When Dionne Laslo-Baker heard there could be a work stoppage at Canada Post, she turned to Purolator as a back-up to ship documents and marketing materials required to run her company, DeeBee's SpecialTEA Foods.
Unfortunately, so did a lot of other businesses and consumers, causing volumes at Purolator to surge by up to 80 per cent. As packages pile up, Purolator, which is 91-per-cent owned by Canada Post, has been forced to impose earlier service cut-off times and temporarily drop time and day guarantees altogether.
Meantime, the mail continues to back up.
Companies and consumers waiting for long overdue letters and packages shipped through Purolator are venting their frustration on social media, including on Twitter with the hashtag #PurolatorFail.
DeeBee's SpecialTEA Foods, which is based in Victoria, B.C., makes tea-based treats. The company has had to apologize to customers and suppliers across North America for delays due to the mail backlog, and find other ways to get products and paperwork to consumers and suppliers.
"In business, you don't have the option of saying 'Sorry, this is delayed,'" says Ms. Laslo-Baker, the company's founder and CEO. "It impacts us negatively when we haven't sent something in a timely manner."
It's also made more work for her employees, as they scurry to find ways to try to maintain productivity.
Ms. Laslo-Baker says the company is taking steps to make up for lost time, including getting some American affiliates to handle mail within the U.S., paying more for other courier services, and starting to move some of the paperwork to cloud-based software systems.
DeeBee's SpecialTEA Foods is still sending some mail through Purolator, and not relying on Canada Post until its labour issues are resolved. Canada Post issued a 72-hour lockout notice to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers on July 5 and the union has a mandate to strike. However, the two sides have agreed not to act as they continue their discussions.
Purolator volumes started to grow in early July as the threat of the Canada Post work stoppage loomed, says Karen White-Boswell, Purolator's director of corporate communications.
She says volumes grew by as much as 80 per cent in mid-July, but have since leveled off to an increase of about 20 per cent to 30 per cent. Purolator has added evening and weekend processing for shipping, and extended retail and delivery hours to handle the higher volumes. It hasn't hired extra staff, but instead expanded shift hours for existing employees.
White-Boswell says the company is encouraging small businesses to plan ahead for potential delays, including informing their customers items may be late.
"That manages everyone's expectations of what's going to happen to that shipment," she says.
Guy Auger, who runs MasterWorks Coaching & Training, has been waiting weeks for two computers ordered from Dell in early July. One arrived in Vancouver on July 15 and the other on July 18, but they still have not made their way to his home in Whistler.
Mr. Auger says Purolator did attempt to deliver one package last weekend, but they weren't home. A delivery notice was left, but when he used it to pick up computer on the date it was said to be available at the depot, it wasn't there.
"Many others were there to pick up their package as well," he says in an e-mail, "but there were no packages for anyone."
Mr. Auger has placed a number of calls with customer service at Purolator, and been on hold for as long as 45 minutes before giving up. When he tried to contact Purolator through their online chat system, a message popped up saying the chat had been cancelled because no agents were available. Many other consumers have been posting pictures of similar messages on Twitter in recent days.
"It's very frustrating," says Mr. Auger.
He did eventually get through to customer care after tweeting about his frustrations with the service. A social media co-ordinator replied, sympathizing with his situation, and said local terminals are processing shipments as quickly as possible.
"We anticipate that many of our facilities will be up to date by the end of this week – with … most of our network back up to normal services by Friday," the service agent said in an e-mail to Mr. Auger.
"To add fuel to the fire, my wife ordered new glasses on the weekend and they were delivered within 24 hours by FedEx," Mr. Auger says.
He's still scratching his head over why Purolator wasn't better prepared for the possibility of a work stoppage at its sister company, Canada Post.
"I know I will be advising all my clients to avoid Purolator at all costs, moving forward," Mr. Auger says.