UPS’s latest slogan is ‘We [heart] logistics.’ But in most people’s minds, the company is a lot more than a fancy catchphrase. The company is synonymous with brown vans and brown-clothed, friendly drivers who are bustling everywhere dropping off packages. For the small business, however, UPS typically means two things – shipping and service. UPS offers a range of services that scale up and down from consumer service to large enterprise services but the company has a soft spot at its heart for the small business.
Yahoo! Small Business Advisor caught up with Beth Mathews, the Director of Marketing for the small and occasional segment of UPS. She explained that the complicated title means that she is responsible for all marketing for all of UPS customers that fall into the small business category and below . In other words, small business and consumers. She spoke with us by phone for this exclusive interview.
How important do you think small businesses are to the economy?
Beth Mathews: We really believe that small businesses are growth engines for employment in the United States. The SBA cites that small businesses employ about half of the private sector in the US. Additionally they make about half of the non-farm, private GDP (Gross Domestic Product), so I would say that makes them pretty important to the US economy.
And big firms don’t just happen overnight. UPS itself, back in 1907 started with a teenage entrepreneur (James E. “Jim” Casey) as a messenger service out of a basement in Seattle doing all sorts of errands and running messages back and forth. That grew into a delivery service for a department store. Then he began to do it for more than just the one department store and it grew from there into package delivery business in general. From Seattle it spread along the West Coast and eventually grew across the nation and then globally.
What are the three most important skills or traits a small business owner needs to succeed?
Beth Mathews: From our perspective what we see is customer service – that’s pretty important whether you are big or small. You need to remember why you are in business and that’s to serve the customer and their needs and understanding what their pain points are. Then especially in this economy you need to be able to differentiate yourself. Finally, particularly for small businesses there is finding good help. Small business owners wear lots of hats and are trying to juggle a whole lot of different tasks and if they can find someone that can help that they can delegate to, particularly as they grow.What single piece of advice would you give to a struggling small business owner?
Beth Mathews: If you are struggling, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s lots of resources out there both in terms of organizations, obviously the SBA (Small Business Administration) and there’s also the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses), there’s SCORE, an organization of retired executives that help small businesses and if you are interested in exporting there is the US Commercial Service.
Big companies like us and others have services – we are interested in helping small businesses too. We have a COMPASS newsletter that has articles like case studies that small businesses can find helpful and we’ve got blogs too.In the current economy, what should a small business owner be focusing on in order to succeed?
Beth Mathews: What we’ve seen and heard is that they continue to struggle with getting new customers and new sales. One of the things that we always suggest is ‘have you also looked at the international market?’ Because over 90% of consumers live outside of the US, so export markets are definitely something to look into. We’ve done some surveys around exporting for small and medium sized businesses. One of the things we have heard is that people are a little bit nervous about doing that but those that are doing it say they don’t find it frustrating and 35% of them have said that they see a significant impact on their overall sales.
The small business market is so diverse and decentralized, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of small businesses across the country?
Beth Mathews: One thing we have discovered is that even though we have a wide variety of industries there are a lot of fundamentals that small businesses have in common. Regardless of what industry they are in or whether they are a one person shop or maybe ten, there are still a lot of issues they have in common. We do our own research, we have contact with syndicated research we look at. Obviously we have contact with millions of businesses through our drivers doing drop-offs and pickups every day and then we’ve got the UPS Store and we have some local marketing people out in the field.
Do you have a special message to small businesses in recognition of National Small Business Week?
Beth Mathews: UPS started out that way too – we really applaud entrepreneurs for the risks that they take and thank them for the contribution they make to the US economy. They are the engine of job growth, startups that drive innovation and they are what makes America great. UPS also has some deals on offer from our own small business customers in honor of National Small Business Week.
What do you hear small businesses asking for that isn’t being supplied today?
Beth Mathews: When we talk to small businesses, a lot of what they ask for, particularly around our shipping, is stuff that we already have, but they don’t have time to find out about it. A lot of time is spent on the day to day processes and not having time to think about what can I do to make myself more efficient or to save time or cost. We have tools, like the email alerts to notify customers ahead of time that their shipment is coming. They are not aware of a lot of these things.
How does your company help small businesses and why?
Beth Mathews: I think the why is the first things that come to top of mind. If they are generating half of the GDP in the economy then UPS needs them to grow as well. We obviously spend time on small business given my team, because they are a cornerstone for the US economy.
Where we see ourselves helping is in three areas. We can help in ease of use, convenience and accessibility and in professional services. Let me give you some examples. First of all in ease-of-use we have a broad portfolio of transportation services depending on whether you want it there really quickly or want to be more economical. What we really like to tout is our technology that can reduce errors and save time and impact their customer service. That’s on the shipping side – you can go on the internet and do your shipping there and save addresses right there so you don’t have to type them in again if you do repeat shipments. We have our tracking tool and the tool where we can proactively send emails (that’s called Quantum View Notify) and we have Quantum View Manage if you want a larger report. All of this is to help them be more efficient on shipping so they can spend more time on managing their business and figuring out how they can get those new sales. On the billing side we can manage all the invoicing electronically and you can pay all your bills electronically as well.
On the receivers end we have My Choice which can help [their customer] know when shipments are coming to them and the delivery window and if that doesn’t work you can change it. That helps small businesses manage their customer service.
When it comes to convenience and accessibility we have our website where you can do your shipping, and tracking and bill paying 24x7 and we have 57,000 access points of which 4,300 are the UPS Store. We also have mobile apps so you can do your shipping and tracking on your smartphone.Our professional service – one of the things small businesses identify with us is our drivers. Pretty much everybody loves our drivers and they provide quality and reliable service. We also have 24x7 support options with our website and we also have online chat and our 800 number. We really see ourselves as able to help companies save time.