Grow to Ship -
How to Calculate Shipping Costs for Fig Trees & Cuttings

by Daniel Gentile

 

Other than my desire to share quality suggestions that will help figBid sellers, neither figBid nor myself are associated with any business suggested in this article.  Also, there are tens of thousands of outdated articles and videos related to economical shipping floating around the internet.  In late June of 2019 the USPS updated their pricing schedules and there are some drastic changes.  To be sure you’re getting accurate information, when reading or watching anything online please be sure it’s dated from at least July, 2019.  Everything in this article is accurate as of 11/01/2019.  If a reader discovers anything to be inaccurate or you just have a suggestion for a change or addition, please contact us through figBid.

So you’ve decided to take the leap, selling your fig trees and cuttings in the online marketplace.  Congratulations!  Selling your fig trees and cuttings in the online marketplace is a rewarding experience and wonderful method of injecting new life into your fig tree collection.  The ‘fig money’ you’ll earn will help to defer the cost of potting soil, fertilizer, supplies, and adding new varieties.  A challenging step in the sales process is determining the correct shipping charge for your fig tree or fig cuttings.  Sellers sometimes perform a delicate balancing act between overcharging the customer and undercharging themselves.  Overcharging the customer will certainly scare away potential bidders and buyers.  But failing to understand shipping rates may cause a seller to undercharge and possibly lose money on the sale.  In this article you’ll learn the most efficient method of determining the cost for shipping your fig tree or fig cuttings from point A to point B.  We are going to use the USPS as the model shipper and USPS Priority Mail as the primary method  of shipping.  USPS Priority Mail postage can be purchased online or any Post Office.  Except for shipping fig cuttings we are not going to cover flat-rate shipping or Regional Rate shipping methods.  They’re rarely used for shipping fig trees.  There’s a lot of ground to cover, but I promise you’ll be a more efficient seller with happier customers in the end.

I’ve been selling from an online platform since 1997.  In the early days, weighing packages, printing labels, and purchasing postage online for home-based sellers was not convenient.  Back then a good scale cost in the hundreds of dollars and Postal Meter’s were for business use only.  So the only convenient method of weighing a package and purchasing postage was a bathroom scale and walking into the Post Office.   I’d wait on line with packages in hand, praying the bathroom scale calculations would keep me in the black.  Even after refining the weighing method, the best shot I had at correct postage was 50%.  There were not many shipping choices, either.  USPS Priority Mail was the fancy shipping method with a premium price.  Ground rate or Parcel Post was usually the way to go;  First Class or Media Mail if you shipped items that fell within the restrictions.  And the Post Office clerk still gave you funny looks even if you did.  Then came stamps.com.  For a reasonable fee, home-based online sellers were now able to purchase postage and print shipping labels.  My first stamps.com subscription cost $16 per month and came with a digital scale!  This was a total game-changer for the casual online seller.  Shipment prep-time was cut in half, trips to the Post Office became a drop-off, and the money I saved shipping packages with the correct postage more than paid for the subscription fee.  This is the change that really propelled third-party online selling into what it is now.  Today it’s even easier, faster, and more economical.

Online Postage Sellers

Purchasing your postage online is uncomplicated and saves lots of time and money.  There are many online postage seller options right now but pirateship.com is the best.  pirateship.com is authorized to offer Commercial Plus Pricing to the public.  Commercial Plus Pricing is deeply discounted postage that used to be reserved for businesses that ship more than 50,000 packages annually.   pirateship.com gives you Commercial Plus Pricing rates just for signing up and it costs nothing to join.  pirateship.com is able to access Commercial Plus Pricing because they collect the large volume from third-party online sellers like us.  I know it’s hard to believe but there’s really no gimmick.  While other online postage sellers add a charge to their labels and or charge a recurring subscription fee, pirateship.com makes money on their negotiated contract with the USPS and that’s it.  Their site is scaled-down and lean with no bells and whistles so it operates more efficiently, too.  You get in, buy your postage and get out, nothing more.  Now, a level playing field exists between online sellers like us and the big guys.  If you’re not buying postage online today you’re really missing out.   Whether it’s one package or one thousand, please consider buying your postage online.  When buying postage online you’ll need:

  • Internet connection - If you’re reading this you have it.
  • Computer or Smart Phone - Same as above.
  • Printer and labels - Any inkjet or laser printer will do just fine.  Half sheet labels are most economical, or,
  • Thermal Printer and labels - If you plan on shipping 20 or more packages a month consider a dedicated thermal label printer.  They’re so simple to use and supported by every online postage seller.  Talk about making your life easy?  Once you use one you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!  If you’re worried about making the switch to a dedicated label printer or just need more information about it, please contact me.

Shipping with USPS

When it comes to choosing a shipper there are 3 main players, USPS, UPS, and FedEx.  All three have a place in the market for fig collectors, and I use the USPS almost exclusively.  It’s a shameless plug but I’ve been around the block more than once with all three shippers and have had many more positive experiences with the USPS than the other two shippers combined.  I like shipping with the USPS because they’re more affordable for packages that are under 5 lbs.  That’s the weight where most fig collectors will live.  You can also ship packages 5 lbs and over with the USPS, but at that level you should run the dimensions of your package through a USPS shipping calculator and compare prices.  After shipping thousands of packages I’ve still decided to ship packages weighing between 5 and under 70 lbs with the USPS, choosing convenience over the higher price.  The USPS offers a full range of standard and expedited delivery options with more and straightforward domestic and international shipping choices.  I sell and ship items other than fig trees and fig cuttings so I also like the USPS for their free shipping supplies including boxes and padded envelopes.  But there are lots of other reasons, too:

  • Higher rate of on-time deliveries than other shippers.  No baloney here; look it up.
  • No hidden fees like fuel charges, residential deliveries, address corrections.
  • $50 insurance (sometimes $100) automatically included with Priority Mail.  This is an instant money saver!
  • Easy to access, online tracking - don't even have to go to the website.  Copy and paste a tracking number right into any web browser and it automatically detects that it’s a USPS tracking number.
  • 4x more locations than all other shippers combined.  This is huge.
  • Free package pick-up

Growing, Packing, and Postal Supplies

I want to preface this part of the article with a question I hear often and has some relevance here.  Who pays for supplies?  Do you pass the savings onto the customer or write it off as the cost of doing business?  We’re not going too deep here.  I’ll break it down into two groups, hobbyists and businesses.  I am a hobbyist looking to cover the cost of growing supplies and advance my collection.  My feeling is supplies are the cost of doing business.  I’m willing to take a much smaller profit margin than a business because I only want to cover the cost of growing supplies for my hobby.  Businesses must cover operating expenses and calculate a profit margin.  If you’re already running a business then your margins are set and this paragraph doesn’t pertain to you.  But there are lots of figBid sellers who operate in-between hobbyist and business.  I’m not getting into tax considerations at all and you should always contact a certified tax consultant for inquiries.  For those that operate at a level that’s more than a hobbyist you’ll have to consider:

  • Growing costs; cuttings, nursery pots, potting soil, fertilizer
  • Selling fees
  • PayPal or Credit Card fees
  • Shipping supplies
  • Retail shipping loss - see ‘shipping overage’ later in the article
  • Returns

Keeping a log-book or creating a simple spread sheet will really help you out.  If you’re calculating anything more than the items listed above you’re probably a fully-fledged business.

Growing Supplies

Since we’ll mostly be dealing with shipping fig trees and cuttings, we’re going to start by suggesting that economical and accurate shipping begins in the orchard.  Fit a box to the pot and not a pot with a box, then prune for shipping.  That means you should start by growing fig trees in a cost-effective container that provides a healthy atmosphere balanced with economical shipping.  The nursery container that fits the bill for all the variables is a 4” x 4” x 9” (4 x 9) treepot.  4 x 9 treepots provide more than enough room for young roots to spread out and they’re designed to encourage a healthy root ball.  With proper maintenance, you could ship up to a 4’ fig tree very economically in a 4 x 9 treepot.  4 x 9’s have proven to be the best choice for growers, providing the proper environment vs. economy from nursery to consumer.  There are different sized treepots available.  Check out the catalog at stuewe.com if your specific requirements are different.  Treepots are available in small quantities but you might have to do a little research to find them.  I’ve found that purchasing more than needed is never a problem as you’ll always find a use and they rarely go to waste.

If you don’t want to make the investment into a small inventory of treepots the next best choice is a blow-molded #1 container.  Blow-molded refers to the manufacturing process where the material used to form the container is ‘blown’ into a container mold.  Blow-molded #1 containers are lightweight and sized just right to fit a 6” x 6” shipping box.  Even if the diameter is slightly larger than 6” a blow-molded container is flexible enough to squeeze into a 6” x 6” box without a hassle.  Shopping for a #1 nursery container can be a bit confusing as there is no industry standard.  Be sure to check the dimensions and purchase a blow-molded container that’s right around 6” in diameter.  Blow-molded containers can be purchased by the piece or small quantity from local nurseries, big-box stores, or online from amazon.com or other retail nursery supply websites.  Most times local nurseries discard #1 containers that served another purpose and a stack of #1’s can be found for pennies on the dollar or free just for asking.  Injection molded/premium nursery containers are sturdier than blow-molded and probably easier to find in big-box stores.  Measure the diameter at the top of the pot to be sure the container will fit into a 6” x 6” shipping box.

Any container mentioned above will make your shipping life much easier and take the hassle out of box selection as almost any #1 nursery container will fit into a 6” x 6” x ? box and 4 x 9 treepot will fit into a 4” x 4” x ? box.  The length (?) of the box is determined by the height of the tree.

Fig cuttings are easier.  Simply prune cuttings to size so they’ll fit in the container you’re shipping with.  Cuttings will ship best in USPS Priority bubble mailers which are available free from the Post Office.  USPS Priority bubble mailers are Flat Rate so there is no calculating involved and $7.50 ($8 if you don’t buy the postage online) will get the fig cuttings anywhere in the US (lower 48) within 3 days.  Otherwise use poly-mailers and a scale.  If the weight of the package is under 16 ounces (this is the case with most fig cuttings shipments), a poly-mailer will get you into the less expensive First Class rate.  If you’ll be shipping less than 50 packages of fig cuttings I’d suggest sticking with USPS Priority bubble mailers.  Order Priority bubble mailers from the USPS website in the summer to be sure and have a stock for the fall.  Buy inexpensive poly-mailers from Amazon in packs of 50-100 or more.  There are numerous sizes and colors available.  I buy 10” x 13” mailers because they’re mass produced, readily available in many colors, and competitively priced.  That size poly-mailer is also versatile as it can be used to ship a variety of other items as well.

Packing Supplies

I’m going to get a little into packaging and cushioning options, but just a little.  I’d like to keep the spirit of the article and not get into packaging technique but some items are necessary to mention due to weight added to the package.  Must-have supplies for shipping fig trees include:

  • Boxes - ULINE is best for boxes.  Costs a little more but worth the convenience and quality.  I order 6” x 6” and 4” x 4”, 200 lb test boxes in various lengths.  Other options include:
    • Buy a mixed lot of boxes on Amazon.  Saves money.
    • Order free boxes, mailing envelopes, bubble mailers from USPS.
    • Save boxes from shipments you’ve received.
    • Ask friends and relatives
    • Staples, Office Depot, Walmart, etc.
    • Drive around neighborhood on recycling day and go box shopping.
  • Poly mailers - Not necessary if you order Priority bubble mailers from USPS.  Available in hundreds of sizes.  The most versatile and economical are 10” x 13”.  They come in different colors, too.
  • Package cushioning and bracing.  Package cushioning fills the voids around a potted tree and bracing holds the plant in place.  Sometimes the package cushioning does the job of both.  There are a number of options here.  If you do a lot of online ordering, save your package cushioning. Otherwise:
    • Packing peanuts - inexpensive but not widely used any longer.  Messy to use and take up a lot of storage space in your home.
    • Air-pillows - widely used.  Air-pillow machine is expensive.  Save inflated air-pillows from packages you receive from other shippers.  Take up a lot of storage space but worth it.
    • Bubble wrap - reasonably priced.  Save bubble wrap from packages you receive from other shippers.  Save those used Amazon bubble poly mailers, too!
    • Brown craft paper, Newspaper - Not a good primary choice but inexpensive and great to use as supplement filler with air-pillows.  Try getting your hands on blank newspaper as it’s cleaner to use.
    • Empty water/soda bottles - lightweight and great for keeping boxes from deforming due to a sideways strike or stacking.  Small water bottles, 1 and 2 liter empty bottles work best.
    • Great Stuff spray-foam filling - Home use is relatively new for shipping fig trees.  Best for safety of the tree but might not be a good fit for everyone.  I would suggest practicing before shipping.
    • Bamboo rods - Great for bracing.
    • Roll of bright colored flagging tape - Inexpensive and available from Amazon or any of the big box stores.  Has many uses when packing.  Great for tying things off.  Lightweight and easy to break for the customer.
  • Packaging tape - no need to go 3M quality here.  Quality packaging tape can be found at a reasonable price on amazon.com or your local warehouse club.  Here’s a little packaging tape trick; You’ll most likes be shipping fig trees via USPS Priority Mail.  Nicely ask the teller at your local Post Office if you may have a roll of Priority packaging tape to wrap a number of other boxes at home.  Most of the time they’ll say yes.  That stuff will stick to anything!  Bonus that it’s already marked for Priority Mail.
  • Tape gun dispenser - This is a must have tool!  Insert your packaging tape and off you go.  Try and find one at a flea market or garage sale.  Otherwise it will set you back about $10-$15 from amazon.com or the big box store.

Postage Supplies

To accurately calculate postage you’ll need to have a small measuring tape and/or straight ruler to measure the outside dimensions of your shipping boxes.  I always have a 3’ measure tape and 18” straight ruler on hand and use both equally.  You’ll also need a calculator to calculate volume and a decent shipping scale.  There are inexpensive models available but a really nice shipping scale will cost you less than $40 from amazon.com.  Whatever you choose be sure it has a wide weighing platform, tare function, and weighs pounds/ounces in at least .2 ounce increments.

Shipping Insurance and ‘Fragile’ Stickers

Fragile Stickers

Do you have any of those neat red and white ‘Fragile’ stickers?  You know, the ones with large imposing lettering printed on a bright red background, warning everyone that touches your package to handle it with care.  Great!  Throw them right into the garbage.  Marking your box ‘Fragile’ does nothing.  Unless you’ve paid a Special Handling charge your package marked ‘Fragile’ is treated the same way as any other package.  As of this writing the Special Handling charge costs about $11.  When you pay the Special Handling charge you can mark your box with Label 875 as shown above.  Special Handling Labels 875 are available free from USPS.com or the Post Office.  Unless you want to notify the package receiver of fragile contents, don’t bother using the red stickers or writing ‘Fragile’ on the box.

Since most of our fig tree and fig cuttings shipments will be traveling Priority Mail through the USPS, it’s a good idea to know a little about the insurance coverage you’re getting when you purchase the postage.  As stated previously, one of the reasons I ship with the USPS and choose Priority Mail is the free insurance that comes with the package.  Rule of thumb is the USPS will insure your package up to $50 and sometimes $100 for free.  The difference is how you buy the postage.  Walk into any USPS location to purchase postage and you’ll only get $50 of free insurance with Priority Mail.  Buy your postage online, pay Commercial Plus Pricing rates, and you’ll get $100 of free insurance with Priority Mail.  I know… with Commercial Plus Pricing rates you’re paying less money for postage but getting more insurance value.  What the fig, right?  It’s true, and just another reason you should be buying your postage online.  But there is a small catch.  Keep reading.

The USPS rate modifications took place in June, 2019.  Commercial Base and Commercial Plus Pricing rates were merged and now the USPS offers a simplified abstract of Retail and Commercial rates and that’s all.   $50 insurance automatically comes with a Retail postage purchase and $100 automatically comes with a Commercial postage purchase.  So, when are you purchasing postage at the Commercial rate?  Pretty much whenever you buy Priority Mail postage online, except through the USPS website, your postage is purchased at the Commercial rate and automatically eligible for $100 insurance coverage.  Easy peasy.  Now it’s going to get a little tricky.  Please stay with me.

Online postage sellers will offer to sell you additional shipping insurance at a drastically reduced rate, sometimes up to 90% cheaper!  Great deal, right?  Wrong!  Although online postage sellers will tell you their insurance covers you from dollar one, including packaging, and postage, there are exclusions.  Online postage sellers offer separate shipping insurance that is underwritten by third-party insurers and NOT the USPS.  As of this writing, none of the third-party insurers I’ve reviewed will cover loss or damage to a fig tree or fig cuttings and specifically list flowers and plants as policy exclusions.  I did find one exception when purchasing insured postage through the online postage seller fitshipper.comfitshipper.com insures packages through easypost.  easypost does not specifically list flowers and plants as policy exclusions.  Instead, easypost states Loss from delay, deterioration, spoilage or contamination of perishable merchandise except when resulting from fire.  I would call to confirm but to me it looks like flowers and plants are covered for catastrophic losses like crushing, etc.  To be fair, other shipping insurance providers will tell you to call and verify coverage of your shipment even if it’s on their exclusion list.  I’ve called; It’s a lot of malarky.  You might peak their interest if shipping hundreds of packages a month.  Other than that you’re SOL.  So, to wrap-up insuring fig trees and fig cuttings through third-party shipping insurers, it does not pay to purchase directly from them or pay any extra through an online postage seller.  So what’s the answer?  Keep reading, we’re almost there.

Let’s say you’ve sold a set of fig cuttings for $100.  You purchase a Priority Mail label through pirateship.com and don’t purchase any additional insurance.  Good work!  You’re done.  Let’s say you sell another set of fig cuttings for $101 and want to insure for the full value.  Well, you already know that you’ll be paying more money for postage and a higher rate for insurance. Your only options at this point are to purchase postage online from the USPS website, walk your package into the Post Office and purchase postage in-person, or cross your fingers.  Let’s run through each scenario:

  • Purchase postage from USPS.com - Easy to do.  You’ll have to register online for a USPS account which is no big deal.  Print your label, slap it on the box, and set up free pick-up.  Pretty painless.
  • Walk into the Post Office - If you don’t want to or don’t have the capacity to purchase the postage and additional insurance online from USPS.com, simply label your package and walk it into any Post Office.  Let the clerk know you want to ship the package Priority Mail and would like to insure it for $101.  Except for waiting in line it’s still pretty painless.
  • Cross your fingers - So by crossing your fingers a good seller is really self-insuring.  Not as bad as it sounds.  I’ve shipped thousands of packages that should have been insured and were not.  Sometimes I’ve forgotten to add the insurance, sometimes it’s intentional.  But I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to make good on a lost or damaged shipment.  Clearly the USPS is good at what they do because that’s a pretty good track record.  From experience, I’ve developed my own rule of thumb; The USPS covers the first $100 of postage purchased through an online postage seller, I’ll cover the next $50.  Anything more than $150 and I’m buying insurance from the USPS out-of-pocket.

Let’s put the example above into the real world.  Your Priority Mail package valued at $101 will be traveling from NY to Isleton, CA.  You’re shipping in a flat-rate bubble envelope so it’s costing $8.00 through the USPS website and you’re getting $50 of free insurance.  You’ll have to purchase insurance for $51 so there's have a total of $101 in coverage.  You’re all-in for this package is $10.80.  Alternatively, the same flat-rate bubble mailer will cost you $7.55 through an online postage seller and you’re getting $100 of free insurance.  Self-insure the last $1 and you’re all-in for this package is $7.55.   That’s a $3.25 savings for crossing your fingers.  The savings adds up quickly.  Again, the USPS is very good at delivering a properly prepared  package from point A to point B in great condition.  But you’ll have to be prepared to fully or partially cover a shipment if it’s ever lost or damaged.

I’m going to close this section with these thoughts.  Good sellers ensure a package is delivered on-time and in one piece.  Great sellers insure a package.  Just like economical shipping for fig trees begins in the nursery, insuring your shipment starts in the packaging.  Take the time to package your fig tree or cuttings thoroughly.  What is thoroughly?  Thoroughly means to prepare your package for a drop-kick.  Not multiple drop-kicks, only one.  Otherwise, if you’ve made the decision to purchase additional insurance, be safe and purchase the shipping insurance through the USPS.  You’ll have to use the USPS website or walk into a Post Office but the peace of mind is worth it.  Here are the latest USPS shipping insurance rates.

USPS Insurance Rates

Shipping Zones

Before getting into calculating postage you should understand a little about Shipping Zones and how they tie into postal rates.  Shipping Zones have quietly been in place behind the scenes forever.  Shipping Zones break down to distance and where you’re standing in the US when mailing your package.  Ever wonder how Amazon is able to offer free 2-day Prime® shipping on so many items?  Clearly they jack up the price of Prime® items and offer faster shipping for spending a little more money on each order, but mainly it’s because of fulfillment centers.  Amazon has over 75 fulfillment centers all throughout the US.  That means most Prime® items are probably never farther than USPS Zone 2 or 3 from an Amazon Prime® member.  That’s a huge savings for Amazon.  Additionally, the shorter delivery distance translates into a shorter delivery time and there you have it, Prime® shipping.  There are a few moving parts but the further your package travels the more you’ll pay.  Generally:

USPS Shipping Zones

So, you can see that USPS Shipping Zones are not geographical locations.  Rather, USPS Shipping Zones are distances.  To further illustrate, let’s say we’re shipping a healthy Rigato del Salento fig tree growing in a 4x4 treepot from Staten Island, New York to Isleton, CA.  The fig tree fits into a 4” x 4” box that’s 18” tall and weighs 3 lbs.  You purchase postage online from USPS.  This package will land you in USPS Zone 8 and cost $15.28 to ship.

 

Zone 8 NY to CA

And shipping the same Rigato del Salento fig tree from Isleton, CA to Staten Island, NY will also land you into USPS Zone 8 and cost the same $15.28 to ship.

 

Zone 8 CA to NY

 

If I still have your attention some of you are going to get a real ‘Shipping Zone’ treat right now.  This is the part of the discussion where shipping logistics meets geography.  There’s a portion of middle-America sellers that will enjoy cheaper shipping rates than the rest of us.  That’s right, cheaper shipping just because of where you live.  Let’s say that same package is shipping from Omaha, NE to Staten Island, NY or Omaha, NE to Isleton, CA.

 

Zone 6

 

The Rigato del Salento fig tree that cost $15.28 to ship coast to coast now ships for $11.80 from Omaha, NE to either coast or either coast to Omaha, NE.  That’s right, 2 full zones cheaper for a savings of almost 4 bucks, all the time!  Looking at the illustration above you can see that except for Alaska and Hawaii, Zone 7 barely exists when middle America ships to either coast, and USPS Zone 8 does not exist at all.  Hooray for middle-America!

I am not touching on USPS Zone 9 because it is rarely used by figBid sellers.  But, if USPS Zone 9 from the table above is really nagging at you please have a look at this USPS link where shipping to US Possessions, US Territories, and Freely Associated States is explained in great detail.  Otherwise, you should have a good idea of how USPS Zones affect your shipping rates and we’ll move on.

Dimensional Weight and 1728

Let’s all get used to these two words, Dimensional Weight, and this number, 1728.  On June 23rd, 2019, the USPS switched Priority Mail shipping calculations from weight/distance to size/distance, Dimensional Weight pricing.  Previously, Dimensional Weight pricing applied to USPS Zone 5 and above.  Previous to that it did not apply at all.  All of these changes happened in less than a year and that’s the reason for the enormous amount of misinformation floating around the internet.  Dimensional Weight pricing applies to us because we mostly ship lightweight fig trees in larger boxes.  I promise this will make sense soon.

What exactly is Dimensional Weight pricing?  Dimensional Weight pricing is the price you’ll pay to ship your package when it’s too big.  Shipping companies pay for the space our packages occupy on a truck and not the physical weight of the package.  So, when your large package crosses the Dimensional Weight threshold you’ll pay a calculated Dimensional Weight for your postage instead of a lower set rate based off the actual physical weight of the package.  Since Dimensional Weight pricing applies to larger packages with lower weights, you are required to pay the higher of the two.  Read that last sentence again, it’ll make sense soon.  If you’re not careful about how you grow your fig trees and fail to pay attention to new USPS package size constraints, this is where you’ll live; smack in the middle of Dimensional Weight pricing.

Most other shippers; Fed Ex, UPS, etc, have been calculating Dimensional Weight for some time now so it was only a matter of time before the USPS jumped on board.  USPS Dimensional Weight kicks in when you are shipping a package more than 1728 cubic inches.  1728 cubic inches equals 1 cubic foot.  So our shipping objective is to fit everything we ship into 1 cubic foot of space or less, or suffer the consequences of paying extremely high shipping rates.  So how do you determine if your package takes up one cubic foot of space or less?  Simply use the equation (L x W x H)/1728.

  1. Measure the Length, Width, and Height. Take measurements on the outside of the box with a standard tape measure or straight ruler.  Round off to the nearest whole inch.  e.g. 9.5” = 10”, 9.4” = 9”
  2. Multiply the Length x Width x Height (L x W x H).
  3. If the result exceeds 1728 the package is larger than one cubic foot and you’ll have to calculate Dimensional Weight.

I’ve prepared a basic table below to speed things up.  The resulting dimensions are stated in cubic inches.  I’ve used 12” as the shortest height box and 36” as the tallest because those are the minimum and maximum heights that I’ve regularly shipped.  I stock multiple height shipping boxes in 4” x 4” and 6” x 6”.

Box Size Table

Box Size Table Key

60% of the calculated measurements above do not have to calculate Dimensional Weight and about a 25% of those calculations qualify for the much lower Cubic Tier pricing.  Taking a look at these measurements that’s pretty good news for fig tree sellers.

Now we know shipping a box larger than 1728 cubic inches will land us in Dimensional Weight territory, and we know how to figure out if our package is larger than 1728 cubic inches.  But how do we calculate that dimensional weight?  Good question.  The USPS provides us with a special number called a divisor.  No one knows how the divisor is achieved, it’s just there and the USPS says to use it when your package exceeds 1 cubic foot.  The USPS divisor is 166.  To find your Dimensional Weight simply calculate:

Dimensional Weight Equation

  1. When the result exceeds 1,728 cubic inches, divide by 166 and round up to the next whole number to determine the dimensional weight in pounds.
  2. If the result of the above equation yields a higher weight than the actual weight of the package you’re shipping, you must pay the Dimensional Weight instead.
  3. If the result of the above equation yields a lower weight than the actual weight of the package you are shipping, you must pay the actual weight instead.

Let’s run through a few different shipping scenarios, review then move on.  We’ll suppose you sold a rare Brown Turkey fig tree through figBid for $95.  The Brown Turkey fig tree is growing in a standard big box store #2 nursery container.  You’ll be shipping the Brown Turkey fig tree via USPS Priority Mail, insured, from your nursery in Isleton, CA to the buyer in Staten Island, NY, USPS Zone 8.

10x10x18

You’ve selected a 10 x 10 x 18 inch box, weigh the Brown Turkey fig tree and shipping materials and come up with 7.5 lbs.  For the USPS we round that up to an actual weight of 8 lbs.  You calculate the L x W x H and come up with 1800 cubic inches which is more than 1728 cubic inches or more than one cubic foot.  Since the total volume is more than 1 cubic foot this package will have to be calculated for Dimensional Weight.  Using the USPS divisor, we divide the total volume of 1800 cubic inches by 166.  The resulting Dimensional Weight is 10.84 lbs, rounded up to 11 lbs.  Although the Actual Weight of 8 lbs is lower than the Dimensional weight, the package will ship using the heavier 11 lb Dimensional weight.

Today, this insured package would cost $48.80 if you walked into the neighborhood Post Office to purchase postage.  $39.34 if you purchase insured postage online from a postage seller.  That’s 24% cheaper than walking into the Post Office.10x10x16

In this next scenario you’re going to clip a few inches of growth (pre-sale, of course) or shape the top of the Brown Turkey fig tree to fit into a box just a bit shorter that measures 10 x 10 x 16 inches.  You calculate the L x W x H and come up with 1600 cubic inches which is less than 1728 cubic inches or less than one cubic foot.  Since the total volume is less than one cubic foot this package does not have to be calculated for Dimensional Weight and will ship by the actual 8 lb weight.    

Today, this insured package would cost $37.20 if you walked into the neighborhood Post Office to purchase postage. $30.04 if you purchase insured postage online from a postage seller.  That’s also 24% cheaper than walking into the Post Office.  

7x7x18

Next, you’ll give the Brown Turkey fig tree a little treatment by allowing the soil to dry out a little, removing the container, and placing a plastic bag around the root-ball.  You carefully shape the root ball a bit and fit the Brown Turkey into a box that’s a little more narrow and measures 7 x 7 x 18 inches.  By allowing the the soil to dry out a little, removing the container, and using a smaller box, the package now weighs 6 lbs.  You calculate the L x W x H and come up with 882 cubic inches which is less than 1728 cubic inches or less than one cubic foot.  Since the total volume is less than one cubic foot this package does not have to be calculated for Dimensional Weight and will ship by the actual 6 lb weight.

7x7x16

Today, this insured package would cost $30.00 if you walked into the neighborhood Post Office to purchase postage. $23.81 if you purchase insured postage online from a postage seller.  That’s 26% cheaper than walking into the Post Office.

Lastly, you give the Brown Turkey fig tree the same treatment as the  last scenario only this time you either clip or shape the top growth or remove a bit of soil from the bottom before placing a bag around the root-ball.  You fit the Brown Turkey into a box that’s a little a bit shorter than the last and measures 7 x 7 x 16 inches.  The package weighs the same 6 lbs.  You calculate the L x W x H and come up with 784 cubic inches which is less than 1728 cubic inches or less than one cubic foot.  Since the total volume is less than one cubic foot this package does not have to be calculated for Dimensional Weight and will ship by the actual 6 lb weight.

Today, this insured package would cost $30.00 if you walked into the neighborhood Post Office to purchase postage. $17.91 if you purchase insured postage online from a postage seller.  That’s 68% cheaper than walking into the Post Office.

Let’s review; We shipped four packages to USPS Zone 8:

Review Packages to Zone 8

  • Size matters!  Shipping a smaller, heavier package is more economical than shipping a larger, lighter package.  Don’t be afraid to resize your shipping containers.  It pays to make your package as small as possible regardless of the weight.+
  • USPS walk-in rates are expensive!  Buying postage online will always save you money.  In our insured package examples above you saved an average of 36%.
  • Shipping one-off or larger fig trees can still be economical.  Pay attention to your box sizes and decide if treating your fig tree before shipping will help decrease costs.  Always make potential buyers/bidders aware of how you’re treating the fig tree and what should be done upon receiving it:
    • Clip and Ship.  Don’t be afraid to cut down the size of a fig tree.  Make sure to do it before taking pictures for sale.  Once the tree is sold it should always be shipped in the condition you described in the listing.
    • Remove container and/or some soil.  You’re not bare-rooting here; simply wrap the root ball in a plastic bag and gently massage it into the form of the shipping container.  You’d be surprised at how quickly an actively growing ‘pickup only’ fig tree becomes shippable.  The item description should make potential bidders/buyers aware of how you’re treating the fig tree, why you’re doing it, and how the winner of the fig tree should re-pot upon receiving it.
    • Sell your fig trees after dormancy.  Take pictures of your fig tree during the latter part of the growing season while it’s still leafed-out and/or fruiting.  Take more pictures after dormancy.  Remove the container and wrap the root ball in a plastic bag, or, partially or completely bare-root.  Carefully bend or clip branch tips to fit the fig tree into the smaller shipping container.  Securing a dormant fig tree into a shipping container is so much easier than securing an actively growing, fully leafed-out fig tree.  Your figBid listing should contain all the pictures you’ve taken.  In the Item Description make potential buyers/bidders aware of how you’re treating the fig tree and what should be done upon receiving it.
    • Dry out the root ball.  Not completely!  Lose a few ounces of water weight by allowing a root ball to dry out a bit.  It can make a big difference.

Sometimes you can’t help it and you’re forced to ship a large fig tree.  There are tools at your disposal and steps you can take to mitigate.

  • Visit flippertools.com and use the Smart Shipping Calculator to help you determine what's the cheapest box to mail your item or find a box that your item will fit into.
  • If doing math is not your thing, flippertools.com has a Dimensional Weight Calculator, too.  Or you can find any number of Dimensional Weight Calculators available for free on the internet.  Each one has its own bells and whistles but basically they all do the same thing.  Google ‘Dimensional Weight Calculator’.
  • There are some AR (augmented reality) apps available for Apple and Android products that may work well.  I have not used them and don’t know how well they’d work on fig trees, but they look pretty cool.  Google ‘AR app for finding a box that fits’.
  • Keep a good supply of different sized boxes on hand.  Order from the USPS for free and don’t throw away those old Amazon boxes.  Go box shopping on garbage pickup day.  Not kidding here; a quick drive through the neighborhood can save you lots of time and money.
  • Learn how to resize a box.  It’s almost a necessity to know how to properly resize a box today.  Google ‘How to resize a box for shipping’ and you’ll see there’s no shortage of experts waiting to show you how to do it.
  • Buy yourself a Carton Sizer Tool or Box Resizing Tool.  Not necessary but makes your life a lot easier.  Only about $15-$20 on Amazon.

Shipping Priority Mail Cubic Rate

Are you ready to learn about the secret shipping method that’s saving third-party seller’s tons of money?  Hands down, USPS Priority Mail Cubic is the best deal in shipping and you can’t get it at the post office.  Priority Mail Cubic is a special version of Priority Mail that’s only available to third-party postage sellers like pirateship.com.   The pricing for Cubic Rates are based on the outer dimensions of your package instead of the weight.  Depending on the size of your package it will fall into one of 5 pricing tiers.  Take a look at the box-size chart above.  See all those numbers highlighted in green?  There are a few different price tiers at work there but those are the box sizes that qualify for Priority Mail Cubic and will save us the most amount of money.  To land in the confinement of Priority Mail Cubic Rate the box:

  1. Must be less than 1/2 cubic foot in volume (that’s about the size of a shoebox), and,
  2. Must weigh 20 lbs. or less, and,
  3. Must be less than 18” in length, and,
  4. Can’t be a tube.

When your package fits all four of those rules we can calculate Priority Mail Cubic Rate.  That’s why planning to ship before you start growing your fig trees is so important.  Almost all the fig trees we ship will weigh less than 20 lbs, and grow-planning or treating your fig tree can take the height down so the fig tree will fit into a box that measures 18” in length.  But how do we know if the shipping container in less than a half cubic foot and eligible to ship Cubic?  It’s almost the same as the formula used above:

Cubic Feet Equation

Depending on the calculation, your package will fall into one of 5 pricing tiers.  To calculate which of the 5 pricing tiers your package will fall in simply follow the outline below:

  • Measure your package’s outer dimensions
  • Round each measurement down to the nearest quarter of an inch (Ex: 5.6 inches turns into 5.5 inches, 2.3 inches turns into 2.25 inches)
  • Multiply Length x Width x Height, and divide the result by 1728.  The resulting number is the size of the package in cubic feet.  Round up fractional results to the next tier (so for example, a package that is 0.24 cubic feet will be in the 0.3 tier, a package that’s .41 cubic feet will be in the 0.5 tier).  The total size of the box cannot be more than .50 cubic feet.  Your measurement should fall into one of the 5 tiers below:

Cubic Rate Chart

To illustrate the cost savings we’re going to use the example above and ship the same beautiful Brown Turkey fig tree sold on figBid for $95, from Isleton, CA to Staten Island, NY, USPS Zone 8.  Only this time we’ve done some advanced grow-planning and the Brown Turkey fig tree is happily growing in a #1 nursery container or 4” x 4” x 9” treepot.  There were no treatments to any of these shipments and box heights were increased instead of decreased to accommodate taller growth.  Packaged weights are taken from my own real world shipments.

1 Gal Pot to Zone 8 Chart

None of the boxes you shipped required Dimensional Weight calculation or treatment and two of them qualified for USPS Priority Cubic Rates.  In the Dimensional Weight example above, the most economical price for shipping the Brown Turkey fig tree, insured, was $17.91.  With some advanced planning and shipping with Priority Mail Cubic Rate, you insured and shipped that Brown Turkey fig tree across the country for $8.92, a savings of 101% !  That more than makes up for the cost of purchasing growing supplies.

  • Prepare your fig trees for shipment when you start them.  Growing in 4 x 4 treepots saves you and your customers the most money.  In the examples above there was a 450% price difference from a non-treated fig tree growing in a #2 container to a non-treated fig tree growing in a 4 x 4 treepot.  That’s a lot of dough!
  • With advanced grow-planning you can easily work the price of shipping into your fig tree and offer customers free shipping.  Free shipping is a game changer.  Listings that offer free shipping sell faster and end with higher final values than listings that don’t.
  • When shipping Cubic, remember that your box can’t be more than 18” long and round the measurements down to the nearest 1/4” and not up to the nearest inch.
  • USPS walk-in rates are expensive!  Buying postage online will always save you money.  In our insured package examples above you saved an average of 70%.
  • There are many Priority Mail Cubic Rate calculators available online.

Priority Mail Cubic Softpack

You can’t get any more cloak and dagger than this and I think it deserves to mentioned here.  In addition to boxes, you can get dimension-based rates for poly bags and padded envelopes.  It’s called Priority Mail Cubic Softpack.  You cannot access the special rates for USPS Priority Mail Cubic Softpack from the post office and they’re only available from third-party postage sellers online.  Just like Priority Mail Cubic, Cubic Softpack has a few rules to follow:

  • The length OR width of the softpack can’t be more than 18 inches, and,
  • the total length + width must not exceed 36 inches, and,
  • the package can’t weigh more than 20 pounds, and,
  • you can’t use expanded or pleated envelopes.

Cubic Softpack pricing is the same as if you were shipping a box, but the formula for calculating the pricing tier is different.  To calculate which pricing tier a softpack envelope falls in:

  • Measure the Length and Width of the empty envelope or softpack mailer (in inches) before you put anything in it.
  • If any of the measurements exceed the nearest quarter inch, round down to the nearest 1/4" inch (for example, 9.9" inches turns into 9.75" inches);
  • Add the two measurements together for the total and use the chart below to determine which pricing tier your softpack envelope falls in (note that the total cannot exceed 36”).

 

Priority Mail Cubic Softpack Commercial Plus Pricing Tiers:

0.1 - Envelopes with a Length plus Width measuring more than 0" up to 21"
0.2 - Envelopes with a Length plus Width measuring more than 21" up to 27"
0.3 - Envelopes with a Length plus Width measuring more than 27" up to 31"
0.4 - Envelopes with a Length plus Width measuring more than 31" up to 34"
0.5 - Envelopes with a Length plus Width measuring more than 34" up to 36"

 

Cubic Rates for softpack are identical to box rates.  Once you know your Cubic Softpack Pricing Tier, you can determine the shipping rate using the same chart as above:

Cubic Rate Softpack Chart

There are such a wide range of poly envelope sizes available today, USPS Priority Mail Cubic Softpack rates become important to fig tree sellers because you might fit a box that otherwise may not qualify for cubic shipping into a softpack that does qualify.  This doesn’t mean that you can jam a box into a bag and shrink-wrap it closed.  The USPS only cares about your outer packaging.  But you can put a box into an envelope as long as it’s still shaped like an envelope.  The rule of thumb is, if it clearly has 3 dimensions, it’s still a box.

Shipping from Point A to unknown Point B

Calculating shipping costs to an unknown location is a constant battle of am I charging too much? Too little? Should I not charge for shipping at all? Determining the right amount to charge for shipping to an unknown location is the greatest conundrum for online sellers.  There are a few options to choose from and the factors you’ll have to consider are the value of the item you’re selling, the package dimensions, and the weight.  The options listed below are not in any particular order so pick an option that works for you.  If you’re following the growing and shipping methods in this article your risks will be minimized and choosing an option below will be easy.  If you’re shipping larger packages there’ll be more to consider.

Since all of the options below come from my own experience I’ll tell you that most of the time I offer free shipping.  After shipping tens of thousands of packages I’ve found it’s easiest for myself and the buyer.  I’m not pushing free shipping on anyone; it just works for me.  There are times that free shipping can’t be offered so I’ve learned to minimize the impact by shipping in the smallest box possible, then estimate a shipping charge.  I keep a good supply of different sized boxes on hand for the occasion.

  • Estimate a shipping charge before you list.  Buyers don’t care for extra work after a purchase so asking to contact you for a shipping charge may scare potential customers away.  Box your fig tree in the smallest box possible (at least less than 1 cubic foot!) and weigh it along with packaging material.  Review the pricing tables on pirateship.com to get an idea of what shipping will cost from Zone #1 through Zone #8 and charge somewhere in the middle.  For example, the lowest shipping price you’d expect to pay for a 4 lb package is $7.71 to Zone #1.  The highest shipping price is $17.61 to Zone #8.  Middle of the road for this package is $12.66 so you could safely charge $13.  You’re keeping the excess or paying the overage out-of-pocket.  This is not an exact science, but, in my experience, if you’re shipping at least 10 fig trees per year and the packages are in the same dimensional/weight ballpark, it usually works out even and you’ll make up the differences.  Along with a comprehensive pricing table, pirateship.com has taken the hard work out of the equation and provided a list of national average shipping prices for all zones in 1 pound increments.  The national average shipping price paid for a 4 lb package is $12.21.  That’s close enough to the $13 calculation and there was no work involved.  If you’re using the tools I’ve given you above along with the national averages it becomes a little easier to calculate a shipping charge that will keep your figs out of hot water yet remain attractive to potential customers.
  • Charge a flat shipping fee and refund the difference.  It’s not unreasonable to charge a flat $20 shipping fee and call it a day.  I think most buyers of fig trees are happy to pay the $20 shipping charge as long as they’re receiving their fig tree in a safe and timely fashion.  Of course you’ll refund the difference or pay any shipping overage out-of-pocket and your item description will explain the details.  In my experience, a prudent shipper will rarely pay an overage.  Using the 4 lb package from the example above, the buyer lives in Zone #1 and has paid $20 shipping; You’ll be issuing the buyer a refund of $12.29.
  • Charge the exact shipping amount. In the body of your listing describe how you’ll ship and make sure it’s clear the buyer will have to wait for a shipping quote before paying. This is my least favorite method of calculating shipping.  Sellers using this method may scare potential customers and leave themselves open for lost sales.  Of course the nightmare scenario is telling a customer that shipping will cost $20 and the customer doesn’t follow through with the sale.  I’ve also witnessed sellers charge $10 and have a customer do the same.  Or, the customer will pay the shipping charge, feel they were gouged, then ding the seller with poor feedback because of buyer remorse.  The problem is you’re leaving the customer a chance to have regret.  A seller should do everything to make sure their buyer is happy.  I would only suggest this method if the item is particularly large or bulky, or, you’re confident about your ability to secure a fair shipping rate every time.  When that’s the case be sure to spell it out in the body of your listing and you should be ok.
  • Offer free shipping.  I know… I know.  I can hear everyone saying, ‘Suuuuure, figBid wants us to offer free shipping so they can rack up the profits.’  This might be true for other websites but the margins on figBid are so low they may not even exist.  Free shipping just works.  I offer free shipping for most of my own items and have been doing so for many years; not just on figBid but across every selling platform I use.  I can tell you first-hand there’s a 10% bump in final values for all of my listings.  Customers know how great and hassle-free not paying for shipping is.  You see the cost and that's how much you pay.  Any Amazon Prime® member can tell you this because Prime® members pay over $100 per year just for the privilege.  Of course fig sellers aren't charging our customers $100 a year, so you’ll have to work the cost of shipping into your Buy it Now or auction price.  Most everyone knows that free shipping isn't actually free, it comes out of the cost of the item.  But, buyers don't always know the value of the item itself.  When you separate the cost of the product from the shipping, customers definitely know how much you're charging for shipping.  For example, if you sell a fig tree for $80.00 with $20 shipping, some potential buyers will see that shipping is 1/4th of the cost and not be interested.  If you sell the same item at $99.00 with free shipping, there’s much less information for a potential buyer to note and the purchase becomes hassle-free.  You’re not trying to deceive, only make it easier.  Additionally, the Free Shipping banner displayed on top of your listing in the search results attracts a lot of attention and always leads to increased sales with higher final values.

Now You’re a Shipping Pro

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end.  Please use everything you’ve learned here; don’t be shy to pass it along.  Shipping rates will never decrease but with some advanced planning we can ship smarter and save lots of money for ourselves and our customers.  And who doesn’t like to save money?  I’ll close this article with a few tips:

  • Consider using an online postage seller.  They’re quick, easy to use, and save you lots of money.  I recommend pirateship.com because they’re free to use but there are lots of others.
  • Always make sure you ship the freshest and healthiest material possible.  If it’s questionable, don’t ship it.  Customers will appreciate an explanation instead of a poor quality tree or dead cuttings.
  • Be sure to spell out any shipping details perfectly in the body of your listing description.  Add a little something about days you ship, shipping method, packaging, how excess shipping will be returned, etc.
  • Figure out your shipping method and rate before the listing is live.  Don’t take anything for granted when it comes to shipping cost.  You don’t want any surprises when the listing ends and you certainly don’t want to surprise your customer.
  • Always ship in a timely fashion.  When delays happen make sure to notify the buyer.  If you only ship on a certain day make sure your listings end at least two nights before to allow for collecting payments.  ie: If you ship on Tuesday mornings, end your listings Sunday night.
  • Sending your customer a shipping email with tracking information has become standard practice.  Tracking information is available for most First Class and all Priority packages.  If you ship a First Class package without tracking, send the customer a notification stating the package was shipped.
  • Please make sure your fig trees or fig cuttings are properly tagged before shipping.  There have been some nightmare scenarios.  Use tree tags, plant stakes, marker, paint pen, etc.
  • A set of care instructions in your package is a nice touch.  Add such things as how the tree was grown, type of soil, and fertilizer schedule.  I’ve been doing this for years.  Customers appreciate it.
  • Always refund excess postage when you’re supposed to.  You may never get a ‘thank you’ but you’ll always be know as a quality seller.
  • Fig shoppers love to see a clearly defined return policy.  No seller likes to deal with it; but we live in the age of returns and refunds and have to adapt.  Clearly state your return or refund details in a separate paragraph in your listing details.  Copy and paste from listing to listing.

 

 

1 From 604 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual, 7.0 Computing Postage, 7.1.3 Rounding Numerical Values, Round off requires increasing by 1 the last digit to be kept if the digit to its right, which is not to be kept, is 5 or greater. If that digit is 4 or less, the last digit kept is unchanged.

2 From 604 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual, 7.0 Computing Postage, 7.1.3 Rounding Numerical Values, Round up requires increasing by 1 the last digit to be kept if there are any digits to its right, regardless of significance.