EAST FLATBUSH—Laparkan Trading, a company founded to provide an alternative shipping service for Caribbean immigrants in North America, enjoys consistent business in the densely populated Caribbean neighborhood of East Flatbush, despite tough economic times.
When customers enter Church Avenue’s bustling, compact office filled with boxes, barrels and other customers, the atmosphere is familiar and comfortable. Their dialect, while slightly different per person is understood in this shipping office. All who come have one common goal–connecting to their homeland.
“Most of the stuff we send is food and clothing, stationary and school supplies for kids, medication for elderly people,” said Andrew Bacchus, a customer service representative at the Church Avenue location. “We’re not sending cashmere sweaters here we’re just sending basic stuff so people can live.”
Laparkan offers shipping options by boat or by air to 15 countries in the West Indies and South America. Customers enjoy considerably cheaper rates to the Caribbean than with mainstream couriers such as Federal Express or UPS. A twenty pound 14 inch flat rate box sent by air to Georgetown, Guayana, with Laparkan is $34—the same sized box with Fed-Ex is more than $500 even at its economy rate. In lieu of the high prices, however, is a longer wait and according to some, unreliable service.
“Most of our customers are repeat customers because we’ve done well by them over the years so even when things might get a little funky at times, they keep coming back,” said Bacchus.
Jacqueline Singh, a regular customer who has a second home in Barbados, uses the shipping company as a form of luggage service when she returns to the country. “I’m sending two barrels and two boxes to Barbados of my stuff, so when I get there I’ll have clothes and food to eat, and don’t have to pass the 50 pound limit on an airplane,” said Singh.
The high inflation in many Caribbean countries causes many customers to send basic items to family members.
“It’s cheaper to buy it here because it’s like triple the money in Guyana sometimes,” said Janet Elliot, who bought her son a freezer and stocked it with nonperishable items such as soup, ketchup and peanut butter.
This loyalty has helped keep business steady. The Church Avenue location’s revenue last year was about $100,000, making it one of Laparkan’s busiest hubs, according to Ormela Narain, the assistant manager of accounting for Laparkan’s North East Region (NER) office. The location received an additional boost in traffic after Laparkan shut down its Linden Boulevard office leaving Church Avenue the only full service office in Brooklyn. (The company also has 3 authorized shipping agents in Brooklyn who work out of various businesses.) Narain said she expects a 5 percent increase this year and projects a 5 percent increase for next year as well.
Although the economic downturn in the United States may cut down on the number of shipments frequent senders ship back home, customers still manage to send something.
Lee Ustace, a 25-year employee with Laparkan Shipping has even seen some customers ship free food they get from church charity. “They know their families [in the Caribbean] are dependent on it so they get something someway and send it down,” Ustace said.
For Laparkan employees the fact that business is still steady despite tight budgets is not a surprise.
“It’s basic customer service,” said Bacchus, “if they have the money, you’ll get it.”