FedEx braces for the busiest day of the year: Monday, Dec. 10

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At least Paul Bullock did not have to contend with chimneys last week when he was delivering packages for the holidays.

Instead, it was stairs, lots of stairs -- porch stairs, front stairs, long paths of stairs that run through front yards.

The boxes he was delivering were not tied up with a bow. Most were secured with packing tape, but still there was a holiday feel as Mr. Bullock, a contractor for FedEx Ground, delivered boxes with snowflakes or Snapfish logos on them to houses decorated with wreaths and lights in Moon.

Streets with names such as Gatehouse, Duckhorn and Chaulk Hill were destinations for packages from companies that sell cards and toys and even nonholiday fare from pharmaceutical houses.

Mr. Bullock, 52, ran up those stairs to homes big and small to drop packages on the front stoop and attach door knockers, which are special FedEx tags alerting the occupants that there is a package by the door, or sometimes around back. He hustled to get cardboard boxes in bags in case of inclement weather. He paused only to key a number into his system so that both the sender and recipient could track a package and see when it arrived.

This is the time of year when FedEx Ground drivers find it easiest to lose weight. They make hundreds of stops a day, sometimes lugging multiple packages to a single location.

The company has forecast that it will move more than 280 million packages through its global network during the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Monday is expected to be the busiest day of the year for FedEx. The company predicts it will move 19 million shipments that day, double its usual package volume and 10 percent more than last year, when the company moved 17.2 million packages on its busiest day.

Mr. Bullock's route includes the Mall at Robinson, so to handle the work there he has hired Wayne Ickes to unload the 24-foot trailer that Mr. Bullock tows from the FedEx terminal on Neville Island. Mr. Ickes spends his days pushing carts loaded with merchandise to the various retailers in the mall. It is a delivery route that requires no driving. All of the men who work for Mr. Bullock are in near-constant motion for days that stretch well beyond eight hours this time of year.

Despite the logos on Mr. Bullock's three-truck fleet, he is not employed by FedEx. Instead he owns Roadrunner Delivery Inc., a company he started 22 years ago when he became a contractor to Roadway Package System, which later became RPS and was ultimately bought by FedEx to become FedEx Ground, which is based in Moon.

Through the years, the logos on his truck and uniform have changed with the corporate ownerships and the technology has gone from logging every package by hand to hand-held scanners hooked to the FedEx computer system that can follow the movement of all of his cargo.

For the first 10 years of his career, he said he was known as "Daddy Who?", the guy who left home on weekdays before his daughter woke up and returned as she was going to bed. Back then he was delivering all of the packages on his route himself. Now, even after buying another route, Mr. Bullock has a lighter load because he has hired people to help make deliveries. Now when the deliveries are done he heads home to handle things such as the payroll, quarterly tax payments and scheduling the maintenance on the fleet he owns.

While FedEx has terminals throughout the country that are similar to the one on Neville Island with conveyor belts and arms that move packages from one truck to the other, it still takes manpower to load the trucks and deliver the packages. The tail end of that process is made up of nearly 9,000 independent contractor businesses and people they employ, nearly 30,000 of which are drivers.

FedEx Ground has 50,000 employees and an additional 20,000 seasonal hires.

Mr. Bullock doesn't just rely on the FedEx-generated manifest of packages, he usually gets to the terminal by 5:45 a.m. to rearrange his routes so that his drivers will be more efficient. While he used to keep his van at the Neville Island terminal, now he drives it home so he can go out in the middle of the day and help his employees if they have a particularly heavy load or if they are falling behind.

Mr. Bullock is not one of the route owners FedEx holds out as having made millions operating for FedEx. He relies on the job of his wife, Catherine, to provide the health insurance for his family. His business and her job provide a middle-class lifestyle in a split-level home in Kennedy. He said he enjoys the work and the flexibility to attend his daughter's volleyball games.

There are other benefits to owning his own delivery franchise, one of which is access to the trucks. FedEx contractors have to cover the logos if they are using the trucks for anything other than delivering packages. So, when Mr. Bullock's oldest daughter was heading to Slippery Rock University for college, he put blank magnetic signs over the logos and her stuff in the truck. She was the envy of her classmates.

But when it came to pick up the family Christmas tree, the truck that brings holiday gifts right to the front door was parked in the driveway.

Mr. Bullock said his family got the tree the old-fashioned way; they put a blanket on top of the family's Nissan and strapped the tree to the top.

It seems even Santa sometimes rides in something other than a sleigh.

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Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.


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