Shipper of delicate, obsure items expanding trade 

John Sandhu has made a living for himself packaging and shipping the obscure and the delicate, from space rovers to antique elephant taxidermy.Now, with stores in San Francisco, Pleasanton and San Jose humming along, this franchisee of the nationwide Packaging Store chain is preparing to launch two more locations. The first, this year, will be in Menlo Park. The second will be another San Francisco store.

The better term might be "warehouse." The Packaging Store prides itself on being a major shipping center, Sandhu said, capable of picking up delicate computer servers or works of art, packaging them carefully and then shipping them out of a large industrial space. The more than 140-store franchise decided to move toward the cavernous after United Parcel Service purchased a competitor, Mailboxes Etc., in the 1980s.

"It made us understand that the whole marketplace is evolving … there is a wide need for customer service on a local basis, a brick and mortar location," Sandhu said. "You see an industrial feel … large wooden crates, large wooden pallets."

The overall franchise has shrunk from 180 to 140 stores over the last five years, but revenues chainwide have grown 8 percent to 10 percent a year for the last three years, Sandhu said. His own business has beat that, growing revenue by 15 percent a year for the past five, he said, through acquisition of the second two stores. His 2006 revenue was $1.8 million in gross sales.

"The fact that we’re not marketing just in our area, but we’re marketing to the entire Bay Area … we’re starting to get a lot of new business. Our name is now well-known in the B2B market," he said.

Customers include the New York Stock Exchange, which utilizes the firm to ship computer servers. More one-of-a-kind shipments include the dome of an 18th-century Czech church sold by a local private collector on eBay, giant sports-celebrity sculptures by a Brisbane artist, and the prototype for a rover NASA sent to Mars.

Matt Kramer, proprietor of Dual, a maker of furniture and disc jockey consoles to hold turntables and mixers, said: "We were using a couple of other companies that weren’t really as good. We’ve been using them ever since. They basically customize packing for all these units. There’re sometimes other, smaller parts that come off individually and they pack them individually and pack them into the units. Customers … actually compliment us on how well they’re packed."

Brian Eick, president of celebrity-memorabilia powerhouse Antiquities of California on Pier 39, said he works with the firm because they do pickup, have good prices and are careful with his irreplaceable merchandise.

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