By Cindy Atoji Keene
The “real” shipping at Harbor Sweets chocolates started last month, and the action in the Salem warehouse is “not for the faint of heart,” said Chrissie Santos, a shipping manager at the New England chocolate maker that has been hand-making chocolates in its original factory using copper kettles since its founding in 1973. It’s the high season for gift giving at Harbor Sweets with over half its sales made in corporate gifts, many of them packed with the company’s iconic Sweet Sloop, a chocolate covered almond butter crunch shaped sailboat.
With one to two thousand packages a day going out around the holidays, Santos and a team of seasonal helpers stand at packing tables, surrounded by their arsenal: bags, cello bags, packing peanuts, tissue wrap, bubble wrap, newsprint, and 20 different sizes of boxes. It takes just seconds to pop a single gift box into a mailer, while custom orders can get exponentially complicated: one type of chocolate can be ordered in 25 different ways (in a gift set, box assortment, etc); a customer might be sending 200 items to 200 different addresses, and select accounts often need bulk confectionaries packaged for a single conference. “There are so many exceptions to every rule,” said Santos. “The only way to learn is to put your hands on the packages and get them out the door.”
As an order fulfillment supervisor, Santos prepares shipping documents and mailing labels, tracks inventory, records shipping costs, and packs the goods, then works with shipping partners like UPS to make sure the orders are delivered on time. “One of the most important aspects of the job is how to style a package,” said Santos. “A poorly packaged gift, which may include melted chocolate or broken pieces, can ruin the entire customer experience of receiving a present.”
Q: How do you manage to send chocolate to warmer climates, like Florida or Texas?
A: I do a manual check on the weather in every zip code, checking temperatures online. Seventy five degrees is the tipping point when chocolate begins to change consistency and starts to melt, so I’ll ice chocolate when needed, placing them in a plastic bag or foam container with frozen gel as a cooling agent. Our chocolate has no preservatives so melts faster than typical chocolate bar.
Q: What are the tools of your trade?
A: I couldn’t live without my tape gun. It’s a mundane but necessary fact of life and somewhat tricky to learn to use. I’ve definitely taped up some ugly boxes. There’s an art to knowing how hard to pull on the tape gun; how to rip the serrated edge, and the angle of the tape dispense. In my first attempts, I had tape all around my fingers. It can be a mess. And my yardstick was missing the other day. I can get overprotective with my office supplies.
Q: Where’s the farthest location that you have shipped to?
A: I sent one to Slovakia and Japan today; last week to Shanghai, Hong Kong, and South Korea. I also ship to Switzerland, Hawaii and Australia. I wish I was sending myself as well to these places. On a crosscountry sort of day, I ship to about ten different states, from Connecticut to Illinois to California.
Q: What was a challenging shipping assignment that you’ve received?
A: Last year, a company was hosting a convention and ordered 700 custom chocolate bars that were very hefty in weight. I had to come up some way to protect the chocolate, since they would be too heavy to put into one box. You constantly need to be thinking, “What if these fall during transit?” I did a lot of cushioning and wrapping and shipped them in seven separate boxes of 100 each.
Q: Do gas prices affect shipping?
A: Definitely, usually over the summer when the price of jet fuel typically goes up. The company is charged a surcharge for every package going out the door, although it’s not reflected on the customer end.
Q: What’s your favorite candy at Harbor Sweets?
A: My favorite chocolate is the Sand Dollar, a dark chocolate with caramel and pecan. I sample every now. It’s hard to work here and not enjoy it.
Q: Who is cuter, the postman, UPS man or Fed Ex guy?
A: I have to plead the fifth on that one. I will hear from all of them if I pick just one.