Lightning Messenger Express Keeps Thriving Over the Years

Lightning Messenger Express (LME) started operating in 1976. Gil Kort, the company’s owner, ran the business until 1992 when he retired and sold the business. “I retired to stay at home with my young boys from my second family.” When his sons left home to go to college, Gil decided to buy back the company and brought on his other son, Scott Kort, to work with him.

Through the years, most of Gil’s employees have stayed loyal to the company and continue to work at LME. “The people that are here, working for me now, have basically been working with me since the beginning,” Gil says. “We have not lost any employees through the years in our higher management.” Retaining a stellar workforce has helped the company keep its identify – and corner on the logistics industry – to this day.

Courier Magazine spoke to Scott Kort, Gil Kort and Debbie Hoffman, one of the company’s managers, about how LME has evolved over the years and how it uniquely continues to serve the Los Angeles, Calif., area.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited.

Courier Magazine: When and how did you found the company?

Gil Kort: The company started around 1976. It was an offshoot of my attorney service. We were one of the first companies to ever computerize. I wrote a lot of the software. The computerized software was a tracking order entry, accounting and dispatch program. Parts of it are most likely still in use today.

Our business has always been local, same-day delivery – it has always been at the forefront of where messenger and delivery services were going. Everything is moving toward instant delivery. I see others in the industry following that future. I think that that has come to fruition, now, when you take a look at the industry.

We feel our niche is secure. Our competition will come from the larger companies that will try to provide the same service we’ve been providing for a decades. It will be about who is able to provide the service most efficiently. We think we’re positioned properly to get a lot of that new market. Previously, the people who used our services were people who needed something done immediately because of time, or because it was crucial to what they were doing. The products that are being offered now aren’t necessarily crucial products but the competition – the Internet – allows people to see prices. Now, what people are interested in as consumers is how soon can I get it. And price is less of the issue. In the long run, I see Internet companies that do not have to have stores and retailers. Basically, the manufactures will take it right to the consumers.

As the industry grows in this area, companies will offer their product directly to consumers using same-day delivery services. Logistically these companies that want to compete with Amazon and Google will need to find someone to get it there. That’s kind of what we’re working toward now. We’re moving more and more to providing what we’ve always provided to a different customer base.

Scott Kort: I concur with Gil’s vision. He’s one of the pioneers of messenger services in LA. When the company first started, what we did was considered more of a luxury. And he always had that vision that it wasn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity. He knew there was a need for this type of service. While there may have been a lull when the economy first started to slow, now companies are looking to use local messenger services. There’s a revitalization of the on-demand and now it’s not just a luxury, it’s a necessity.

CM: How is it working together as a family in the business?

GK: I consider my managers family, too. They’ve been with me longer than some of my kids!

SK: That’s why I asked Debbie to listen in on the call. Debbie has been at the company since the beginning. She’s our Los Angeles branch manager now. She’s just as important as any family member is on staff.

Debbie: It’s really true. I started with the company and I used to run and go get Gil lunch. He gave me an opportunity that I’ll never forget. It’s been amazing to watch his vision of the company grow and see where we are today and where we are going. What Gil has shown me is that if you care, nurture, and put forth your best effort the company will succeed and grow.

CM: How do you deal with adding new services at the company?

GK: I believe that everybody has a different perspective on what needs to be done. What we usually do is we talk about it. I get everybody’s input before I make a major change with anything. I talk to all the management to find out what they feel the customer would respond to, or what they wont respond to, and whether it will affect the image of our company, or not, and I get all the input. Sometimes I listen to it and follow it because I feel they are closer to the employees and the customers than I am. Other times I have to make the decision but I still respect their opinions highly.

But in our day-to-day operations, nobody is more important than the driver. He or she is the one who is actually doing the work. If they get sick, we don’t get something done. If the manager gets sick and they are out three or four days, that’s ok, but after a week or two, things can fall behind. So, they are all more important than me. I could be gone for a year. I don’t consider myself as important as far as the company goes.

SK: The drivers are the face of our company. Without them, we don’t look as good to our customers.

GK: It’s all about finding direction and my vision of what is going to happen. I used to tell my employees, when we discussed the problems with the competition, I’d say it rains on everybody’s parade -- nobody is out there that doesn’t have the same problems as us. We just have to deal with the problems better. Also reminding my employees, and me, that there is always going to be a need for a driver and a messenger.

Also, I’ve always looked at a company in this way: We have drivers and their motivation is to make the most money doing the least amount of driving that they have to do. We have customers who want things done as quickly as possible for the least amount of money. Our job as the owners of the company is to balance that and to optimize our work so that our drivers are happy and our customers are happy.

CM: Is being a local company beneficial because you have the ability to show your customers what your vision as a company is?

GK: Yes. We have big customers that are at the top of their industries and they have been clients of ours for 35 years because we are service oriented.

CM: What has changed at the company over the years?

GK: With the advent of computers, statistically, if you run your business and you have the proper staff, you can predict things. And we are able to, by the use of computers {over the years}, can basically predict who is going to want something when, and where they are going to want it. Our clients are amazed at times that our driver is walking into their facility when they are dialing the phone to call us. Because of our statistics, we know they will call us every Wednesday between 10 and 10:15. We have been able to find that information and that allows us to operate at a high level.

Now, what I see happening -- what’s building on what we’ve done -- is having better contact with our drivers, who have GPS, and have the technology of cell phones and communications that are much quicker than they were when we started off. When we started out, we had our own radio frequency, but we sold those a long time ago to Sprint.

And at the time, that technology was the best. But now, with those areas, we are looking forward. The Internet is starting to play a bigger role in how clients find us. Part of Scott’s position is to keep us informed about what’s happening on the Internet. He helps us get in contact with other organizations, which helps us combine with other local companies, especially combining more with local messenger services and logistics companies to create a national presence of local messenger services. We want to be able to expand. Once we have the organization and the affiliates, we can offer that kind of delivery on a national level.

SK: One difference that I’ve noticed now that I’ve come back to the company that was different from when I was here before, is that before, you didn’t hear the word logistics included with messenger service. That’s why I’m impressed with the CLDA, because of the name change. Everyone in our office is a part of the logistics. Clients aren’t just paying us to get a package from point A to point B -- they’re paying us to get the logistics of the delivery correct so they don’t have to worry about it. That’s why they are willing to pay that premium dollar.

Also being involved with social media. It has helped bring a presence to our company where we are considered more logistics. Logistics and messenger services have come a long way and we cover both in the office.

And what I feel separates us from our competition is that we don’t have set rules with our clients. We customize everything with our customers needs. Because we aren’t just delivering from point A to point B, we are representing our clients and everybody has different needs. And that’s what separates us from FedEx and UPS because with them, you get it one way or you get it no way.

CM: How has your company’s location/s affected your service?

GK: The population we service here is eight percent of the entire population of the United States. We basically are pulling on 13 million people in our area that we service. Given an hour and a half, we can cover nearly all those 13 million people. We have the ability in this area to service that many people from our offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, and if necessary, we would expand to other areas, providing we have the demand to do so.

CM: How do you go about hiring your employees?

GK: We do a lot of interviewing and we look at it as an ongoing program. We’re always looking for good people and offering them opportunities. I feel that if a person has certain qualifications and experience, you hire them and they will rise to the service.

SK: And one of the things I have learned is that we have to sell ourselves as an organization to an employee, just as if we are trying to sell ourselves to a client. We have to show them the reason that we are the company that they want to work for.

CM: What do you think the future has in store for the company?

GK: Most of our business has been in paper delivery. I want a bigger footprint in the dry good area. I want to be delivering the kind of deliveries that people haven’t even considered delivering yet. I know economically it will work, if you get to the right people. I want to get to the decision makers at other companies and show them what we could be doing for them to help them improve their business. Eventually it’s going to be that if you cannot deliver your product in the near future, you may not be delivering your product at all because your competition will bypass you.