If you're asked to mail products to an HC Box address, it's not a misprint. Highway Contract addresses are like rural routes, except a private contractor services them for the United States Postal Service. To ship successfully to an HC Box, you need the right address and a correctly formatted label.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The simplest way to find or confirm an HC Box address is to contact the customer. To find the approximate location of a given box, use Google Maps or the USPS ZIP code locator. For bulk mailings, buying a mailing list for a specific area is your best bet.
The Highway Contract (HC) Box
The HC number indicates that the mail you send is carried by a private contractor, not a USPS employee. Typically, the contractor delivers mail down the highway from Point A to Point B but also drops off mail at rural boxes in between the two points.
This practice goes back well beyond the last century. In the early days of the USPS, stagecoaches carried mail between towns, which proved expensive. The USPS was ordered to use the cheapest method of transport that guaranteed "celerity, certainty and security."
Rather than write those words into every contract and bid, postal officials substituted three asterisks, which led to the nickname "star routes". The term survived into the 21st century, even though the official name is now Highway Contract routes. An HC Box is an address along a given star route that receives mail dropped off by an HC carrier.
Mailing to the HC Box
When you get a customer's HC mailbox address, you may assume that it is garbled. HC addresses, such as HC 57 Box 16, don't look like conventional postal addresses. Even though there's no street address and no town, don't panic; it doesn't mean your customer wrote it incorrectly.
The HC Box address is bare-bones: HC, followed by the route number, followed by the box number, then the ZIP code underneath. People misunderstand this, so if a mailing comes back to your office, check to see whether you addressed the mail correctly:
- Use HC, not "highway contract" or "star route".
- Don't use a town or street name. It confuses the system.
- When you write down the ZIP code, use the entire five numbers plus four digits.
Locating the HC Box
If you want to know where your rural customers are located, Google Maps can help. Enter the HC Box and the ZIP Code into the Google Maps search field, and it returns the town or county where your customer dwells, possibly with some detail such as "unnamed road."
You can also use the USPS ZIP code finder. Enter the HC Box number and the ZIP code, and you get the city and state. If you know the city and state, you can enter them with the HC Box number and get the ZIP code.
Bulk Mailing Addresses
Suppose that rather than finding a specific customer, you want to send out a bulk mailing to everyone in a tri-county area, including everyone with an HC Box. USPS can't help you. It doesn't maintain a database of customers, and even if it did, it doesn't sell mailing lists.
Unless you plan to canvass the area on foot or check over Google Maps for addresses along the highway, your best bet is to buy a regional mailing list from a company that specializes in them. Lists aren't always accurate, though, so ask about the list's national deliverability index. The NDI rates the percentage of deliverable addresses in a list; a 100% NDI means they're all good.
The USPS offers products and services you can use to check the addresses or standardize them so that all the highway contact addresses are written correctly. USPS can also keep the list up to date if any of your recipients relocate.
Fraser Sherman has written about every aspect of business: how to start one, how to keep one in the black, the best business structure, the details of financial statements. He's also run a couple of small businesses of his own. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is frasersherman.com