Steve Cooke, founder of Forces Veteran Courier Service Ltd., talks to Courier Exchange about how making a living is about more than just making money.
“The military has always occupied a very special place in my heart. I joined the forces when I was just 17. I remember the date – 05, April, 1983 like it was yesterday. It was there in the Royal Air Force that I found my calling. I had always struggled at school, but the RAF truly felt like home. I spent 12 years of my life in the RAF. I worked in logistics. One of my duties was setting up mobile field kitchens wherever they were needed. It’s something that stays with you forever. I’ll never forget Lockerbie, the RAF Chinook disaster over the Mull of Kintyre, and serving in the first Gulf War. But my experiences in the RAF taught me so much. I came into the forces with no qualifications. I was dyslexic before it was truly recognised as a learning disability. However, the RAF showed me that it didn’t matter. It educated me. It taught me advanced emergency preparedness and the value of soft skills too, which meant that I could go to remote and hostile environments and cater for hundreds of people quickly and efficiently.
“I never wanted to leave the RAF. I thought I’d retire there to be honest. But after the first Gulf War ended, the government announced the ‘Options for Change’ programme, which was its way of saying that it was making large cuts to the defence budget military. As a result, I found myself suddenly having to plot a new career while supporting a young family.
“I left Royal Brize Norton in Oxfordshire where I was based a few weeks later, and moved to Fife which has been my home for the last 20 years. I didn’t know too much about Scotland or what I was going to do. But in addition to a reference, the RAF had given me a parting gift which was priceless. It had taught me how to write a business plan, and most importantly, it provided me with a networks of contacts – who all ran successful businesses – to help me find my feet.
“I made full use of the contacts that I was given by ex-forces charities and decided to start a same day courier company. But that’s when I had my Eureka moment. It suddenly dawned on me that there were thousands of ex-squaddies like me whose skills and experiences weren’t being properly utilised. What if I could create a business which would employ members of the ex-forces who were struggling to find their feet after a career in the military?
“I set up the Forces Veteran Courier Service soon afterwards. We began operating a few months ago and we haven’t looked back. We’re an acorn right now, but we want to grow into an oak. I have one long wheel base and short wheel base van, and employ two ex-soldiers from Aberdeen. We’re growing rapidly, and much of our success is thanks to the Courier Exchange, which has provided my business with a steady stream of work for several months now. In one month alone, we earned £18,000, and even in January, which is the quietest time of the year for couriers, we were in profit.
“I’ve known about freight exchange platforms for some time. I operate another business called Gutters to Glory. It specialises in guttering, landscaping and garden maintenance services. And I’ve made a point of recruiting teenagers who’ve left school with little or no qualifications. Over the last year or so, we’ve expanded massively, and some of the lads I took under my wing are now company directors. But we’ve had to branch out to thrive. However, even after diversifying, we still had a period between October and March when our vans weren’t being utilised. As the vans were costing me around 400 pounds a month to run, I couldn’t afford for them to be idle. That when I realised that a freight exchange platform – which allows other people to utilise your vehicle – could be a great way to cover my costs. While I didn’t join CX at that point, the idea stayed with me, and as soon as I started Forces Veteran Couriers Service I signed up.
“We really like the technology. It’s simple to understand and easy to use. Perhaps the best feature is the Exchange’s Integrated Telematics system, which tells our customers exactly where we are, and gives them that extra reassurance that their goods are secure. That, we’ve found, has given us access to more loads, and since we’ve been using it we’ve found that we can charge a slightly higher price for couriering goods. The Exchange has also been great for helping us to pick up return loads. Previously, we’d have no choice but to return empty from jobs, which was no good for our bottom line. Now, more often than not, we cover our fuel costs on the way back to base. So the investment is paying off.
We really like the technology. It’s simple to understand and easy to use.
“But what I think really stands out more than anything else is our people and the vans they drive. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my guys are better than other drivers. It’s just that a courier company which recruits members of the ex-forces is special. They have served their country, and now they’re putting the skills that they acquired
“We’re very grateful to the member businesses on CX who understand what we’re about, and to those who have given us work. In doing so, you’re not just helping a small business to grow but ensuring that ex-soldiers, who have so much to offer, are given a new lease of life. That’s something money just can’t buy.”
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