Well before dawn, dozens of white trucks and vans are backed up to conveyor belts flowing with packages inside a big Front Street warehouse, their cargo doors standing open.
It’s the busy season at this Kansas City shipping facility for FedEx, and couriers are handling nearly double the usual volume — about 25,000 packages and envelopes a day.
Just how busy it is in December is apparent by rent-a-trucks interspersed among the FedEx trucks and vans in the 90,000-square-foot building.
“This time of year we need extra to supplement our fleet,” said the facility’s senior manager Mark Tarwater. “We just put our magnetic FedEx signs on their sides.”
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Each morning, about 100 vehicles and the men and women who drive them await arrival of big shipping crates from Kansas City International Airport. Each crate is stacked to the brim with barcoded packages already sorted geographically at FedEx hubs in Memphis or Indianapolis.
The inbound crates are shoved into the warehouse through a yawning door and pushed along a floor pockmarked with rollers that make it easy to slide containers that weigh up to 5,000 pounds each. Once slid inside, workers open the crates and begin detailed sorting.
All FedEx operations in the Kansas City area receive packages that were pre-coded at the hubs. The Front Street facility gets packages labeled with MKC or KCK, signifying that site’s distribution area on both sides of the state line. Each package also has a three-digit numerical code that further identifies the delivery location. Other facilities in Lenexa and south Kansas City receive different coding.
As packages move down the conveyor belts, drivers and package handlers pluck the codes that match their routes and load their trucks. The process generally takes from about 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. in the morning for containers inbound from the airport and then is reversed in the evening for outbound.
“Everything will be out the door in two to three hours,” Tarwater said. “But even if we could move faster, there may be no point if the places that will receive the packages aren’t open yet. Our couriers would just have to sit in parking lots waiting for businesses to open.”
As always, though, a small fleet of vans with time-sensitive deliveries such as medicine or lab results leave as soon as possible.
Both FedEx and package-delivery competitor UPS have ramped up staffing for the seasonal rush that hits special intensity on the four Mondays before Christmas.
“Last year was a record shipping year, and this year we’re up 10 percent from that,” Tarwater said. “E-commerce has really changed things.”
Online sales, for example, accounted for 25 percent of all Black Friday sales this year, up from 18 percent last year.
The added volume has caused both delivery companies to sometimes say they can’t guarantee certain timed deliveries, and industry analysts said on-time delivery rates suffered a bit after Thanksgiving.
ShipMatrix Inc, a software developer, said the on-time delivery rate last week for FedEx Ground was 96.9 percent and for UPS it was 96.3 percent. While still relatively high, both rates were down from their usual 98 percent to 99 percent scores.
Both FedEx and UPS have added new sorting and distribution facilities around the country in the past year to help handle the increased shipping loads.
“And we add temps and put in more overtime,” Tarwater said of the 150 employees at the Front Street site. “We do what’s needed to get the job done.”