A.J. Hernandez of SkyPostal: The Future Of Retail In The Post Pandemic World
An Interview With Jilea Hemmings
Delivery on demand — be like UberEats, allow clients to order from in stock inventory and deliver within 2 hours.
Embrace the new normal — make your space a COVID-safe environment. Give shoppers a place they can go to get out of their homes but at the same time feel safe about doing so.
Negotiate with the landlord! A reduction in rent is better than no rent, right? Half a loaf….
As a part of my series about “The Future of Retail”, I had the pleasure of interviewing A.J. Hernandez, President and CEO of SkyPostal. He has been in the international logistics industry since 1987. In 1992 he developed SkyBox, a B2C cross-border shopping service for Latin American shoppers. After selling SkyBox to Lan Airlines in 2001, he founded SkyPostal. SkyPostal quickly became a leading private mail and parcel delivery network in Latin America. A.J. is regarded as an industry expert on international cross-border e-commerce package delivery, especially in the complex Latin American market.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I planned to be a professional baseball player but after 2 years of Minor League baseball with the California Angels, I ran out of talent and had to get a real job. I was lucky to be able to join the family business, something I was very familiar with since it was my summer job throughout high school.
The family business is international logistics. My father, Albert, is considered one of the grandfathers of the international courier industry having opened his first office international location in Caracas Venezuela in 1972. He founded the SkyNet International Courier network in the days before FedEx or DHL existed.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Early in my career we received a brick shaped package that contained a kilo of cocaine to be delivered in Miami. We immediately contacted the authorities and by the afternoon the DEA had a crew at our facility. They set up a sting using one of our vans and one of their agents dressed as one of our delivery guys and a team of agents in the back of the van. Upon making the delivery they raided the house and arrested everyone in it. Not sure if the broke up a big drug ring but I can say that we met our service standards and delivered the item on time!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
I actually used the “Do you know who I am?” line with some guys in our sort operation. Considering I was the boss’s son, I figured I would get immediate respect. The supervisor at the time said, “I know who you are Junior and I don’t care, I have a job to do and you are not helping me do it”.
Talk about a rude awakening! It taught me that respect is not given, it is earned. I later hired that guy to be the supervisor in the company I started.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
We are always looking to bring added value to our clients by enhancing our service offerings. In 2021, we will be introducing fulfillment service as well as return services to our clients. Now we can help sellers create orders for inventory we store, ship orders to the final destination, and then give the buyers the ability to return those orders (if they wish to). We think it completes order lifecycle and creates great value for our clients.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
In Spanish there is a saying, “El que mucho abarca poco aprieta.”, which means that if you try to do too much you end up getting nothing done. It is important to focus on what you do best and let others do the rest. This requires knowing what you don’t know and surrounding yourself with people that do. Just as importantly, it requires being able to say no.
I am still learning this; I try to do too much, find it hard to say no and get involved in too much rather than allowing for other, many times, more capable people to handle things.
Finally, I would add: learn to disconnect. Again, I am still working on this, my wife would say not too well but you sometimes need to take a step back.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There were 3 men who influence me greatly.
My maternal grandfather had to flee Cuba in 1961 in his late 40s, leaving behind family and a successful career. He arrived in the USA not knowing the language with a family and no money, yet he was always happy and grateful for what he had. He taught me humility, gratitude, humor, to be happy, and to always treat others well.
My father left Cuba as an 8-year-old boy and his family ended up in the projects of New York City. From an early age, he was determined to get out of poverty and at the age of 16 he became a delivery boy for a messenger service. He worked his way up through the company and eventually ended up buying the international business unit that he developed for them. My father taught me that everything has a solution, and that with hard work and a positive attitude you can accomplish anything.
My college baseball coach, Dusty Rhodes, was as tough as they come. He told his players “It’s a matter of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” He made us mentally tough, to be accountable to our teammates and be prepared for whatever might happen in a game. Aside from having a books’ worth of sayings, my coach taught me importance of discipline, to never be outworked and that excuses are a “sign of weakness”.
If I can get to be half of what these men were, I’d consider myself a success.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the things that I am very proud of is that we have employees that have been with us 10, 15, 20 and even 30 years. In addition, I have sponsored over 20 of them to get their US residency. I believe that treating people well will come back to you in spades.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
- Buy online drive by pickup at store — offer clients ability to buy items online and pick them up right outside the door. Best Buy does this very well.
- Delivery on demand — be like UberEats, allow clients to order from in stock inventory and deliver within 2 hours.
- Monetize returns — many retailers do not resell returns. Don’t make handling returns a necessary evil, make it a value item. Make them simple for the buyer and create opportunities to resell “resellable” perhaps in a sort of “outlet” site.
- Embrace the new normal — make your space a COVID-safe environment. Give shoppers a place they can go to get out of their homes but at the same time feel safe about doing so.
- Negotiate with the landlord! A reduction in rent is better than no rent, right? Half a loaf….
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
Yes, I think there are still people that want to go to a store and shop. They may like getting out or like touching what they are going to buy but stores must now make a great effort to bring you in. You’ve got to incentivize them to come to you.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
The winners in this game have been able to combine the online world with the physical world of bricks and mortar using their space as more of a warehouse/fulfillment center than a store and then providing the on demand online buying experience.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
I don’t believe in competing with price, that turns you into a commodity. You must focus on quality of product and of service experience. Offer better products that you can show are materially better and then provide world class service from on demand delivery to seamless and painless returns.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Find a way to keep people off of their phones and off of social media. I honestly think that that smart phones are making us dumber and that social media will be the downfall of society.
Maybe we can find a way to pay people to stay off of their phones, it will pay off in more productivity, less dissemination of false information and most of all it will get people to actually speak to each other.
The question is who pays for this? Government? Parents? Employers? Maybe the compensation is not money but credit for some goods which is indirect marketing, no?
What do you think?
How can our readers further follow your work?
The can follow me on LinkedIn or via our website www.skypostal.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to ﬂourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.