Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Death of the SCF, Part 3: Flats Sequencing

The U.S. Postal Service may have tipped its hand regarding significant consolidations of its dropship network that in some cases will move work 100 miles from the current location.

Information that USPS has released regarding the Flats Sequencing System indicates that, within two years, the handling of flats (catalogs, magazines, and newspapers) may no longer be performed in such major cities as Boston, Hartford, San Bernardino, and Fort Lauderdale. USPS officials have indicated that roll-out of FSS would result in some consolidation of dropship locations but have revealed few specifics.

To understand what is likely to happen, consider the case of the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area in southeastern Virginia. In 2010, the processing of flats for 28 ZIP codes in that area is scheduled to be shifted from the Norfolk Processing and Distribution Center to the new Richmond, VA FSS facility. Currently, Periodicals mailers can get ADC discounts by dropping Norfolk-Virginia Beach mail in Richmond and SCF discounts by dropping it in Norfolk.

(Here is a full listing of Phase I ZIP codes, but be forewarned that the Postal Service seems likely to amend this list and shift some machines to additional locations because of declining flats volumes.)

Part of the Postal Service’s FSS plan is to “induct mail where it is processed” – in this case Richmond. It seems unlikely that USPS would want mailers to drop FSS copies in Richmond while dropping non-FSS copies from the same three-digit ZIP codes in Norfolk. The most likely scenario is that USPS is planning to move the SCF location for all Norfolk-Virginia Beach area flats from Norfolk to Richmond.

That may lead to some Norfolk (pronounced NOR-fuk) postal workers amending the infamous Chant of the Norfolk Virgins to “We don’t smoke, we don’t drink, nor sort, nor sort! (The original chant is, “We don’t smoke, we don’t drink, Norfolk, Norfolk!” which is doubly ironic considering that prostitution used to be a major industry in that Navy town and that the first test-tube baby in the U.S. was conceived there. But I digress.)

Such subtle consolidation of the flats-dropship network is consistent with other moves the Postal Service is making, which Dead Tree Edition is calling “The Death of the SCF” as we know it. (See Parts 1 and 2 of our series.) Such “network realignment” is generally good news for mailers, who have to ship to fewer locations to obtain dropship discounts, but of course not so good for some postal employees whose work is being relocated.

The Postal Service has said for years that it could gain efficiencies by consolidating dropship locations but has been stymied by members of Congress trying to protect jobs in their districts. The huge FSS machines, which are supposed to reduce the Postal Service’s costs of delivering flats (supposedly by at least 5 cents per piece, based on what little USPS has revealed), also seem more suited to a consolidated network rather than the current arrangement of more than 250 processing and distribution centers.

Listed below are other P&DCs indicated for consolidation in the Phase I listings, along with the locations to which the work would apparently go:

  • Boston to NW Boston (Waltham, MA)
  • Hartford, CT and Southern Connecticut (Wallingford) to a facility in Massachusetts, apparently Springield
  • Central Mass. (Shrewsbury) to Middlesex-Essex (North Reading, MA)
  • Fort Lauderdale to Miami
  • D.V. Daniels (Kearny, NJ) and West Jersey (Whippany, NJ) to Jersey City
  • Kansas City, KS to Kansas City, MO
  • Monmouth and Kilmer (Edison), NJ to Trenton, NJ
  • Brockton, MA to Providence, RI
  • Pasadena, CA to Van Nuys (Santa Clarita), CA
  • San Bernardino (Redlands), CA to Moreno Valley, CA
  • Santa Ana, CA to Aliso Viejo, CA
  • Flagstaff and Globe, AZ to Phoenix
  • Culpeper and Winchester, VA to Dulles, VA
  • Athens, OH to Columbus, OH
  • Columbus, IN to Indianapolis

Footnote: Based on the response to my post "Postal Service eyes mega-millions from FSS", there is huge interest in and many questions about FSS. That item has had more than 100 comments, most of them at such sites as,, and That prompted me to create "The Unofficial Guide to Flats Sequencing", which has a video of the equipment, links to more information, and answers various questions about the system.

For the record, Dead Tree Edition is neither accepting nor refuting what the Postal Service says about FSS, just trying to interpret what little has come out of "Elephant Plaza" on this important subject.


Anonymous said...

As an oftentime visitor to southeastern Virgina, on your Norfolk analogy, you forgot to mention that the "L" in Norfolk is silent. People not familiar with the region might not realize that.

Dead Tree Edition said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I amended the article to make note of the pronunciation.