Nov. 12 2008 03:30 PM

I bet you are just like me; you love a good card trick. And what is more fun to watch than the old Sleight of Hand card trick? Well, I am about to unveil the secret method used to perform this trick, and with a little practice you’ll be a master of it in no time. Here you go:
Pre-arrangement required: Place a Queen on the bottom of the pack. Shuffle a pack of cards, keeping the Queen in place at the bottom of the pack. Then cut the deck into four piles and place them face down on the table. Keep a mental note which pile came from the bottom of the deck. Ask a volunteer to select a card from any of the piles and look at it but obviously not show it to you and then put it back.
Next, re-assemble the deck, putting the bottom pile on top of the selected card — this will enable you to identify it as it will be directly beneath your chosen Queen — then put the other two piles on top of that. Should your volunteer select the top card of the bottom pile, get them to cut the pile again before you re-assemble the deck. This will ensure that your Queen will still be on top of their card.
Cut the pack about halfway down (well away from the selected card) and spread out the cards face-up on the table. Gaze pensively at the cards for a moment or two and then say that one of the Queens is trying to tell you something. Pick up the Queen you chose earlier, which will of course now be below the volunteer’s card (as you’ve turned the pack over) and hold the Queen up to your ear, pretending that she is whispering to you. Then reach down for the card that was next to it and declare it to the volunteer as being their selected card.
I know what you are thinking, “Hey Joe, it seems too easy to be true! I can’t wait for my next family gathering to spellbind the relatives.” Enjoy, my friend, enjoy!
As exciting and emotionally charged as the Sleight of Hand card trick is, it is still not my favorite trick. No, there is a much greater trick. It is a trick so precise and cunning that only a few master magicians even know of it, and only the best of the best magicians even dare to try it in their lifetime. Ladies and gentlemen, I will disclose to you right here and now the inner workings of the parcel carriers’ Sleight of Hand trick. Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready? I can’t hear you? Are you ready? Good, here you go:
Hold the annual rate increase in a loose grip. With the right hand, grasp the pages that have the Air base rates and Air fuel surcharge index. Slowly separate the base rates page from the index page so that the base rate page is in your right hand and your left hand is holding the index page. As you bring your hands together, you now increase the base rates by a large percentage, say 6.9%, on a weighted average basis, while simultaneously reducing by two percent the index used to determine its January fuel surcharge. Here’s how the trick works: the audience thinks their rates have only increased by 4.9%, since 6.9% minus two percent equals 4.9%. But they are wrong. You should see the expressions on their faces come February 1st when the Air fuel surcharge rates are jacked up a couple percent and keep raising throughout the year and they are still saddled with the 6.9% increase in base rates. Brilliant, indeed! It’s taken a lot of practice, but it clearly is one of the most valuable sleights in a parcel carrier’s arsenal.
United Parcel Service first pulled this out of its bag of tricks in December 2004, when they announced their 2005 rate increase. That was historic, indeed, but the most memorable year for me was 2007. I remember it like yesterday. The two percent Air fuel index reduction in January 2007 dropped the surcharge from 11.5% in December 2006 to 9.5% in January 2007. The shippers loved it. Who can forget the dancing in the streets? Then, to the shock of all, the Air fuel surcharge started to slowly go back up, month by month until it ended the year at a whopping 17.5%! That, my friend, is how you perform a card trick. Air base rates will never go down, but the fuel surcharge can fluctuate wildly. Masterful! Bravo, dear carriers, bravo!
Don’t forget to look for my annual “UPS Rate Increase” cover story at the beginning of next year. It will provide you with everything you need to know about UPS’ base rate changes for 2009.
Joe Loughran is President of SmartTran, Inc. and an expert in small package pricing and carrier rate analysis. SmartTran is a transportation consulting company offering services in carrier rate negotiation, guarantee refund service and logistics planning for 12 years. SmartTran’s management team has over 70 years of executive level experience in package transportation management. Joe can be reached by phone at 724-934-0626 or by e-mail