People - December 2005

She's happiest when you just mail it in
By Frank Maley

Heather Lowry was on the move, as usual, trying to catch a plane from Charlotte to Seattle. But security guards confiscated a pocketknife from a woman in line ahead of her. It had belonged to her grandfather, the woman said, and she didn’t want to lose it. “Why can’t I mail this back to myself?”

There’s got to be an easy way to do that, Lowry thought. A few weeks later, she had dinner with a friend, Sherry Anderson. Airport security had seized scissors given to Anderson by her grandmother. Before long, Lowry and Anderson had pooled $10,000 in savings, started CheckPoint Mailers Inc. and hired a lawyer who hooked them up with a Greenville family that invested $100,000 more. Charlotte/Douglas International Airport became the company’s first customer in 2003, followed quickly by airports serving Raleigh, Dallas and Greensboro.

For as little as $8, CheckPoint Mailers will ship carry-on contraband dropped in its bomb-resistant boxes at any of 28 U.S. airports to wherever you want. Heavy items and overseas shipping cost more. The biggest bill for one item so far: $87 to send a Club anti-car-theft device from Charlotte to Rome. The weirdest item: bear repellent. Lighters make up about a third of the business. Shipping time averages about 10 days.

Maybe it’s fitting that Lowry, CheckPoint Mailers’ nomadic 41-year-old president, helped start a company that moves things. The Westminster, Calif., native studied nursing at a community college in Bellevue, Wash., but quit to tend her mother, who had been in a car wreck. After her mom died in 1985, she booked flights for US Airways in San Diego and Reno, Nev. She left in 1989 for a sales job at Dale Carnegie Training in Seattle, then held a series of sales and franchising jobs in Washington and Florida. “That’s why I work for myself. I get bored after a couple of years.”

She landed in Huntersville after her husband, Edward, then a US Airways employee, was transferred to Charlotte in 1997. She worked for a company that did health screenings, then started doing them on her own in 2000. She was already growing restless when she and Anderson dreamed up CheckPoint Mailers.

Lowry works mostly from home, while vice president Anderson manages the customer-service center in Kernersville. The company has eight full-time employees, all in North Carolina, as well as 28 contractors. It has grown quickly — generating more than $80,000 a month in sales — but could plateau before long. Lowry hopes to add 14 airports, for a total of 42, by 2007; a competitor, League City, Texas-based ReturnKey Systems, has boxes in more than 10 airports; and only 60 U.S. airports have enough passenger traffic to be profitable, Lowry says.

She expects the U.S. market to be saturated by the end of 2006, so she and Anderson plan to start a company that sells bomb-resistant trash cans to airports and government agencies and businesses. Despite her history of job hopping, she isn’t planning to bail out of CheckPoint Mailers. “We’ll be in this for a long time.”