James Gordon spoke to Dode Fraser, the Managing Director of Pronto Despatch, to find out how a freight exchange transformed his business

Eureka moments are rare in any walk of life, but when these light-bulb revelations come they have the potential to effect great change. In the same-day courier sector, where margins are traditionally tight and profits constantly squeezed, a flash of inspiration and a willingness to embrace innovation is what often separates an extraordinary small van and transit business from an ordinary one.

For Dode Fraser, the owner of Pronto Despatch, an Inverness-based same day courier, that watershed moment came on 1 October 2000 when he discovered the truly game-changing benefits that a freight exchange platform could bring to his business.

Dode remembered: “As a member of the National Courier Association, I had always believed in the power of industry collaboration to create consolidation and capacity opportunities, and so when I stumbled across the Courier Exchange’s website one morning, and read its mission statement, I decided to call.”

Fraser, whose company celebrated its 25th anniversary last month, liked what he heard and became one of the founding members of the Courier Exchange.

With a surge in demand for their services, some seventeen years later both Pronto Despatch and the Courier Exchange have undergone a period of rapid growth. From small beginnings, the Courier Exchange has become the UK’s largest online trading platform for the same day courier and express freight industry. It now has over 4800 members and a virtual fleet of tens of thousands of vehicles. Pronto Despatch has undergone a seismic transformation since joining the Exchange.

Dode explained: “The phrase life-changing is not one that I use lightly, but the Courier Exchange platform has had exactly that effect on our business. The platform has helped to re-shape the freight landscape for the better by creating a more level playing field, thus enabling smaller operators to thrive. I believe it has also helped us to forge closer ties with large 3PLs, who, via the Courier Exchange, outsource lots of work to us.”

Dode continued: “I have been in logistics all of my working life, and in my experience, it is not a lack of ambition, ability or professionalism that holds back smaller players. Rather, it is scale. We have always believed that we had the skillset to service national accounts, but with a permanent fleet consisting of just ten vehicles, previously we have been unable to do so. Now, however, through collaboration, the Courier Exchange has provided a solution. Its platforms provide us with access to a virtual fleet of 40,000 vehicles, and a compliant freelance workforce, that has not only passed stringent compliancy checks, but receives continuous feedback after every job. In short, the Courier Exchange platform has helped us to make the leap from regional to national operator.”

And it is an opportunity that Fraser and his team have grasped with both hands on the steering wheel. Last year, for example, Pronto Despatch made full use of the Courier Exchange’s fleet members, posting 6406 loads on the Exchange, and with the festive season fast approaching, current statistics suggest that it will exceed last year’s total by some margin.
Dode believes that the ability to tap into virtual fleet networks at the touch of a button has not just helped smaller operators compete with larger ones, but has also dramatically extended the geographical reach of same day courier providers.

He said: “Before I signed up to the Courier Exchange, our main customer bases were located in Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Perth. However, with the Courier Exchange platform offering us nationwide coverage, the key question for my customers is no longer, ‘where are you based?’ but ‘where is your nearest available van to the pick-up point?’ With the Courier Exchange able to track the real-time position of every vehicle in my network, I can check the Live Availability Mapping tool (LAM) and provide them with an answer in seconds. Nowadays, I would estimate that 75% of business is covered via the Exchange, and takes place many hundreds of miles away from our Inverness headquarters.”

The constant and continuous revenue stream which the Exchange guarantees has brought about several other knock-on benefits. It has enabled Fraser to reduce Pronto’s privately-owned fleet of vans by a third and provide a stellar working environment for his drivers.

He explained: “We have invested many of the profits generated by the Courier Exchange directly back into the business. I have been able to upgrade Pronto’s liveried fleet for instance, by replacing older vehicles with new models, all of which are equipped with enhanced comfort, safety and security features. And accessing the Courier Exchange’s virtual fleet has also meant that we are able to shorten the working day for drivers who are permanently contracted to Pronto, which means they can go home to their families at a reasonable hour every evening. They are now able to focus on local delivery, and rarely work outside a 200-miles radius of our depot. Any jobs outside of this catchment area, we will usually contract out on the Exchange.”
But, most importantly, having access to an army of highly skilled, experienced and compliant owner-drivers has also provided the business with additional financial contingency.
Dode said: “We used to provide a same day courier service to the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen. But between June 2014 and January 2015, the oil price plummeted by around 60%. This had massive repercussions for the industry and of course the logistics supply chains which served the sector in north-east Scotland. As a result, we lost some lucrative business. However, fortunately, as we had spent the last 14 years before the crash building up a vast virtual fleet which is made up of reliable and trustworthy owner-operators from every corner of the nation, the business was not at all buffeted by the downturn.”

That is not to say, however, that Pronto Despatch has not faced stormy economic weather. Fraser, believes, however, that whatever the financial climate, a positive mindset, which is now deeply and firmly ingrained in the fabric of the company, can sometimes be the difference between a flourishing and a floundering business.

“Our ethos is simple but very effective,” he said. “The slogan we have adopted is ‘Never Say No’. There are some caveats of course. If I think that a particular consignment could present a risk to a driver’s safety, we will politely decline the opportunity. But in the vast majority of cases, we are able to live up to the mantra. And I believe that the virtual fleet has played an instrumental role in this because it has helped us to widen our talent pool. Therefore, if we urgently need a driver with an ADR or an Air Cargo handling licence, not only can we find one, but through the LAM tool, we can track location in real-time and quickly establish if a driver is able to take on the job.

“We can also use the Courier Exchange to identify load consolidation opportunities. If we flag on the LAM that one of our owner operators is travelling back home empty, for example, we will always try to ensure that his vehicle is fully laden, as we are passionate about promoting sustainable patterns of transport too,” he added.

Pronto Despatch is a Courier Exchange UK Enterprise Plus member.

If you want to find out how you can join the Courier Exchange, or become a member of any of the Transport Exchange Group’s other platforms: 0844 225 3500, www.courierexchange.co.uk or www.haulageexchange.co.uk

James Gordon is a highly experienced journalist who also specialises in corporate editorial consulting and executive writing. James is currently writing a series of blogs and features for the Transport Exchange Group.