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The inner workings of a family owned post office

  • Published
  • By Teresa McNamara
  • Jet 48 Staff Writer
Lakenheath Camp Post Office, or the British Post Office, doesn't carry the feel of a franchise--this mom and pop shop offers convenient and knowledgeable service with a bit of British cheer.

Walking through the door it looks something like a general store in an old town before being taken over by a convenience store chain. The shelves are filled with penny candy, post cards and souvenirs, a freezer filled with ice cream. At the front of the constant queue is husband and wife team Leslie and Hester Hope, who have owned and operated the office since 2005.

The Hopes purchased the franchise to earn a living and save for retirement. Prior to being a postmaster, Mr. Hope worked in South Africa as an electrical engineer. Mrs. Hope, previously a full-time homemaker and mother, works alongside her husband as a part-time employee.

Having no previous experience in the postal service, the Hopes received only one week of training before being put to the test.

"I experienced sheer panic for the first week," said Mr. Hope.

As a franchise, the Hope's post office branch must conform to the image of the Crown Post Office. They are provided signage and equipment, but do not offer passport services or employ permanent, salaried employees, like the government owned and operated Crown Post Office branches.

They do have the freedom to choose what supplementary merchandise will fill their shelves. They try to carry uncommon items not available at the base exchange, such as British cookies, candy and ice cream, and rarer items such as authentic Roman coins that sell for £6, and coins of King George VI for £54. For Christmas, per customer suggestion, the Hopes plan on carrying miniature collectable Royal Post Office trucks.

The Hopes are financially accountable for merchandise as well as the inventory behind the counter.

"We close an hour early on Wednesdays to do store inventory," said Mr. Hope. "If we loose a stamp, we have to pay for it, so we must keep track of merchandise, down to the last penny."

Aside from keeping track of inventory, Mr. Hope says the most difficult part of his job is dealing with road tax issues. "Customers tend to get upset when I cannot issue them a road tax because their documentation is not in order," said Mr. Hope.

Mr. Hope reminds patrons to have their V5 or V11 regulation documents, a valid certificate of insurance with correct information, and a valid MOT on hand.

These franchise owners offer a unique customer service experience for their patrons. They offer a "give a pence take a pence" dish, which is frequently used by customers who need that extra four pence to pay for postage. They kindly answer questions regarding British mailing policies. And to lighten the mood in the room when the computer malfunctions and holds up transactions, Mr. Hope jokingly refers to his computer as "tin brain." It's evident to most customers they enjoy their trade and their clients.

"We love our customers," said Mrs. Hope. "By and large, they are nice and polite. It reflects the training they receive."

The British Post Office is opportunely located in Building 1025, next to the U.S. Postal Service. It offers a wide array of services such as standard mailing and supplies, mobile top-ups, commission free currency exchange, European health insurance cards for travelers, maps and road tax just to name a few.
The first British Post Office on Lakenheath was opened in 1946. It created a convenient way for servicemembers to utilize the facility without leaving base.

Letter in hand, Capt. Amy Gammill of the 48th Medical Operations Squadron stood patiently in the mid-morning queue. It's her first time mailing anything from the British Post Office.

"I'm deploying on Monday, so it's very convenient to have the British Post Office located next to the U.S. Post Office," said Captain Gammill.

Mr. Hope plans on providing this service to the Air Force until he is ready to retire from the workforce, he said. "I will continue to do this until I hang up my date stamp and say I've rightly had enough."