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COVER UPDATE: Shipping news

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  • | 12:00 p.m. December 31, 2009
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It's early November and Bert Hamilton can already tell the holiday shopping season will be lackluster.

His firm, Fort Myers-based Harvey Software, provides business customers with the key to finding the best shipping rates among the major carriers, including FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service.

Hamilton says holiday sales will likely be flat despite rosier predictions by many retailers. “The truth of the matter is we track packages and I see the volumes,”
Hamilton says. “It is good to have a positive attitude, but we're building our business around being conservative.”

The holiday season's lackluster sales will likely result in more business failures in January and February, Hamilton warns. “But after we clear this out, I feel we're going to pick up again,” he says.

The beauty of Harvey Software's products now is that they can save customers millions of dollars of shipping costs by evaluating the best carriers and whether to ship the packages by air or ground. That's critical now because cutting costs is one of the few ways to boost the bottom line today.

For example, many carriers guarantee delivery within a certain date. The closer the shipping destination, the more likely you can ship a package by ground and still have it reach the destination within the promised time.

Shipping by ground can mean cost savings of as much as 50% over air. Newly designed software by Hamilton's company instantly evaluates whether a package can be sent by ground or air and what carrier offers the best rate. Overall, companies can save as much as 30% on shipping expenses, Hamilton says.

Shipping by ground also reduces emissions by 20% over shipping by air, Hamilton estimates.

He plans to develop a scoring mechanism in his software so companies can measure how much less carbon is emitted when they choose ground shipping over air. That way, customers will have this choice when they ship: “I want it the greenest way to get there.”

The green shipping option is more sizzle than substance, Hamilton acknowledges. “It's definitely a marketing thing. It's like free shipping,” he says. There's no such thing as free shipping, of course; that expense is always included in the cost of what you buy.

Until the rebound comes, Hamilton has put off expanding sales offices in other states. Originally, Hamilton planned to open an office in North Carolina, but that state recently imposed a sales tax on Internet sales. As a result, companies such as Amazon and Google pulled business from any company doing business in North Carolina. “We basically cancelled the project,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton estimates the economic recovery will begin next year and if it does, his company will benefit from the surge. “The last time we came out of a recession, we were making revenues that were double the year before,” he says.

The company's annual revenues are currently about $1 million.

—Jean Gruss


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