Sip & Ship: From Essential Service to Essential Stronghold for their community
July 2020: During the time of Seattle’s statewide COVID19 shutdown, Sip and Ship was able to remain open due to its essential mailing and business services. This small brick and mortar business soon discovered they were more than an essential business but a true stronghold for a larger community.
Neighborhoods: Ballard and Greenwood
Interview with Diana Naramore, Sip & Ship
Your business is all about connections. Can you start by sharing some stories that have stood out for you over the past few months on how our community is both hurting and coming together?
We saw more simple gestures from our customers to stay in touch with their loved ones through the mail. It quickly became the safest way for them to stay
connected but it also became more thoughtful, creative and deeply personal. We saw an increase in the amount of cards, handwritten notes and care packages people were sending. In the ones we helped to pack, we saw face masks, hand sanitizers, cleaning wipes and lots of homemade jams, cookies and breads.
Celebrating birthdays seemed to take on a whole new meaning, especially sending birthday cards, gifts and decorated packages to friends across the street, city and to other quarantined states or other parts of the world. As the pandemic continued, each card or package brought to us had extra special meaning, as stories were often shared with us about who was going to receive this package and why it was so important that it got there safely. We found ourselves sharing these stories with each other and I especially liked to imagine the light these packages would deliver to the person on the receiving end.
Another surprise during COVID19 was the value of seeing businesses and people pivoting and/or becoming more creative and intentional in their focus. We saw this by other small business owners or office workers adjusting to becoming a mask maker, home decorator or baker. In this time of remote work and greater isolation, it meant finding ways to maintain their physical and mental well-being by discovering new in-home hobbies or habits. Shipments of rugs, furniture, throw-pillows, bolts of fabric, boxes of yarn, art supplies, barbells, stationary bikes, keyboards, kayaks and guitars were some of the DIY items arriving through the mail and what people were becoming excited about.
During COVID hearing about cancelled concerts and events was one thing, but coming face to face with couples whose weddings were cancelled was heartbreaking. We shared in their disappointment with empathy and tears while learning details of their dashed dreams. Listening to descriptions, from beautiful venues, local caterers, orchestrated music, flowers, wedding cake to the family traditions and all of their friends and who wouldn’t be able to travel and celebrate this milestone in their lives. We were proud to bear witness and notarize their wedding certificate along with sharing the joy of hearing them say” the show must go on,” cementing the idea that in the end, love does actually win.
Before COVID, most coffee shops, by law, have to restrict animals unless they are service animals. During COVID, since Sip and Ship ceased all in-store seated service and continued with a more modest to-go service, we decided to allow dogs. It happened naturally really. Customers would be on walks with their dogs and would venture in to pick up a package and oops, the dog came in too! We loved the distraction and welcomed the tail wags. One nice surprise to Seattle’s Stay At Home Order was the response we began to see with more pet adoptions and new puppies being introduced as they came in with their new families. Since we could now allow pets in our shops, we were meeting more four-legged family members - some were adopted and several were new puppies. Not only is the Sip and Ship team animal lovers but the stress relief we benefited from was unmeasurable. This gave me a greater sense of appreciation for the important role our pets play. Animals don’t really know what’s going on in the world right now but they provide us with a relief and escape from it all (albeit brief). Being up close to see their clumsy big feet, exaggerated tail wags and being the recipient of their enthusiastic licks and neck burrows, squelched any stress or anxiety and inspired smiles, giggles and provided us with much needed unconditional love during such unprecedented and restrictive conditions.
When and why did you start your business?
Sip and Ship was created in 2002 through a desire my husband and I had to find a neighborhood in Seattle to plant roots in and nurture it through our high level of service. We love creating a sense of community and Sip and Ship is a welcoming place that provides a sense of belonging for anyone who walks through our doors. Our vocation is to care for others as if they are members of our family and our team helps us achieve this every day. Most days, it’s by making sure customer mail and packages are secured and quality cups of coffee and homemade pastries are served - - just the way one would expect.
Walk me through your business lines.
Sip and Ship is a multifunctional business with three primary departments. The shipping department is home to our virtual and traditional mailbox rental communities and where we handle all mailing and shipping needs along with Notary Public services. We are partners with all of the major shipping carriers (The Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, DHL and Amazon) which allows to ship to practically anywhere in the world (except in COVID times when for the first time we’ve experienced a few service suspensions).
The sipping department (cafe and scratch-made bakery) provides homemade pastries and treats (including a couple family recipes) paired with locally roasted coffee (provided by Herkimer Coffee). Our gift shop supports Seattle artists and female makers such as Ilee Papergoods, Dahliapress, Frans Chocolate, Seattle Chocolate and Lulumiere Candles - just to name a few customer faves.
Can you share an example, pre COVID, of a customer interaction that really defined the success of your mission?
The linchpin of Sip and Ship is our ability to connect and collaborate with our customers. We work to support and solve. Any dilemma they face, we face with them. There are so many customers we have gotten to know and work with over the years. From rock stars and entrepreneurs to landscape artists, fishermen and traveling nomads, Sip and Ship we keep people from all walks of life connected and cared for.
As 10 year veteran Dan Austin of 88 Biles puts it, “Sip and Ship is so unusual - and so indispensable - it is like a universal power adaptor enabling a traveler to plug in no matter where in the world she is….If I need to mail something, if I need special handling, if I need supplies or creative individuals with the expertise to discern a solution, if I need a place to meet a volunteer, donor or board member, if I need a special gift, I can just step into Sip and Ship. It has provided a space fostering efficient operation and seamless innovation.”
Before COVID - how were you doing?
We were finishing the second phase of the Greenwood Sip and Ship expansion. Last year we moved the shipping segment of our business into a new space while we continued through the holiday season with the hopes of opening a new cafe in February but plumber issue, contractor injury and then COVID hit.
What are your biggest challenges now and how have you responded?
Keeping our team safe and healthy, physically and mentally.
We are in regular and frequent communications with our team (one-on-one, online gaming and zoom meetings). We’ve reduced operating hours and scheduled shorter shifts, installed plexi-glass shields at our counters and hand sanitizing stations on our retail floors. We’ve encouraged frequent hand washing, sanitizing work stations routinely and the use of gloves provided and face masks.
Has anything surprised you or have you learned something new about your business/customers through this?
The biggest surprise was how we were able to shift so quickly as a society in such a short amount of time.
We’ve learned that communicating with a mask on our faces is difficult - by nature we are all smilers and it’s a part of how we greet anyone who walks through our doors so that they feel instantly welcome. We’ve had to learn to smile with our eyes. Directing traffic to keep people safe is exhausting - even with social distancing grids on our floors and squares for customers to stand safely in, they have a hard time changing the natural tendency of coming right over to us. Mother's Day was 40% busier than we’ve seen in years past. We mailed a lot of face masks, cards, chocolate and gift combination boxes to Moms around the world.
We have also been surprised by how our employees responded. While we faced fear, stress, anxiety and great uncertainty about this invisible enemy, our crew continued to show up for work. They have practiced safety vigilance and worked extremely hard to serve and work through emotionally charged situations with customers - who in most cases were at Sip and Ship to ship safety supplies to quarantined loved ones on the other side of the country.
From our COVID experiences together, our adaptability to uncertainty and change made us a stronger and a more resilient team. We know now what to expect when the second wave hits.
During COVID, can you share an example of a customer interaction that really defined the success of your mission?
One example was when the Northwest Middle School needed to get art supplies to 150 students - who were mostly in Seattle but a few were international. Because of COVID, the school was closed, and needed our help. We drove to Georgetown, to the teacher’s home to pick up the packets, brought them back to our shop and shipped them individually to their students. Finding ways to share kindness and care by taking extra steps to help our guests and community is what best satisfies our work at Sip and Ship.
Hey, Seattle, here's how you can help!
Check out the Ballard or Greenwood Sip and Ship for your coffee, snack and shipping needs. You may never go back to the post office again!
In what ways have you shared/shipped your love to friends and family during COVID? Keep those letters and care packages going!