Stuart Barton, freelance courier, has been trading for two years now. Soon after he first started out, readers may remember, I wrote a profile of him for Courier Direct Magazine. At that time, he was fresh out of a job at the Automobile Association, and totally new to courier work.
I caught up with him again when, by coincidence, he was delivering in my home town, which presented a convenient opportunity to talk to him about the progress of his courier operation.
His white Astra van is still looking tidy. Stuart bought it slightly second hand with a warranty, and it now has 170,000 miles on it. It’s still got a year’s finance to run, which should coincide nicely with the need to chop it in. “It’s been great for me”, says Stuart, “and I rent a larger van from Norflex by the day as demand dictates”. He insures through One Business, which, he says, gave him a substantial saving over his first year’s policy, bought when he was still new to the market.
Looking at the Astra, my main impression is that Stuart is not afraid to invest in technology to make life easier and more productive. He shows me his TrafficMaster SmartNav system, fully wired in to the van, which gives him navigation, traffic news, speed camera information, and a concierge service. It is truly impressive. Stuart demonstrates by entering a postcode in Guildford into the system. It goes off and consults TrafficMaster’s server somewhere, and comes back with a route and a series of known traffic incidents on route, and proceeds to read them to us over the built in loudspeaker. The first instruction is shown on the touch screen fitted next to the driver’s air vent. Next, Stuart calls the concierge service using the one-touch button next to the gear-stick. “Good afternoon, Mr Barton, how can I help?” It’s a real person. Stuart asks her to find a pub he knows. The concierge has it immediately. “Do you want the route?” she asks. It’s downloaded in seconds to Stuart’s van. He just has to start driving.
Near to his left hand, in a cradle, is an M3100 mobile phone from Orange. It’s Stuart’s latest investment (actually a free upgrade), having tired of his Sony 910i. “I didn’t like the new 990 when it came out, so I thought I’d try this one a try. What’s really nice is that it’s like having a pc in the van, but it’s not a huge brick of a thing. Small enough for my pocket.” Stuart shows me how he has all his PODs scanned and filed away on it, together with his invoices, so he can answer POD and invoice queries as they arise. “People don’t want to wait till I’m back at home to get an answer, so it’s good to have the information with me in the van. I’ve got every POD I’ve ever done filed on here, right back to my very first job”. For just £15, Stuart bought 1Gb of storage space on the phone. He also saves his scanned POD sheets onto a memory stick for a pc, so one of his courier company customers can download them when he’s in their control room. It’s all part of making life easy for everyone.
Also installed on his M3100 is the new GPS tracking software from MTvan.com. Stuart is an early adopter. It’s tracking us every 120 seconds while we sit in the car park. “I can really see the value of this to controllers, in terms of reduction of phone calls just asking where I am” he says, “and I’m hoping that as it rolls out I’ll get a lot more work as a result of people being able to see where I am on a map”. Having joined MTvan.com in the first few days of starting out, Stuart now counts about 15 solid regular customer relationships from the membership. “I soon realised that you can’t have business relationships with hundreds of people, so I soon started to focus on contacting a much smaller number”, he explains. “Now I get work on a daily basis from 4 courier companies, and I hear from about 10 more on a weekly basis. This makes up my core income. And when I’m empty, I’m more likely to drive to areas where I know people with work, and call them, rather than call dozens of people in an area where I don’t know anyone.”