AIM mail center, located on 100th Street Southwest in Lakewood, has been in existence for approximately 10 years. The successful AIM mail center is comparable to a post office or FedEx, as mailboxes, shipping, and copying services are available. However, AIM is unique in the sense that some of the mail center services are provided by workers who are trainees [clients] with disabilities. Becca Taylor, Business Development Manager for AIM, explained the history, “The franchise was founded by a family and it grew and expanded it to what it is today. There are 79 AIM stores around the country, not all run by non-profits, only 3 are run by non-profits. [The store originated in] California in the early 70’s, I believe, 1972, I think.”
Becca shared the best thing about AIM, “I think the best thing is that it’s owned by CenterForce. It’s the only reason why I’m here. This isn’t my dream to be a manager of a mail center, but I love working with the clients (the people that work here). They’re not employees; they’re in a training program to be employees at other companies in the community. Most of them enjoy it here so it’s their choice to stay.”
Becca has worked for AIM for almost four years, shared what she thought of AIM, “I think what we do is tied in with CenterForce is the key to the success of the store. First and foremost the clients do most of the work, if you will. I do the back office kinda stuff…A large amount of customers come and support clients [workers]. A lot of people want to support people with disabilities but are uncomfortable, so this is a way they do so…Coming and being a customer and interacting with clients…A lot of them [customers] know them on a first name basis and vice versus and workers know them.”
When asked what was something many people may not know about CenterForce, Becca replied, “We just did a customer survey, like last month and most of the customers knew it was staffed by people with disabilities or owned by CenterForce, being a non-profit. People don’t realize that they are hired through CenterForce to be here.” Becca shared how AIM mail center is unique compared to other mail centers, “The way I marketed it and grown it is because people with disabilities that work here…Also supporting a non-profit that focuses on adults with developmental disabilities.”
Even Becca uses AIM mail center for her own needs, “Yeah, I use our FEDEX and UPS services all mailing and copying services, notary services recently.” When asked if she recommends AIM to her family and friends, Becca responded, “Absolutely same reason as everything [she’s mentioned above] because of who works here. It’s really important for the community to support each other; and people with disabilities work harder and are more loyal. It may take them [trainees-clients] longer to learn something or to teach them but once you do, they’ll stay with you. Customers that come out 10 to 15 miles to support the cause and know people that have disabilities…A very loyal community.”
Kari Conlen, Employment Development Manager for CenterForce for 12 years this October, shared what she thought about AIM, “I think it’s a great way to promote inclusion within the business community and with adults with developmental disabilities…And a great way to showcase their skills and abilities.” Kari shared the best thing about AIM, “I think it’s the education piece that it provides to the community, just having that inclusion and demonstrating that people with disabilities are out there and working. It may generate some thought of business owners to perhaps take on a person, potentially carving out a job for them… Or someone that we serve.”
When asked what many people may not know about AIM, Kari replied, “I’d have to agree with Becca they don’t know about the connection with CenterForce. A lot of people don’t know about CenterForce at all. People with disabilities working… the first thought is Goodwill [store] who is national, they don’t think about local non profits that are just focused on our communities alone…And interested in promoting our own community Goodwill’s a good organization that’s where they automatically go to.”
Kari shared how AIM is better than other mail centers, “There’s a very limited wait time, always be greeted in a friendly manner, they are treated as guests and often times they become return customers. We’ve got a very loyal customer base. We provide a very personalized service, connect people w/small businesses to mailboxes, businesses can email us about information to be printed, collated, mailed out they don’t necessarily have to step foot in the store if they don’t need to.”
When asked if she used AIM mail center, Kari responded, “I do, I got my passport picture here. And it was a million times better than having to go to the post office. It’s convenient, you don’t have to wait and they’ll make sure you’ll like your picture.” Kari recommends AIM to her family and friends, “Yeah, actually my mom just opened a nonprofit and is going to be looking into have all her mailers come out of AIM and won’t even have to come here email and print and do mailings right from here.”
Kari added: “I just want to give kudos to Becca because she really walks the walk and talks the talk. When I first met her she was a manager at Borders bookstore in Puyallup she had a position that she wanted to have filled. I brought her a client that I thought would be a good candidate. Becca hired and supported her. Becca became very interested [in CenterForce and became a] board member and then started operating the AIM center…A great buy in and real belief in the power of work with people with disabilities and what it brings to their lives.”
Christine Kraemer, an AIM customer since last fall, found about AIM through the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce. “I think their services are excellent; I love their people. I don’t know if you know much about it? Primarily disabled adults in our community. They’re just wonderful…One of them is named Joe. He’s there quite a lot…One of Center Force clients, disabled clients, Joe is just wonderful. They all are… Go out of the way with a print service to opening the door. Their just outstanding service is extremely important to them,” Christine shared. Christine uses AIM’s services, “We [Christine and her husband] have 2 companies, the Weekly Breeze [newspaper] and National Groundwater Surveyors. We also get our home mail there, it’s safer. We use them as our primary mail boxes personal or professional…Print our paper for us (weekly breeze). They’re just outstanding.”
When asked the best thing about AIM, Christine replied, “Oh my gosh. If I’m in a funky mood, I’ll leave smiling just because of the conversation I had when I was in there, picking up mail, or getting something printed or asking about faxing service. They’re always happy there…Really good environment…Going in as a customer they will do it for you and not just do it, but do it well. You just can’t beat that kinda service especially in today’s [world]. Today’s service is not as important to people. In AIM center, you know that’s really important to them. I don’t know if you know, it’s like a restaurant and the food is just okay but the service is great, then I’ll go back. On the other hand, if the food is great, and the service is bad, I’m probably not gonna go back. I think a lot of people feel that way; they want good service and feel they care about you. They’re just very friendly and very concerned about getting it right…And I appreciate that.”
Christine shared how AIM is unique compared to other mail centers, “Oh my gosh (Christine laughs) I have firsthand experience with that I have gone for years at a similar facility not staffed by CenterForce clients and their whole flavor is different. The other place was grumpy or grouchy if your key wasn’t working. They would nickel and dime you trying to make money on a small tiny envelope. The difference for me is the service, friendly service, and staff. They wanna fix it if it’s [a print job is] crooked and are happy. They enjoy being there that’s the difference. You can tell they wanna and like being there and like being able to serve you (when you walk into AIM mail center).”
When asked if she recommends AIM to her family and friends, Christine responded, “Absolutely, for all of the above (Christine laughs) they’re just excellent they really are. I don’t intend on going anywhere else. They are the forefront of my mind when someone asks about a mail center.” “Rebecca Taylor, Joe, and Jordan [some of the staff there] are just outstanding personnel that are always ready to help us with whatever we [husband and I] need,” Christine added.
Scott Jonson, a customer of AIM who has had a mailbox with them for five years, had researched other mailbox places through the Chamber of Commerce. “Once I learned about AIM and hiring people with disabilities, then I was like, “this is who I wanna go with.” Scott shared what he thought of AIM, “I love it. I like what they do…Service wise excellent…Not that I wanna speak ill of post office, when determining [what mail center he wanted to pick], got there at 8 am and 5 people in line were ahead of me, by 9 am, 4 people were ahead of me. If I have to deal with this every day, I don’t have enough time for this. I get a lot of packages. With AIM, the longest I have to wait is 5 min. so, that was just another additional selling point in my eyes. They see me a couple times a week and know me by name. Whenever I have packages, they let me know right away there are packages for me to pick up.” Scott also uses AIM for his personal mailbox, to mail personal packages, and for his work anytime he needs something to certified mail.
When asked what the best thing about AIM, Scott replied, “They hire people with disabilities, the manager; Becca is a Dymo; just great…Any concerns or problems, [she] takes care of them right away. She’s very customer service oriented. I really like that.” Scott shared what many people may not know about AIM, “A lot of their services they have to offer, I don’t think people know you can have your passport photos taken there, you can get stuff notarized there, so many different services. It’s amazing. I don’t think people realize how quick you can get in and out of there…Be able to get something mailed right away not to speak ill of post office half hour to 45 minutes of waiting and our time is valuable.”
Scott shared how AIM is unique compared to other mail centers, “Unfortunately, I’ve only used one; I can’t compare them to other ones. I just like the customer service and I’ve been satisfied and happy with all transactions down there…And being a member of the Lakewood Chamber; that’s the place I go to mail something certified for work.” Scott recommends AIM to his family and friends, “Family if they lived local, I would and friends I would. I would recommend AIM hands down to anyone. Again because of the service everybody likes to do business with people they know. It’s nice to go to a place and they say “Hi Scott” versus the post office I feel like I’m beating up the post office again. You go to so many places where they know your name and do business with people you know.”
Becca even explained that AIM has a loyalty rewards program, “Frequent shipper card. Buy a certain amount of packages and the 10th [package is] shipped free up to $15 off.”
AIM even sponsors events, “We do fundraisers in March we had helped full our pot of gold and sold coins for a $1 to raise money (people put their name on them and put them on the window) helped raise money for CenterForce. [We] give coupons to military families anyone that ships to an APO gets a discount. APO (base is overseas Afghanistan and Iraq) where people are deployed…Coupons that go out in the weekly breeze local paper that supports us,” Becca explained.
Visit AIM mail center in Lakewood for your mailing needs for excellent customer service and shorter lines. “We know there are many choices out there as far as choosing a mail center, but by choosing us you’re making a choice to support people with developmental disabilities in the work force,” Becca concluded.
By Carly Calabrese, Tacoma.com staff reporter