The delivery business has come a long way since the days of the Pony Express. In fact, it's come a long way in just the past 15 years or so. Back then, according to Rob Hackbarth, founder of Hackbarth Delivery Service, Inc. in Mobile, Ala., a courier was hired to get a package from point A to point B and that was it. Today, the 38-year industry veteran points out, that is still step one, but that's just the beginning.
Hackbarth remembers when he first offered technology benefits to his customers. He says they were way ahead of the times on these offerings. Today, however, customers won't even talk to you without it.
"Customers have come to expect that all data related to their transaction will be available to them. In fact, many of them will want it integrated into their system," he notes. In some cases, customers have even gone directly to Key Software, Hackbarth's technology provider, to tell them what they want and how they want it.
"But another important factor is they want — they expect — a voice on the phone," Hackbarth notes. "They want a live person who can walk them through and explain things."
And last, but not least, they expect electronic invoicing, which can sometimes cause a host of issues because electronic invoicing cannot always contain all the details a job involves.
Even as little as 10 years ago, technology was a luxury. Today, if you can't show your customers the chain of delivery electronically, you risk losing their confidence in your ability to do the job competently.
Hackbarth recalls a case when a customer was ready to file a claim for a valuable lost delivery. Because of Hackbarth's high level of technology, his staff was able to research the delivery chain and track down the missing items, saving the company's reputation and balance sheet.
Documentation = Professionalism
In most states, anyone can start a courier company with as little as a driver's license and a vehicle, although incorporating is a good idea to protect yourself from personal liability, according to Eric Field, a former courier company owner and warehouse supervisor for Dynamex in Chicago, Ill. One exception is Illinois, where registering with the state and obtaining an ICC (Illinois Commerce Commission) license is required.
Credentials, however, are what speak for your company, according to Chris Kurzadkowski, owner of Lone Star Delivery in Houston, Texas. Without them your company has little chance of growth. "Being professionally recognized is a value to a company," he counsels.
To do business with large clients that can offer considerable, lucrative contracts, you have to be professional in every way. And that means being able to document unequivocally that your business does everything possible to protect clients' valuable deliveries.
With 35 years in the delivery business, Kurzadkowski, whose major workload involves medical deliveries, knows firsthand that documentation translates to trust and peace of mind — and that is what sells.
Ken Arnold, owner and founder of Integrity Medical Couriers and Integrity Medical Courier Training in Colorado Springs, Colo., has seen the evolution in this sector firsthand.
"In 1980, there were no government regulations in place," Arnold remembers. "People were picking up lab specimens with bare hands, there were no guidelines for leakage or other precautions."
In 1996, OSHA came out with a standard for healthcare workers: CFR 1910.1030. To date, Arnold has trained over 100 companies in how to use those same standards for accuracy and safety while picking up or delivering specimens, as well as training them to comply with HIPPA standards.
"Do you need these credentials?" asks Kurzadkowski. "No. But should you have them? Absolutely."
"Just today a very successful client came into our office to talk about a job. When he walked through the office and saw our walls adorned with about one hundred medical certificates for our couriers, he was more than impressed."
No sales pitch was necessary. Based on seeing those documents, the client decided he'd be bringing a lot more of his business to Lone Star.
It may sound simple, but obtaining and maintaining the various certifications is not a simple project. In fact, Kurzadkowski has hired a full- time person to manage them. The costs add up. Medical training alone cost his company about $6,000 last year. But it also pays off.
Keep on Truckin'
The delivery industry isn't made for the weak or the inflexible. When changes and regulations come along, these entrepreneurs face them with grace and vigor.
Pam Witt, president of Bonded Transportation Services in Milwaukee, Wis., has seen a great deal of change in her 35 years in the business. A large part of those changes are in the trucking arena, which accounts for a large percentage of her business.
"There are more regulations and different background checks," Witt explains. The company's safety and HR departments keep a vigilant eye on these stricter regulations.
Rachel Goelz, who heads that department, explains that the Department of Transportation changed the Hours of Service rule in 2013. Now, drivers must abide by the 34-hour restart rule, which requires them to have a 30-minute break when they work up to eight hours. They also may not drive after 70 hours on duty in eight consecutive days. [For more details, visit http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/ rules-regulations/topics/hos/index.htm]
"At first, the drivers were not too happy about these changes because it meant they couldn't take as many shifts," Goelz says. "But they're used to it now and it's working well."
Bonded's trucks are equipped with eLogs, which automatically log the drivers' times and remind them if it's time to take a rest. Although this is not a requirement, like many of the other certifications, these documents demonstrate that the company is professional and intent on being in compliance.
One of the more challenging changes in the courier world has been airport security. Companies must be TSA certified and comply with many various requirements to ensure that they meet all the safety requirements if delivering to airports.
Dave Reichbaum, founder of Primetime Delivery and Warehouse in Cleveland, Ohio, explains that each staff member, including dispatchers, must pass the TSA exam. Other requirements range from being sure to lock facilities and vehicles at all times to installing cameras and questioning people who might hang around the facility. The spot checks that TSA performs randomly can be trickier, but Reichbaum is proud to say they've passed every time.
Meeting and keeping up with these requirements are so demanding that most firms hire someone simply to deal with TSA requirements. That person maintains all security clearances and makes sure that they are kept current.
[Also see our article regarding TWIC requirements in our March/April 2013 issue.]
Keeping up with Changes
Balancing day-today operations with an eye on changes is permanent issue in the industry.
Eric Field points out that in the 1980's the industry was deregulated and that was the start of a new face for delivery companies.
"Before, companies could lobby against another company that was trying to obtain a license," Field maintains. "With this change came a landslide of new companies with little to guide them professionally."
Today, there are organizations, associations, publications and consultants that help raise the industry standards and keep the industry apprised of political issues.
Claudia Post, principal at Claudia Post Advisors in Philadelphia, Pa., contends that delivery company entrepreneurs are seldom detail people, so they need to surround themselves with detail people because there are so many aspects – like the IC issue, finances and taxes – to be aware of in order to keep your business working optimally.
Is That All?
While documents and certifications testify to the professionalism and capability of your delivery firm, they are simply one ingredient in the recipe for keeping your business current, covered and ready for the myriad business opportunities that continue to come with changes.
In our next issue, we will bring you valuable information on insurance requirements.
About the Author
Mary DeLuca is the former editor of Courier Magazine and a freelance writer and PR consultant to the courier industry. You can reach her through her website: writestyle.biz or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.