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A Mailbox By Any Other Name. . .

The USPS loosens its rental mailbox designations.

When the U.S. Postal Service issued its controversial Commercial Mail Receiving Agency (CMRA) regulations in March 1999 requiring the use of the PMB (postal mail box) notation on any letters sent to mailbox rental facilities, Stan Lewis knew it wouldn't last.

Many homebased-business owners rent mailboxes to take advantage of mail center services or to keep their residential addresses private, printing the facility's address and their rented box on their stationery and business cards as if it were their own address. The postal service, concerned that scam artists would use private mailbox addresses to dupe unsuspecting customers into believing they had a traditional office, created the PMB designation.

As franchisee of two South Florida Mailboxes Etc., Lewis heard complaints from hundreds of customers worried that "PMB" on their stationery would damage their reputations. "Customers were looking to use the stores, not trying to be scam artists," says Lewis. "That's what MailBoxes Etc. is all about-trying to make a difference from the post office. This was a restriction of trade."

Lewis knew the new regulation wouldn't last long as it was written. He was right.

Late in 2000, after taking heat from consumer groups and Congress, the USPS issued a new regulation on PMBs. Now, customers of facilities like Lewis' can either use "PMB" or the "#" sign in front of their box number. (The assumption is that by using the number sign, people will have no idea where your business is based.) The effective date of the new regulation is now August 16, 2001. If you use a CMRA for your mail, the USPS's preferred four-line address designation would place "PMB" or the "#" sign along with your box number on the second line, beneath your name or company name. This would be followed by the street address on the third line, and then the city, state and ZIP code on the fourth line.

The intent of the new regulation is to strike a balance between consumer needs and small-business needs, says Roy Gamble, USPS manager of delivery policies and programs. The designation of either "PMB" or "#" will protect consumers from fraudulent companies, and the August effective date will allow companies more time to comply, he says.

While it's not perfect, Lewis is now hearing more positive vibes from his 300 box-renting customers, satisfied that they're not slapping a stigma on their stationery-and businesses. "Everyone is very positive about the option," he says. "Nobody was happy with just the PMB [option.]"

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