Mandy Klein in Constance, who lives just across the border from Switzerland in Germany, has found a niche that satisfies hundreds of Swiss and saves them money.
Klein’s customers are those people who want to avoid import charges and postal costs if they buy something from Germany over the internet.
Foreign parcels that come to Switzerland by post or by private postal services are often accompanied by hefty service and customs charges.
“It all started when a business partner of my husband had a friend who wanted something sent to him. I did that, although I didn’t know him and thought he could at least bring a bar of chocolate.
“And so it took off from there. I was bored anyway. I was getting a bit fatter and didn’t have anything to do,” Klein told swissinfo.ch.
One of the problems was that sellers did not want to send the products that customers wanted to Switzerland.
High postal charges
As Klein explains there would have been high postal charges and some of the sellers did not know about the formalities of the customs procedures.
Mariano Masserini, who is a spokesman at Swiss Post, says the company is not really affected, since Klein operates from across the border, in Germany.
“She’s free to do what she likes because she operates on German territory. She has to respect German legislation,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“Parcels that come from Germany from the German Post are handled by DHL through the customs since the beginning of this year.
“You also have to know that Swiss who fetch their parcels have to respect the law of Switzerland. That means they have to pay VAT and declare what they are importing,” he added.
Klein at the beginning advertised on a few free websites in Switzerland, and with information being passed from one customer to another potential customer, her business gradually took off.
When swissinfo.ch visited, a customer came in the same day their parcel arrived and Klein was happy that someone had been prompt.
One of the rooms in her apartment, which is a stone’s throw away from Constance railway station, is full of parcels of one sort or another, waiting for their owners to pick them up and take them across the border.
“Actually, I’d only expected a parcel every six months and I didn’t think I could make a business out of it. I don’t know most of the people but it’s nice to meet new people and now I’m busy. It’s now a full-time job.”
As Klein admits, the business is now far more than receiving and delivering parcels. She has to tell people when the parcel arrives, who sent it and where it came from so that people know exactly what is there.
“Many people forget to give their own name, the sellers sometimes forget to give the names of the buyers, there are parcels that arrive with just my name on them.
“And when the name Schmidt turns up and isn’t registered with me, I’ve had to ring up to 70 Schmidts to find out the right one.”
Most of Klein’s customers are Swiss but then there are also Germans who live in Switzerland, as well as Americans, Dutch and Swedes. As she puts it “anyone and everyone”.
She’s heard of plenty of stories of how expensive products can get. The worst was a horse blanket which cost €20 (SFr24.5) on auction website eBay, which cost €180 at the border in Basel.
Klein’s service is totally legal and as she puts it: “There are things that simply don’t exist in Switzerland and when you find them in Germany and the seller says he doesn’t send to Switzerland, then people look on the internet to find solutions.”
She says it’s not big business and she won’t become rich with it but she can “survive well”. It’s a fun job and the best she’s ever had, she adds.
“The Swiss are very, very thankful, very friendly and respectable… 95 per cent of them anyway.”
What do those living in Switzerland send to Klein? She says that they send her everything they need from a bargain they’ve found on the internet, from shoes to bicycles, furniture, car tyres, fitness machines, replacement parts… everything.
Saturday is when Klein has her busiest day because obviously many people are free to pick up their parcels and Constance is attractive for a shopping trip.
Some people are regulars, some people come perhaps twice a year, some people are simply registered with her, but she has been surprised at her business’s success.
She has eight to nine suppliers turning up every day and she shares some of the work with her husband
“When I want to leave the house, I do it when my husband is here but it [the business] is my baby and I like it when people ring the doorbell.”
Klein, who says she was very bored before opening her business, says she has lost 27kg thanks to carrying parcels around.
Klein does not go on holiday and says she’s not the type to spend two weeks at the beach, hardly surprising when you think she lives about 100 metres away from Lake Constance, where she feels “at home”.
As for the future? “We’ll see. I look forward in any case to every new day.”
How it works
You have to register first by email, giving your name, email address and telephone number. You will receive her address in Constance.
If you order something you have to ensure that your name and hers appear on the delivery slip to her Constance address.
Klein charges €5 (SFr6.12) for a normal parcel, €10 for anything over a metre and €15 for parcels which are really large.
She receives between 10 and 30 parcels a day from 8 or 9 delivery services.
Klein says she has good contacts with them, including Deutsche Post. She says what she is doing is perfectly legal.
The strangest things that have been delivered to her address include a kayak and a racing motor bike from 1907. Shoes and clothes are the most popular products that arrive.
She stores most of the parcels in a room where she keeps her clothes.
People turn up from not only nearby but also Bern, Geneva, Liechtenstein and Austria.