This annual list of the best postal, mailbox, and business center franchises was revised and updated on February 16, 2023.
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Some franchise industries are easy to pin down in one word: coffee, donuts, pets, exercise. This sector is harder to define, but everyone knows it when they see it. These businesses deal with shipping packages, providing mailboxes, and other services around sending physical objects, but this isn’t always their core business. Shipping is no longer as central to their success as it once was.
Evolution of an Industry
The reasons for this oddly shaped industry are historical. Most of these chains got their start in the 1980s, when transportation was deregulated in the US, paving the way for all the shipping companies we know today – DHL, UPS, FedEx, and so on. Mailing centers and related businesses sprang up all over the country. Then came the 1990s and the rise of the internet. For a while, it looked like electronic communication might wreck the chains of mailing centers. After all, who needs to rent a mailbox in the 21st century?
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But everyone is still shipping packages, even if that’s not enough to keep a business going. The internet has led to online shopping, which means more deliveries, even as letters have become increasingly redundant. Mailboxes remain important, providing a physical address for businesses that exist largely in the ether. Shipping services are needed, even if they’re not enough for a complete business.
The successful chains have survived by reinventing themselves, building in related services. This is why the pack-and-ship franchise industry is still worth $3 billion, employing over 29,000 staff in 9,000 businesses. By expanding their offering, these businesses have carved out a new niche of their own.
For many chains, this has meant becoming full-fledged small business centers, providing document printing and binding, business cards, posters, brochures, signs, office supplies, and more. These are services that most businesses need. Large corporations can provide for themselves in house, but it’s not cost effective for smaller enterprises to do the same. A freelancer, backroom startup, or established small business might not be able to set up their own mail room, but they can get that service through a mailing center.
It’s a natural fit for those centers to also provide other services for these customers, from stationery to technical support. With so many people starting their own small businesses, these chains can play a vital role in helping them get off to a good professional start. They’ve become the dispersed infrastructure of America’s small businesses, the offline world’s equivalent of cloud computing.
Online commerce has provided a good stream of work for these businesses. Amazon might have its own delivery networks, but small-scale Ebay sellers and craftspeople working through sites like Etsy need more traditional shipping networks. And while they’re sending out their packages, they can be tempted to buy packaging, printing, and other services at the same time.
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Like every part of the economy, postal, mailbox, and business center franchises had to adjust to the Covid pandemic. Because of the essential nature of their services, these businesses were largely able to stay open, even if they had to reduce some of their services. Unable to go to shops in person, people were more reliant on deliveries than ever, which meant plenty of parcel post. Adjustments had to be made for more Covid-safe working, but while these added expenses, they didn’t hit the core business. In a tough year for other businesses, packing and shipping franchises saw their market grow.
The economic fallout from the virus could have badly hit these companies. An estimated 2.4% decline in the number of American businesses in 2020 meant fewer business customers. But those who remained were more reliant on deliveries than ever, as were individual customers, meaning that business continued much as before. The number of businesses in the country is now back at pre-pandemic levels, and with a total of 8 million businesses, there’s plenty of custom to be had.
But a fresh challenge now hangs over the industry. An economic downturn could lead to lost sales or even collapse for many businesses, so the scale of the projected downturn will affect the prospects for this industry.
The pandemic has reinforced the important role of mailbox centers in the delivery network. Revenues for packing and shipping service franchises have grown every single year for the past decade, with 3.2% annualized growth over the past five years. Even in the face of a looming downturn, the market is forecast to grow by 2.3% in 2023.
That said, revenues for these franchises are still growing slower than for business franchises as a whole, and an investment in mailbox and business centers should be balanced against the alternatives. Growing online sales and consumer spending hold out great promise for this sector, and it’s performed strongly during a serious crisis, but it hasn’t yet been able to stand out in the wider economy.
Getting Into Shipping
The shipping side of the business is strongly seasonal, due to the surge in packages around the holidays, so it’s a business for entrepreneurs excited by the specific challenges that brings, such as managing seasonal staff. With a working peak around winter festivities, it lets business owners take their holidays in the summer, when work is quieter, which is an advantage in itself for some people.
As an industry, it’s still adapting to changing circumstances, and will reward franchisees who can do the same. Adding web services, such as website design, web hosting, and email marketing can make a business like this more competitive, and appeal to the same small businesses that are increasingly using packing and shipping services for e-commerce. By sitting at the node where online purchases and physical world delivery meet, mailbox companies could carve out a new niche for themselves.
This is a strong sector for franchises. National brands have supported the growth of business for franchisees by helping to raise their average sales, increasing revenue and profit. There are fewer franchises, but those that remain are stronger, and so you’re more likely to be buying into one of the winners. While the rise of electronic communication continues to cut away traditional shipping revenues, the growth in online sales and small business support makes this sector as vital as ever. It’s treading a delicate line between losing revenues to online services and picking them up from filling niches those services create.
Businesses built around shipping might have looked doomed a decade ago, but the industry has evolved, and for franchises at least, it’s seen constant growth. Revenues show low volatility, meaning that you can be fairly sure of what you’re getting into. An economic downturn could hurt it, but in the long term, prospects look steady, if not exciting.
The Top Postal, Mailbox, and Business Center Franchises of 2023
1. The UPS Store
The UPS Store ships upwards of 750 million packages during the holiday season. This company started out as Mail Boxes Etc. back in the early 1980s. It wasn’t until 2001 that UPS bought the company and started rebranding all locations as The UPS Store. The rest, as they say, is history.
This chain is the clear leader of the industry. Although the core of the business is discounted UPS-direct shipping (20% lower on average), there are many more services available to consumers and small business owners.
Consumers can take advantage of faxing, computer access, notary services, passport and ID photos, shredding, office and mailing supplies, and design services. Small business owners can also take advantage of all of that, along with accounting and bookkeeping, business management, communications, direct mail, financial services, house accounts, human resources, IT support, marketing, and more. And you can still rent mailboxes as well.
Founded in 1980 and franchising since then, the number of locations has grown steadily in recent years from 4,707 in 2012 to the current total of 5,464 (up from the previously reported total of 5,359), of which none are company-owned and 353 are located outside the US.
2. PostNet Neighborhood Business Centers
PostNet Neighborhood Business Centers offers a broad array of printing, shipping, and design services. In addition to mailbox rentals, customers ship packages by whatever carrier they desire, including USPS, DHL, FedEx, and UPS.
It makes a bigger deal, however, out of its design and printing services, including business stationery, logo design, marketing materials, personal projects and gifts, brochures, flyers, posters, signs, banners, invitations, business cards, blueprints, calendars, canvas prints and wraps, postcards, yard signs, door hangers, labels and stickers, passport photos, and more. Small businesses can get notary public services, secure shredding, vehicle wraps, binding and finishing, fax and scan, virtual mail, and much more.
Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 723 in 2012 to the current total of 663 (up from the previously reported total of 653), of which none are company-owned and 460 are located outside the US.
3. Pak Mail
Pak Mail offers a full range of packing and shipping services, including crating and custom packing for unique items. Estimates are provided when needed. It also provides commercial and industrial freight services. Other available services for consumers and small businesses include package receiving, mail forwarding, copying/printing/faxing, electronic mail notification, notary services, document shredding, office supplies, and mailbox rentals.
This chain is one of seven similar franchise brands all owned by Annex Brands. Founded in 1983 and franchising since 1984, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 418 in 2012 to the current total of 328 (down from the previously reported total of 338), of which none are company-owned and 150 are located outside the US.
PostalAnnex+ compares pricing between USPS, FedEx, and UPS for each package a customer wants to ship so they can have the lowest price of the three. Freight shipping services are also available, whether by land, air, or sea. Additional services include duplicate key cutting, greeting cards, rubber stamps, office supplies, mailbox rentals, printing/copying, document binding, laminating, notary services, faxing, stationery, website/eCommerce services, document scanning, and passport photos.
This chain is also owned by Annex Brands. Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has been on the rise in recent years from 253 in 2012 to the current total of 308 (up from the previously reported total of 303), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
5. Navis Pack and Ship
Navis Pack and Ship specializes in custom packing and expert shipping. Unlike the other companies on this list, it does not offer other services – it is solely focused on packing and shipping. It can handle antiques, computers/electronics, auction items, art, equipment, freight, furniture, or anything else that needs to be properly packed and shipped. The company offers packing, crating, shipping, small moves, pickup and delivery, white glove delivery, and international shipping from both the US and Canada.
This chain is another of the seven owned by Annex Brands. Founded in 2000 and franchising since then, the number of locations has declined slightly in recent years from 50 in 2012 to the current total of 46 (down from the previously reported total of 47), of which none are company-owned and three are located outside the US.
6. AIM Mail Centers
AIM Mail Centers have a similar array of services as the other companies on this list, including office services (mailbox rentals, notary, passport photos, keys, laminating, shredding, rubber stamps, and promo products), copy/print/fax services (B&W copies, color copies, printing services, faxing, and document uploads), and pack and ship services (with price comparisons between FedEx, UPS, and USPS, shipping materials, freight services, and postal services).
AIM is another Annex Brands franchise. Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 58 in 2012 to the current total of 44 (no change from the previously reported total), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
7. Postal Connections
Postal Connections has a unique service offering that makes it different from every other company on this list: the iSold It eBay program. It will accept items from customers and sell these online for them, collecting a sales fee when the item sells. It mostly sells on eBay, but could also use other platforms such as Amazon or Craigslist. It handles everything from start to finish, researching what a good price would be based on the item and its condition, listing it, and then packing and shipping it when it sells.
Other core services include packing/shipping (DHL, UPS, FedEx, USPS), including overnight shipping when needed, packing supplies, freight services, stamps, printing/copying, scanning and storage of documents, public computer access, mailbox rental, faxing (sending and receiving), office supplies, passport photos, and notarizing documents.
Founded in 1985 and franchising since 1995, the number of locations hit a peak of 49 in 2017 and has since declined to the current total of 39 (down from the previously reported total of 41), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
8. Safe Ship
Safe Ship can send anything pretty much anywhere in the world, no matter the size or shape. Each location has its own BoxMakerPRO machine, developed and built by the company, that can make any size custom box, at any cardboard thickness, for any need. These boxes are as strong as wood crates but are made of cardboard.
Additional offerings include mailing supplies, office supplies, notary services, incoming and outgoing fax service, mailboxes, mail forwarding, color copies, internet downloading and printing, a professional printshop, virtual mail, and more.
Founded in 1988 and franchising since 2008, the number of locations has grown from 19 in 2012 to the current total of 32 (down from the previously reported total of 34), of which six are company-owned and all are located in the US.
9. Handle with Care Packaging Store
Handle with Care Packaging Store, as the name implies, emphasizes careful handling of customers’ items to be packed properly so they arrive safely at their final destination, which could be nearly anywhere in the world. The list of items it can handle is long and includes just about anything you can think of.
Packing and shipping services include white glove delivery, crating, trade show logistics, custom packaging, warehousing, freight insurance, on-site packing, international shipping, long-term storage, moving supplies, fulfillment services, ocean shipping, custom foam, packaging supplies, senior downsizing, and more. Unlike other companies on this list, it does not offer a wide range of other small business services.
Founded in 1980 in Denver, Colorado and franchising since 1984, the number of locations has been steadily declining in recent years from 51 in 2012 to the current total of 21 (no change from the previously reported total), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
10. Parcel Plus
Parcel Plus has four categories of services: pack and ship (UPS, FedEx, USPS, shipping and mailing supplies, crating and freight shipping); copy/print/fax (including business cards, stationery, posters, banners, A-frame sidewalk signs, postcards, brochures, flyers, website design, and more); office services (mailbox rental, notary public, key duplication, passport photos); and ParcelPlus Online – My Digital Doorman (notifications and information about incoming mail and packages) and My Order Desk (online printing orders based on the electronic files the customer uploads with online proofing).
Parcel Plus is another of the seven similar franchise concepts all owned by Annex Brands. Founded in 1986 and franchising since 1988, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 27 in 2014 to the current total of 21 (no change from the previously reported total), of which none are company-owned and all are franchised in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.