How FedEx Delivers--Part Three

How FedEx Delivers--Part Three
These sorters make sure your envelop goes where it's supposed to.
These sorters make sure your envelop goes where it's supposed to.

They're little envelopes, but big business. Every night Federal Express ships nearly $2 million packages around the world overnight. On a trip to the company's hub in Memphis, we saw a never-ending stream of boxes and bags and, of course, the little envelopes that started it all. They founded FedEx years ago on the idea that sometimes, somebody needed something overnight. Usually something that would fit in an envelop.

"It's extremely important for the goodwill of clients, it's important for us," said FedEx's Embrick Johnson. "In some instances, there are penalties if we don't get things delivered on time, there are monetary penalties, and it's just absolutely essential."

It's essential to FedEx business as well. They handle 1.7 million packages on an average night. The big ones, boxes and tubes, might make the headlines, but the little ones, the envelopes, make much of the money. Sheer volume. Hundreds of thousands of envelopes a night. That's a lot of documents on the move, and a lot of goodwill on the line.

Embrick Johnson's a busy man. He runs the small packages sorting system, a huge, 500,000-square-foot sorting center. FedEx spent $175 million to build it, and Johnson has more than 800 people running it every night.

"Nightly, we handle about seven to 800,000 packages, customers going to all destinations all over the world," he said.

It's a delicate ballet, but it's the big bruisers dancing across airport loading zones with heavy machinery. Moving around in the middle of the night as if they were playing with toy cars instead of the packages and papers that make a nation move. A few more cans, a push here, shove there, and the freight's ready, the crew closing up the cargo door.

Within minutes, the plane's on the runway, taking off into the night. In just a few hours, another quick sort, and the last leg on the route to a final destination. Sometimes a business waiting for parts or products, or maybe even your front door.

At the sorting center, they'll make sure the label is facing up, then it moves on to these conveyor belts, one package at a time, to another section, where it actually drops down into a bag, to be packed up into one package and put again on an airplane.

The bar code is critical to the whole operation. With 800,000 packages coming through a night, without the bar code on it, these folks won't know where to send it. Might end up in Savannah, might end up in Saskatchewan. The bar code is the key.

We talked with a woman recently who saw these envelopes in our stories and had to call. She got one recently. She needed a replacement credit card. She called the company about nine at night, and had the new card by nine the next morning. She was just amazed at how FedEx delivers.

Reported by: Mike Manhatton,