Amazon gives a Seattle brick-and-mortar business reason to smile with a busy sip, ship, shop formula

Sip and Ship owner Diana Naramore points out all the packages and envelopes stacked behind mail slots in one of her Seattle shops that were originally designed to hold Amazon book deliveries. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Diana Naramore is all smiles. Maybe it’s contagious, since she’s surrounded all day by so many Amazon packages with that familiar smile logo.

Naramore is owner and CEO of Sip and Ship, a small business with locations in Seattle’s Ballard and Greenwood neighborhoods that takes on the big task of shipping and receiving and more in the age of e-commerce.

Established in 2002, Sip and Ship looks like you’d imagine a business would that deals with the crush of daily packages and returns that come with so much internet shopping. U.S. e-commerce sales are expected to reach $143.7 billion this holiday season, up 14 percent year-over-year, according to Adobe Analytics.

But the brick-and-mortar business is more than just a postal stop with mail bins and packing supplies. It’s also a cafe and a retail establishment specializing in small gifts such as cards, toys and decorative items.

“There’s not one customer profile where we say, ‘OK, that’s our person.’ We sort of cater to everyone. That has helped us sustain our business model for as long as we have because we cater to busy families, working professionals, people who work remotely or even abroad,” Naramore said as she offered GeekWire a recent tour of her expanding Greenwood location, which is doubling in size at 7511 Greenwood Ave. N.

Sip and Ship relies on customers coming in to deal with mail and then adding a small gift item to the mix. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

While the package and mail management drives the majority of the business for Naramore and her 25 or so employees, the sip and shop segments tend to ebb and flow. The ideal scenario is that anyone who comes in to deal with mail will stick around to grab a coffee or a house-made treat and perhaps shop for a gift item that can be boxed and mailed on the spot.

In 17 years, Naramore, like many of us, has witnessed the evolution of Amazon, from online book seller to internet behemoth. The tech giant’s growth has even affected the physical layout of Sip and Ship.

“Back in 2002, when we started, these were designed to accommodate an Amazon-sized box at the time,” Naramore said standing behind empty mail slots intended to fit book-size packages. “We thought we were going to be really smart and keep in step.”

Diana Naramore adds her smile the mix of Amazon boxes waiting to be picked up at her business. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Not having enough room for Amazon is a good problem to have, considering the number of small brick-and-mortar businesses that can perhaps count Amazon as the reason why they’re no longer in business. Sip and Ship sees around 200 packages a day come and go through its doors and has handled about 250,000 packages so far in 2019.

Naramore knows people can easily print a prepaid Amazon return label and choose from a number of places to drop a package. But she’s made Sip and Ship into a glorified Amazon Locker of sorts, and wants to make things easy for people, too, by printing labels or supplying tape. She’s embraced this new age and knows it’s not going away, and at least it will bring people into her physical store.

Mike Menaker, a software engineer who lives in the neighborhood, stopped by with his dog and an armload of packages last week. He’s attracted to the convenience and security of Sip and Ship and uses it regularly.

“Returning stuff from various online shopping,” Menaker said, placing his packages on the counter. “My wife belongs to a service that ships her clothing — like a rent-a-clothing kind of thing. [Sip n Ship] is two blocks away, so it just makes more sense here as opposed to going to the blue mailbox or anything like that.”

Menaker and his wife don’t use the business to receive packages right now. But when they’re in the shop to send stuff out, especially on weekends when they have more time, they’ll grab coffee or gifts for friends.

A USPS mail carrier returns to his vehicle outside Sip and Ship in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Aside from traditional mailbox hosting, Sip and Ship handles online returns like Menaker’s and also serves as a dedicated receiving center. Customers can pay as they go, depending on box size, to use the shop as a package drop point, or pay $240 for the year for unlimited receiving.

The peace of mind is worth it for many customers who don’t want to deal with package-stealing porch pirates — a rampant problem in the Seattle area, which Naramore calls “heartbreaking.” C+R Research reported that 36 percent of Americans have dealt with package theft within the last year.

“It gives people the freedom to focus on what’s really important instead of worrying about that package,” she said of the security she offers. “They’ll get a message directly from us that says you have a package with the Greenwood Sip and Ship.”

Other customers who don’t live so close by rely on the “virtual mailbox” service that Sip and Ship offers through a partner platform. Images of mail are captured and then hosted in the cloud. Customers can identify pieces they want forwarded, scanned, opened, shredded, etc.

The old Sip and Ship space in Greenwood is being converted into just cafe space as the business doubles in size. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Diana Naramore opened her second Sip and Ship 11 years ago in Greenwood. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

While she partners with traditional carriers like the United States Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL, Naramore has watched Amazon’s own delivery efforts change in recent years.

“When they first started dispatching their drivers, they would hire essentially Uber drivers to come get their packages. None of them showed up in uniform or with a lanyard or anything. And basically they’d pull up to the curb and their packages would be falling out of their cars,” Naramore said, referencing the company’s Flex program. “Now they come at least with a lanyard on and a safety vest so that we can identify them. They bring monumental amounts of packages over FedEx and UPS on a daily basis.”

Those Amazon drivers are also showing up in branded vans as part of the company’s Delivery Service Partner program more and more, which Naramore likes. Now she’d love to see some type of pickup service as well as partnerships with neighborhood gathering spots such as Sip and Ship which could help Amazon reduce its carbon footprint. After all, in the so-called “last mile” of logistics, Sip and Ship sits squarely within that mile.

In the midst of her Greenwood remodel, Naramore was still smiling as she looked at boxes of assorted sizes piled on the counters and floor beneath her empty mail slots.

“Look at all this,” she said. “People need their stuff. They cannot live without their stuff.”

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