Like many parents, while in the process of raising her two young children, Suzanne Matczuk found herself amazed at how easily they fell under the spell of digital devices. As a non-digital native with a writing background, she knew there had to be a better way to keep them entertained, so, as she puts it, “I took it as a personal challenge to see if I could create something that could engage my kids as much as video games and being on screens.”
And so began the curious tale of Mail Order Mystery, the company she founded in late 2015 to create mystery story experiences for kids that come through the mail. Through a series of weekly deliveries—everything from handwritten letters to puzzles to solve to top secret files and more—kids get a tangible experience that sparks their imagination as they unravel a mystery. Each mailing contains written materials and/or objects relating to some sort of mysterious event that they come to understand as the story unfolds, and in the final installment they get a keepsake or treasure related to the experience.
A Clue for Simple Shipping
Because Mail Order Mystery’s business model is dependent on timely shipping—the packages have to be delivered weekly for the duration of the storytelling experience—Suzanne made finding a top-notch shipping partner a priority from the get go. “We knew that shipping was a huge part of this company, so we did a lot of research and in the end decided that Shippo was the best fit for us,” says Suzanne.
Like many e-commerce businesses, Mail Order Mystery sees a big seasonal rush, doing 50 percent of sales during the holiday season—which makes the first part of the year challenging. “We just have some weeks in January where it’s all about shipping, all day for days and days,” says Suzanne. She says in their busiest months they sell around 2,500 mysteries, so “just to be able to manage that many orders in a couple of weeks is really something.”
Suzanne says what she likes best about Shippo is its full integration with Shopify, calling it “absolutely essential.” She also cites Shippo’s ease of use and the fact that they’re billed per label and not per month. “There’s such a difference between our slow seasons and our busy seasons that we would either feel like we were really overpaying for a service or that what we’d be doing would spike so much that it’d put us in a different rate category.”
The Thrill is in the Details—and Secret Weapons
One of the challenges of running a seasonal business is bringing in extra help during the busy times, and in Mail Order Mystery’s case, this is especially tough because of how detail-oriented the stories are. For example, in the spy mystery, the kids are asked to send in their secret agent name, which is then printed on the personal spy ID card that they get in their final package. “It’s difficult just to bring people in because there are a lot of tiny little details that have to be learned,” says Suzanne. “There are little personal touches in every envelope that staffers need to stay on top of.”
Because Mail Order Mystery is based in Ontario, they ship in-country with Canada Post. However, given about 75 percent of their orders come from the U.S., they’ve uncovered a secret for saving on international shipping, working with a company called Chit Chats that picks up their USPS orders once a week and drives them over the border so they can avoid paying international shipping costs.
Given all their specific needs around shipping, the company runs on an extremely precise schedule where orders go out every single Thursday. “We’ve never had a week where we just had too many so we sent some out the week after or we shut down for a week and put it off,” says Suzanne. “It’s a slippery slope, right? If one Thursday you decide you’re just going to let it slide, it’s way too easy to give yourself permission to do it again.”
The Mail Order Mystery team works out of a small production facility in central Toronto, having moved out of Suzanne’s house in early 2018. For a while, “it felt like living in the Amazon warehouse, where I had to walk sideways to get anywhere on my main floor,” says Suzanne. As for what’s next for the company? Growth has been steady — “I feel like we will possibly sooner rather than later even outgrow our new space as well,” she says.