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You finally put together enough money to purchase an iPod. You go online, place your order and proceed to checkout. You enter all your credit card information and then you have to select your method of delivery. Even though you want to get your toy ASAP, you realize how much you are spending, so you select the standard delivery option of FedEx Ground and you impatiently wait three to five days.

Ed. Note: This is the first installment of a three-part series which will run the next three Tuesdays.

Each day thereafter, you go online and track your package. You watch it as it gets closer and closer to your destination. Your hands start to sweat when you see that it is on the truck for delivery. You race home from work, run to your front door, scan the ground for a small brown box, but nothing’s there. You look like a kid whose tree caught fire at Christmas, with all of the smoldering packages beneath it. But wait, there is still hope!

On your door is a slender, white and green door tag. You remove it and read that a delivery attempt has been made and that it will be made again tomorrow. You go inside and throw away the tag, expecting that the package will finally make its way home the next day, but you are wrong, because you forgot to sign the package release line and you forgot to leave it on your door.

When you get home the next day, that same damn tag is there. You break down crying and throw the tag away again, because it read that the delivery would be attempted one last time.

On the third day you come home to find that tag again. This time you tear off all of your clothes and run around the neighborhood screaming, “Why? Why? Why?” You then gather your wits and call the company’s international number. After about twenty minutes you finally get to speak with someone local, who tells you that you can come and pick it up, so you drive out to the facility, sign some papers and finally leave with your beloved 80-gig iPod.

This can be a hellish experience to online shoppers, but does anyone know why this happens? The delivery of your package is more complicated that just carrying an item from a warehouse to your home. For FedEx Ground drivers, each delivery could be the difference between success and failure.

You see, FedEx Ground doesn’t employ drivers. Instead, they contract individual routes out to ordinary men and women who take over an area or territory. This might be a hard concept to grasp for the average consumer, but it’s the truth. FedEx Ground “Delivery Drivers” are entrepreneurs and risk-takers. Why would FedEx model their business this way?

Well, the men and women who built FedEx figured that a contractor-based model would be the best possible customer service solution. They predicted that if independent businessmen and women had a greater stake in the company, then they would be driven to bring the best customer service experience to the industry, thus growing the individual enterprise and the corporation’s economic stronghold as well.

So, how do you become a contractor?

Well, first you have to meet with a Pickup and Delivery manager. They will have you sit down and fill out an application. Then they will run your Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) and do a background check. If that comes back clean, you will then have a meeting with them to discuss the contract and the business model. You will have to give them your own business model, explaining to them how you plan to run your route and what your contingency plan will be if you are sick, injured or dead. Sounds like fun, huh?

At first it might sound like fun. The manager has convinced you that you will be making money hand over fist. He tells you that you’ll soon own multiple routes and you’ll have a fleet of drivers, that those drivers will be bringing you income, like a whore to a pimp. You leave the meeting with the suggestion that you go talk to a bank to get approved for a loan. You plan to leave out the pandering part, though.

How much money will you need? Well, just like buying a lot on which to build a house, routes are priced depending on a number of factors: size, density and potential being the most important. Prices can range from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on who’s selling it. If it is a contractor who is looking to get out of the game, the price might be considerably higher than if the company is selling a new route. Or, it could be the other way around, if the company believes that the route will explode with business.

On top of the cost of the route, you’ll need a truck. Diesel trucks can cost anywhere from $45,000 to $75,000 new. Buying a used truck is discouraged, because chances are you’ll spend more time fixing it and you will also have to eat the cost of using rental trucks, too.

So there you are, ready to make a dive into debt, ready to go the bank to beg for a loan, and possibly ready to sign your life away. This could prove to be the best move of your life, or it could possibly end up in a divorce, with a shotgun, a bottle of whiskey and a dead dog. Toby Keith might even end up singing about you.

To be continued . . .