LAWTON, Iowa | When Western Iowa Telephone employees prepare mass mailings, they keep track of what time it is.
The Lawton, Iowa, communications company has been keeping an eye on the clock since the U.S. Postal Service reduced the hours of the Lawton post office, one of thousands nationwide now open fewer hours as the USPS tries to make up for millions of dollars in losses due, in part, to a continued decline in mail volume.
"It has ramped up our need to plan a little better. It requires us to do quite a bit more planning with anything mail-related," said Heath Mallory, general manager of Western Iowa Telephone, which mails an average of 4,000 pieces of mail monthly.
The Lawton post office, which now closes at 2 p.m. weekdays and is open for an hour on Saturdays, is one of dozens in Siouxland operating with reduced hours as part of the USPS Post Plan, which includes reduced hours at 13,000 post offices nationwide by this fall.
Richard Watkins, USPS spokesman for the Des Moines-based Hawkeye District, said the Post Plan, implemented in the fall of 2012, grew out of feedback from postal customers displeased with a previous plan that called for post office closures in many small towns. Feedback showed that customers preferred reduced hours to closure.
"There are many communities that would like us to leave everything the same way forever, but that's just not realistic," Watkins said.
In the current fiscal year's first quarter, the Postal Service lost $354 million. Watkins said reducing hours at post offices is expected to save the USPS $500 million annually, mainly in personnel and utility costs. Decisions on which post offices had their hours reduced were based on revenue and retail transactions at each site.
"We have to face the reality there aren't as many people mailing as many letters, particularly first-class mail," Watkins said.
With some post offices now open as little as four hours a day, Siouxlanders have had to adjust. For some, it's been easy. Others still are trying to make it work.
People who work full time can have trouble getting to the post office while it's open, said Dave Amick, mayor of Bronson, Iowa, where the post office is now open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays.
"For my wife and I, because we're retired, those hours accommodate us pretty well," Amick said. "As a community, we're pleased we were able to keep our post office even at that diminished capacity. I think everybody's pretty much adjusted to it, and we move on."
The Hinton, Iowa, post office now closes at 2:30 p.m. on weekdays and is open for an hour on Saturdays, a change that made it hard to fill orders received in the afternoon on the same day, said Jennifer Copenhaver, who with husband, Keith, operates Hot Heels Inc., a rodeo calf roping dummy and equipment company in rural Hinton.
"Before the hours change, we could send an order out the same day. It definitely put a pinch in the way we were used to operating," Copenhaver said of the hours reduction.
The Copenhavers now use a private parcel company for most of their shipments, mainly because of cost and convenience, but the reduced hours at the post office also played a role in their decision.
She said others in Hinton, especially those who work in Sioux City, have a hard time getting to the post office before it closes.
"It's a hassle, but it's the way things are. I'm sure people would rather have that than no post office," Copenhaver said.
Watkins said no further hour reductions or post office closures are planned, but as revenues continue to decline, those options could be reconsidered.
"We always have and will continue to (look at that)," he said.
Mallory said Western Iowa Telephone continues to adjust. A drive-up payment drop-off box in Lawton has become more popular. Customer services are increasingly being added to the company's website to lessen dependence on the mail.
"We've taken a lot of steps to make it easier for our customers to communicate with us," Mallory said.