As small businesses everywhere struggle to find their footing in the face of the coronavirus and social distancing, Dean Babb is making good use of antibacterial wipes and disinfectants in his Mailboxes & More of Ahwatukee.
It’s an especially tough time for the independent business owner, who moved with his wife to Ahwatukee from the Pacific Northwest in November after buying Mailboxes & More at 1334 E. Chandler Blvd.
Mailboxes & More is an established business of more than 25 year’s tenure and was owned for 21 years by Yehia Hafez, who was well-respected in the Foothills.
Though Babb had a couple months to start making the 1,200-square-foot store his own, recent events have had him revamp business protocols in order to keep his customers – and himself – as safe as possible.
“Every day, I see my customers making adjustments in their lives where they hope to minimize their risk while still trying to maintain their lives,” said Babb, 55.
“I know in my shop I’ve been trying to wipe down equipment, counters, pens and other items that are used frequently by either myself or the customers. Like everyone else, I’m trying to be as vigilant as possible and hope those measures are having a positive effect or at the very least trying to prevent a negative effect.”
Even in what we now consider “normal” times, Babb said he had customers who preferred to frequent his business rather than go to the local post office branch to mail letters and packages.
Now, he sees an uptick in new customers as COVID-19 demands social distancing and crowd limits.
“Normally, I would say our lines are often shorter and move faster than the post office. And now, I imagine that helps to minimize potential risk of contact with the virus, but the reality is you can’t tell who may have the virus and what surfaces may be infected just by looking,” he admitted.
“We offer several services, including postal services. I also suppose it’s possible that one-stop to take care of a few tasks should be better than multiple stops where you risk exposure every place you go.”
“I look at it this way: In today’s reality it’s hard to find everything you need in one store since the stores are getting picked clean every day. Maybe you go to three stores trying to get everything. If each store has a few hundred people, I would think your risk of exposure is much greater that way,” he said.
Another increase of business has come from those who now find themselves required to work from home, said Babb.
“With things the way they are, currently people have been taking advantage of the business-related services where they can’t get to their offices,” he said.
“Some people may be scanning things to email someplace or faxing time sheets to get paid. Several people have sent care packages to friends or relatives in more affected parts of the country. In some cases, people may be shipping things to customers where they would normally be seeing them in person.”
Mailboxes & More is not a franchise, but an independently-owned business.
Besides the mailing, packing, shipping services and office equipment such as copiers, scanners and fax machines available, Babb also provides notary services, mailboxes for rent, binding, laminating, mailing and packaging materials including oversize envelopes and bubble wrap, key cutting – even passport services.
His shop offers passport photos, renewal applications and various mailing/shipping options to send the application to the processing center.
“This is one service I feel like I have improved,” he said, noting he’s replaced an old Polaroid camera used by the previous owner with a digital one.
With the digital camera and the photo printer, he said, “I think the results are far better and less of an issue if you have to reshoot.”
Making use of his former career experience and with an optimism for the future, Babb is expanding the offerings available at Mailboxes & More.
He’s creating custom mugs, some sign services and projects that can make use of his 3-D printer.
“I have a few things I’m interested in doing,” he said, pointing to over 30 years in graphic design and website development.
“Six years ago, I sold a family of RV-related websites. With that business I also had an online store and published a small pop-up camper magazine,” he said.
Before that he was the IT manager at an apparel manufacturer in Portland, Oregon, where he developed a web application to help run the business.
“So, I feel like a business like this one has plenty of potential to capitalize on those various skills as well as being able to offer services that are solidly in my wheelhouse that weren’t previously offered or even considered.”
Babb said he isn’t attempting to do everything at once, but will bring things online as he’s able.
“I’ve already started developing a web app for this business so I can track all the packages that are delivered from the time it comes in my door all the way to when it is handed to the recipient,” he said.
“It still needs some smoothing out but has already proven to be helpful. It’s just the beginning,” he said. “I believe this business will dovetail nicely with my skills and allow me to build our services offerings into much more than just shipping and mailboxes.”
He reminisced on how he and his wife Ivon made the decision to pull up roots and move from the Vancouver, Washington and Portland area to Ahwatukee – a decision, he said, they’re both thankful they made.
“My wife and I wanted to move to someplace sunnier and warmer than Washington state, yet the thought of looking for a job in another state just didn’t thrill me so I started entertaining the idea of buying a business,” said Babb.
“At 55, I wasn’t ready to retire. We considered a few places where we’d want to live and what kind of business would work for me. I found this business in July of last year and took a weekend to fly down to take a look at this one, and another similar one.
“I really liked the previous owner, and I loved Ahwatukee, so I made an offer. We sold our house and were down here in Arizona by the second week of November.”
He worked with the previous owner until Christmas Eve, when he retired, and has been working the business on his own since then.
Alex Gardner of Ahwatukee said he and his business partner have been customers of Mailboxes & More since they moved here in 1997.
“We chose them for their convenient location and stayed because of the great service we’ve consistently received over the years,” said Gardner.
“Since we traveled often, having a private mailbox was invaluable, allowing us to travel worry-free knowing all mail and packages arriving while we were gone were safe and protected.”
He said he appreciated Babb being a “tech-savvy forward thinker who is constantly looking for ways to make things better for us.”
“Dean is a breath of fresh air for the community. He’s extremely helpful, conscientious and service-oriented,” he added.
Information: MailboxesandMoreAZ.com or 480-460-2108.