marking up the giant express shipper's standard rates for UPS Ground, UPS Next Day Air and UPS International, among other levels of delivery service.

Just as the Mail Boxes Etc. stores were franchises, so is the Tituses' new store.

The Tituses are happy to ship pre-packed boxes for clients, or customers can drop off an item and ask for it to be packed and shipped. The rates vary widely by the size and weight of the object and the destination.

As an example, Niki said, the typical computer tower can be packed and shipped for between $30 and $40.

On a recent Thursday morning, a regular customer came in with two large cardboard cartons filled with a jumble of toys and action figures in blister packs. They represented prototypes in development by the man's company.

"I need these to be at my Cleveland office by Monday," he said, as he set the boxes on the floor and departed for his next errand of the day.

In addition to shipping service, The UPS Store offers high quality digital copiers allowing customers to e-mail their documents to the store, plus mailbox services. They also sell a line of office supplies. A selection of wrapping papers and gift cards allow customers to quickly ship gifts.

The Tituses do not have a lengthy business background. They both played college soccer, she at Pepperdine University in California and he at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.

Jim went on to become an assistant coach at Metro State University in Denver, while Niki put her accounting degree to use working for the Colorado Youth Soccer Association and the Douglas County Soccer Association.

When they began their married life, they agreed to look for an attractive community and a lifestyle that allowed them to spend more time together.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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