Dode Fraser is a man with a mission. Several missions, in fact. From his base in Inverness, he aims to be the man to call if anyone in the UK courier industry has anything delivering from, to or in Scotland. “Why lose your own driver for two days coming up here?” he asks “When we can sort it out for you at a really great price”.
Dode is an immediately likeable man, dressed for the job in a way that suggests he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. A grafter, and an intelligent one.
The first floor offices of Dode’s company Pronto Despatch in Inverness are a hive of control room activity. On the ground floor, there’s storage for a carpet distribution contract, complete with a forklift with a spike welded to it to help with the unloading. The carpets are trunked up from Edinburgh, to be co-loaded with other work around the extreme north of Scotland. Outside, in the smart-looking yard, some of Pronto’s vans are marked up “Fraser’s Van Hire”, which gives a hint to how the business started, and to the business flexibility needed to survive in this remote part of the world.
But as many people in the industry know, Dode’s influence stretches far beyond his home base. His six controllers deal in courier work not just throughout Scotland, but in vehicles collecting, delivering and empty throughout the UK and beyond. He even has busy full time couriers based in Stoke. Quite an achievement for a business based over 400 miles to the north. To put that in perspective, from Stoke, Brussels is closer.
Pronto’s huge fleet of full time and occasional subcontractors couriers can be found covering courier work for Pronto all over the UK. The work is mainly subcontracted to Pronto in the first place by other courier companies, by hauliers, and by freight forwarders. “They know they can call us, and the problem is solved, whatever the job”. The success lies in Pronto’s huge list of contacts in the industry, both of owner drivers… “Do a good job for us, and we’ll remember you, and call you again”, and of courier companies. These lists are worked hard, to build a constantly updated picture of where people are empty, where people have work to cover, and to put the two together.
The controllers make heavy use of the courier work exchanges on the internet, together with a system of faxing list of known courier availability for the day to hundreds of courier companies around the UK. And of course, they’re on the phone constantly.It’s all designed to eliminate what Dode clearly sees as the evil of empty mileage in the courier and light haulage industries. Another mission. “Nowadays the customers don’t want to pay for all that empty mileage. If you’re pricing a job to be loaded one way, and to drive back empty, you’re increasingly likely to be too expensive. And the customers are voting with their feet. Just look at the growth in the pallet networks, which have taken a lot of work from direct vehicle couriers. To compete with the networks we all have to give a better service and find ways of getting the prices down to a competitive level. That doesn’t mean working for less. Quite the opposite, it just means working a lot harder to be loaded more often.”
Dode believes firmly that working this way means that the customer benefits, the drivers benefit, and “you’re doing the right thing for the industry and for the environment”.
He is optimistic for the industry, and firmly believes that there will always be a need for direct vehicles. “We go for what we call non-compatible freight” he explains. “Stuff that won’t or can’t go via a network, either because it’s too fragile, too valuable, too big or too urgent”.
On the walls in Pronto’s computerised control room is a mass of maps and lists, with notes on whiteboards, all designed to help in the huge job of matching work and couriers across the country. “This information allows us always to be flexible, and always to be able to give a price for a job, whatever it is”.
In fact, this is another of Dode’s missions in life. “No-one in the courier industry should ever say ‘No’ to the customer”, he insists. “Even if they think they’ve tried everything to cover a job, they can always call us. With so many courier vehicles running around empty in the industry, it’s a crime to say no to a job. You just have to know where the empty people are, and use them”. Dode thinks that the Government should do more to encourage co-loading and back-loading. “They should be helping us all to utilise vehicles better, rather than just taxing us to death”.
Dode explains how this works in the control room when taking on a job: “Rather than always relying on having a vehicle empty in the traditional sense, we just say ‘yes, not a problem’ to the customer, knowing that there’s always a way of getting it covered at a price to suit them. We take the job on, and tell the customer we’ll call back within 10 minutes with a time and a price”.
That price, explains Dode will not always be the same each time, and Pronto’s customers have come to understand that. The price is based on availability at the moment the job needs covering, not on a fixed price list. “If they want a price list, I tell them I don’t have one. Just call for a price at the time”. And this flexibility in pricing extends to his subcontractors. “I don’t expect to be able to hold people to the same price each time for a job. It will depend on their own availability at the time”.
It’s a very modern way of working. It all adds up to a kind of “spot price” dealing system, where the prices are flexible according to availability, very much like the way the local Inverness commodities of fish and oil are traded by dealing rooms many miles from the fishing and the drilling.
Dode believes he is doing the right thing, and with so many using his services, to cover and to get work, who is to say he’s wrong?
If you’re stuck on a job, or are empty, call Pronto on 01667 452155.