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How The UPS Store Continues To Deliver Innovative Solutions in One of the Most Long-Established Industries

The UPS Store has been one of the top franchising brands worldwide for decades. Michelle Van Slyke, vice president of marketing and sales, spoke with 1851 about how the shipping giant stays ahead in the industry

The UPS Store knows a thing or two about franchising. The shipping and receiving giant has ranked first in the postal and business services category of the Franchise 500 list for the past 30 years and consistently ranks in the top five overall. One of the executives keeping the brand at the head of the pack is Michelle Van Slyke.

After joining The UPS store in 2010 as the senior vice president of marketing and sales, Van Slyke led efforts to reposition the brand and transform retail stores in a way that prioritized evolving consumer needs and franchise owner input. In addition to this role, she is also serving as interim president for the company. She has extensive experience in the franchising world, working at her family’s businesses throughout her childhood and holding various corporate roles with some of the world’s leading brands.

1851 spoke with Van Slyke about how The UPS Store is staying competitive and what the future holds for the brand’s franchise development.

1851 Franchise: How did the past 18 months affect The UPS Store in terms of sales and overall operations?

Michelle Van Slyke: We were very fortunate and thankful to be deemed an essential business last year. In addition to our shipping and packing, we also have mailbox customers who rely on us, and that really kept all of our stores open nationwide. As a franchisor, our goal was to be as supportive as possible to all our individual owners and retailers doing anything we could to support them with guidance, updating signs, facial covering guidelines, motivational elements, technical execution   whatever they needed.

On the sales side, we quickly saw the surge in e-commerce, so we were able to leverage that to a great extent. Our returns business went way up, showing double digit growth over the previous year. We also supported corporate customers with their transitions to remote work, making The UPS Store an easy place for employees to come pick up laptops and valuable materials. 

1851: What were some of the biggest shifts or lessons learned over the past 18 months?

Van Slyke: The notion of being a cheerleader for our network is key, and we have to continue showing owners that we’re here to support and guide them. We also need to look at how we can better leverage our services. E-commerce is huge, obviously, but this includes appealing to smaller sellers, not just larger ones. 

Our print business was definitely challenged last year, but people had some “aha” moments when they discovered some of our other capabilities like shredding and notary services. We’re really a place where people can get it done all at once, and we plan to capitalize on that moving forward.

1851: How is The UPS Store staying relevant and continuing to innovate in such a competitive landscape?

Van Slyke: We are a needs-based business, so we need to stay top of mind for the consumer. That means doing everything we can to support our franchise owners and the customers coming into their stores. In August of last year we launched a new store design with a more open floor, which is intended to help the customer understand all of the products and services we offer. We’re also expanding non-traditional locations, like having a UPS Store inside of a grocery store, hotel or convention center. We want to make the customer’s experience more welcoming, modern and transparent.

1851: How is The UPS Store franchise development pipeline looking, and why is now an ideal time for people to invest with the brand?

Van Slyke: Our pipeline is very robust right now. Most months, we’re over 100% of our target in terms of franchise leads and openings. But we want to make sure we’re creating a diverse group of franchise owners, so we have initiatives for veterans, minority groups and the LGBTQ+ community to provide discounts on our application and franchise fees. We want a franchise network that’s representative of the communities we serve.

Now is a great time to invest because The UPS Store is the perfect balance between the booming E-commerce space and the essential offline services needed to keep these businesses going. We just redesigned our franchise owner university, so our training is better than ever. Plus, you get to be a part of a great brand the minute you open a store. Customers know it. It’s reliable. It’s stable. And in today’s environment where so much is changing, that’s so valuable.

1851: The UPS Store has been ranked #1 in the postal and business services category for more than 30 years and remains in the top 5 overall for the fifth consecutive year according to the Franchise 500 list why do you think that is?

Van Slyke: I think it’s about our business model. We’re not a one-trick pony, and we do an exceptional job of taking care of the customer. If it’s one thing our store owners do, it’s that. They take pride in what they do, which generally keeps us at a high level. Plus, our footprint has continued to grow, and we’ve continuously looked at innovative ways we can expand into new locations. If we continue to maintain that balance, we’ll continue to be in the top rankings.