What can't Brown do for you
November 19, 2009 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Out in the Sort is a 2005 New Yorker article that provides a look behind the scenes at UPS. From repairing laptops, to warehousing every available Bentley car part, to running its own postsecondary institution, UPS is expanding beyond its traditional role as a shipper of goods.
posted by reformedjerk (20 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This is a really good article by John McPhee, but this is a cached link that won't last, and probably isn't a good link for MetaFilter.
posted by cgc373 at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2009

The cached link I think is just google's "view doc as html" link, which should stick around as long as they have the feaure, I believe.

Either way, here's a scribd link: http://www.scribd.com/doc/22766504 which should be live in a few minutes
posted by CharlesV42 at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2009

New Yorker Excerpt.

From the UPS Pressroom:
- Worldport B-roll (video detailing some of the innovations at the Louisville facility)
- UPS Worldport Facts

Also, Tom Friedman wrote extensively about UPS in The World Is Flat.
posted by grabbingsand at 9:56 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

A company I worked for was a UPSSCS (Supply Chain Solution) for computer parts throughout the region. We had to have someone on-call 24/7 PLUS available drivers in order to get replacement computer parts to techs doing repairs at all manner of corporate locations. Parts had to be pulled from the warehouse room and on the road toward their destination within 30 minutes of notification, and had to be there by a certain time, usually about enough time to get there plus 20-30 minutes for traffic delays. They really aggressively oversaw the deliveries, but delivered on their promise to their clients to have the parts needed to get Company X's system back online in a timely manner. As a supervisor in the company I worked for, it was nothing but headaches, but wow, did UPS ever pay well for the service we provided!
posted by hippybear at 10:13 AM on November 19, 2009

Fascinating link, thanks.
posted by HyperBlue at 10:13 AM on November 19, 2009

I think about this article every time I hear the word lobster. Probably because he mentions 'lobster' almost 80 times in the first several paragraphs.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 10:16 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Really gripping article, thanks!
posted by paperpete at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2009

Also, Tom Friedman wrote extensively about UPS in The World Is Flat.

Not that we'll hold that against UPS.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2009

I have UPS as a client. All I can say is from that perspective is they are a 100% class act all the way. Nicest most proactive people I have ever worked with in any large institution.
posted by tkchrist at 10:49 AM on November 19, 2009

Man, you know, you're working with a very different side of the company than I see as a mere consumer, TK. UPS has earned a spot as my last choice as a carrier, and when I read this article, I think "great, so they're diversifying the industries in which they can screw up?"

When they're not losing items or charging usurious and surprise "handling fees" to the receiver (always possible to argue them away, but why the charade?), they're leaving packages on the sidewalk and driving away without even ringing the bell. They make me turn red.

When I am buying something for myself, I always ask for FedEx, then USPS express, and UPS only when there's no other choice. And I only trust FedEx for work.
posted by rokusan at 10:57 AM on November 19, 2009

UPS is a logistics company. Delivering packages is merely a cover hobby.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:06 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

UPS really needs to get their act together if they want to claim market share on smaller packages. You can mail a 3-pound book by Priority Mail for $4.80 (2-3 day). The same package going UPS Ground would cost $9.13 (3-5 days). Maybe some companies with massive volume get a better deal than $4.80, but otherwise it doesn't make much sense and it makes the customer wait longer.
posted by crapmatic at 11:11 AM on November 19, 2009

rokusan, it's amazing that your experiences are exactly opposite of mine. I will always choose UPS, then FedEx or USPS only if I have to. FedEx is really damaging their brand with the Ground service and partnership with the USPS.

And actually, if it's a regional delivery, I'll choose one of the west coast overnight companies (OnTrac most of the time). They can do overnight delivery for sometimes less than the cost of ground shipping through FedEx or UPS.
posted by letitrain at 11:18 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

McPhee is always a good read especially (pardon my blasphemy here) his non-geological books. Favorites of mine include Oranges and The Pine Barrens.

My UPS gripe relates to their website and international shipping. It is horrible - information is impossible to locate, forms print out with incorrect numbers, saving an address is seemingly impossible, and it ends up taking more than an hour to get a box ready to send to that incredibly exotic location, Canada. In fact, when I've mentioned this to UPS employees they heartily agree.

Of course none of this stops me for appreciating the complex ballet of the packages in the UPS sorting building.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:46 AM on November 19, 2009

Those of us in Canada knows that UPS is already a past master of snaky, deceptive extortion rackets.

(if you live in the States, never ever ever send anything to Canada via UPS. Fair warning.)
posted by Shepherd at 11:47 AM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I worked at the FedEx superhub in Memphis for a few months for some extra bucks, and specifically on the sort; all kinds of packages would break open during the process--the worst was when two separate packages, one with an industrial-size bag of mustard and the other with chocolate chips, broke open and the two mixed together for a really nauseating smell. (The scariest was a box of shotgun shells; I was afraid that one of them would get caught in the conveyor belt machinery and go off. I was still finding shells weeks later.) No lobsters, though, even though I must have handled hundreds personally. I always wanted to see a lobster crawling down the belt with its little antennae waving.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:52 AM on November 19, 2009

I work at the UPS facility in Louisville (though we only call one specific area "Worldport"). How the place continues to operate on a daily basis is a mystery to me. It is such a massive, disorganized, Rube Goldbergian process (both physically and in terms of red tape and management structuring) that it's a wonder anything gets shipped at all. I really believe it only continues to function because it already functions, carried along by it's own inertia. Kinda like the federal government.

A few months ago there was a box on one of the upper conveyors, which feed down into where all the packages get loaded, that was smoking. Someone alerted a manager and he asked "Is it coming down to our area?". When told no he just shrugged and let it roll on.

Also, UPS has such a strangle hold on the city that none of the daily horrors like planes hitting other planes or semi trucks rolling ever make it to the news.
posted by Roman Graves at 12:47 PM on November 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

A few months ago there was a box on one of the upper conveyors, which feed down into where all the packages get loaded, that was smoking.

I'm guessing dry ice, which seems like a fairly common way to keep frozen goods frozen during transport.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:38 AM on November 20, 2009

My USPS gripe: horrible customer service. I have had some good interactions with postal workers (at the post office), but the majority of these interactions have me dealing with someone rude and unhelpful. Also, there's *always* a line, and I can't get most packages picked up from my house (because of regulations for packages over a pound, I believe), so I *have* to actually go there.

Or, I can just call Fedex or UPS or something.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:42 AM on November 20, 2009

infinitefloatingbrains: "I think about this article every time I hear the word lobster. Probably because he mentions 'lobster' almost 80 times in the first several paragraphs."

How about a better one to take its place?
posted by jckll at 11:29 AM on November 20, 2009

« Older A Kink in the Campaign   |   Synth Britannia Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments