One of the secrets of success, strangely enough, is learning from failure. Or, as the famous American inventor Thomas Alva Edison put it: Learning from “those things that don’t work.”
Edward Whittacker purchased Mountain Mail in Placerville three years ago. He had high hopes for the local business, which was established in 1982.
As a new business owner, he was in for a shock when the economy failed to rebound after the collapse in 2008.
“The reality of this business is that people have cut back significantly on shipping items — even the larger stores,” Whittacker said. “Also, shipping prices have gone up … due to regulatory restrictions and restrictions that are on the industry at large (from the Patriot Act).”
Add to those external business challenges some internal troubles with employees, poor inventory management and a major power failure that kept the business closed during the majority of one Christmas season … and you have the ingredients for a major entrepreneurial headache.
Whittacker realized he had to re-assess the situation.
Did he want to continue the business? Yes, he did.
And what course of action would be best in order to move forward? Turns out, several steps were necessary, and Whittacker has already taken several — with more to come.
The first step involved correcting the internal issues at Mountain Mail.
Employee “misappropriations” were put to a stop. The store was cleaned.
Consistent operating hours were re-implemented. Inventories were replenished.
The second step meant reaching out to his customers, who had stood by the Placerville business … but were disappointed in the service of the last few years.
A letter went out to residents of El Dorado County from Mountain Mail in November. It was a major eating of “humble pie.”
“It’s no secret that Mountain Mail of Placerville has struggled to keep its focus through many challenges since an ownership change three years ago,” the letter stated. “Inconsistent hours, reduced inventory, road construction, erratic service, troubled technology, and other key problems dampened consumer views of this long-standing enterprise. Many troubles we caused ourselves, many could not be avoided.
“To those of you who still shop at our store please accept our sincerest appreciation for braving our troublesome times; to those who avoid stopping in, we offer our deepest apologies for our very real shortcomings.”
The letter goes on to detail improvements at the store. Mountain Mail will continue to offer customers traditional shipping services, packaging and high quality copy and document services. The store will offer quality shipping at the best rates available.
Mountain Mail will beat any chain store detailed domestic quote by at least 5 percent and any international quote by at least 10 percent. Mountain Mail accepts competitors’ shipping coupons, including from ads outside of El Dorado County.
“We definitely want to fix the store from what happened and move it forward into ancillary ventures that are in demand,” he said. “So it can continue into the next 30 years.”
Whittacker is excited about new services to the community that will be announced shortly after the new year, in 2012.
“Mountain Mail is evolving,” he said. “It’s very exciting and we are moving forward.”
Beginning on Dec. 15, the store will offer free Starbucks coffee every day. No purchase is necessary. Whittacker simply wants members of the community to “drop by, say hello and enjoy.” And to learn about the store’s new direction.
“You learn from failure,” Whittacker said. “The only thing that matters is: Are your customers satisfied? If they aren’t – your business will fail. If they are, you will succeed. This is the first business I’ve operated thus far, and that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned.”
Mountain Mail is located at 685 Placerville Drive in Placerville. Business hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and closed on Sunday. For more information, call 530-626-1634.