Cliff Rucker and Ed Phelan opened up the National Postal Forum in Nashville yesterday like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs tearing into a performance of Foggy Mountain Breakdown, laying down a hard-driving tune of operational flexibility and customer attentiveness on the road to primacy in the package delivery business.
“Two years ago at Forum we were talking about going from six-day to five-day delivery. This year we’re talking about seven-day package delivery,” USPS VP of Delivery Operations Phelan said to Rucker, VP of sales. “The growth trend is astronomical, more than 30%. We had one customer give us five million packages and another [customer gave us] three million over the holidays.”
Phelan said the Postal Service delivered about 8.3 million packages on its busiest Sunday in December and another eight million on Christmas Eve. Rucker, who did a ride-along on one of those winter Sundays said it was a kick to see how appreciative people were when you showed with their packages on the Lord’s Day. So surprising was it to see the U.S. Mail moving outside of normal business hours that a mail truck making grocery runs in the wee hours of a San Francisco morning got pulled over by cops who thought it was stolen.
You’d think one couldn’t ask for more than being a regulated monopoly, but Rucker and Phelan appear dead set on making the U.S. Postal service act and operate like a competitive, private sector business. The Postal Service—about to lose the 4.3% exigent surcharge and with little hope of legislation allowing it to restructure the way it delivers retiree health benefits—needs every buck it can get, and this dynamic duo sees money on the table in shipping and packages.
“It used to be a box was a box. This is when we deliver and this is when we pick up,” Rucker said, “but we have an asset. We have fixed carriers on focused routes, and what I’m trying to do is fill Ed’s trucks.”
Now that Mobile Delivery Devices (MDDs) are fully deployed across the carrier corps and ramped up with superior data, more surprising things are coming from the Postal Service, Phelan promised. “When we first went down this road, we didn’t have 11-digit capabilities. Nine only got us to the corner, it didn’t get us to the house,” said the operations chief. “Now the MDD is not just some device that tells carriers where they need to be and what they need to pick up, it can tell them where to leave it, even give them a garage door code. It gives us the ability to know where every carrier is at any time of the day.”
Direct mailers and catalogers more concerned with Standard Mail and flats aren’t very generous with their praise for Postal Service operations these days, but Cliff Rucker raved that Ed Phelan’s people set up Sunday delivery in 30 days and that Phelan never outright denies any of the many requests Rucker now serves up to him.
“It’s OK, Cliff,” Phelan said. “You can make your goals.”