Nick explains, “I’d been driving vans for ten years. I worked mostly in multi-drop delivering and collecting around the west end of London. It got to a stage where I knew every back route and post code worth knowing in Soho, London, and the south-east. But it was only when I became a transport planner that I began to spot which type of vehicles were in most demand. I realised very quickly that there was a shortage of Luton tail-lift vans and that if I bought one and became a sole trader, I could do quite well for myself.”
After three years in the job, Nick took the plunge and decided to go it alone. He bought his first van – a Luton tail-lift – and began looking for work. But, as many budding entrepreneurs have found out, it’s one thing to spot a lucrative niche, but another to take advantage of it.
As a new operator, how do you get in front of new clients without a proven track record of running a business? And how do you convince a contractor to give you the job when they already have someone they trust on their books?
At first, like every new business, Nick faced an uphill battle to win clients. But not for long. Nick, you see, had been using Courier Exchange in his job as a planner for the last few years. Not only did he know his way around the app, he knew the most profitable routes, the best paying companies and, most crucially, the ones that always needed a Luton tail-lifter. He also had another advantage.
After three years as a planner, in which he used the Exchange to cover jobs on and to find his driver’s backloads, he learnt about areas that would be good to visit in the country to gain backloads and also what price to charge when quoting for work.
A year on and Nick has a developed a large customer base, ranging from contractors who specialise in carrying expensive antique furniture to those delivering components to high performance vehicle makers. His clients are split between both clients from Courier Exchange and customers he found himself.
And in providing a service for his clients, Nick has a few rules which he sticks to all of the time.
Always quote competitively. Secondly, always update the Driver App when setting off, when onsite and when delivered. Thirdly, always be polite and respectful to customers.
Nick mostly avoids long distance routes and works between London and the home counties. He starts his day by using CX to take jobs from either Berkshire, Hampshire or Middlesex, near to where he lives, into central London. Once he arrives in town and has dropped off his first consignment, he then looks for work in central London using the Driver App, or accepts loads from regular clients. When finished for the day, Nick uses the Exchange’s smart matching system to find a return journey which takes him as near as possible to his local area.
He says, “Around 60 percent of my work comes from CX. It’s introduced me to large clients in the automotive and aviation industries, and customers in the events and real estate sectors. I get regular work form each one and it’s really helped me to expand quickly. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to grow as quickly as I have done without CX.”
But Nick says that the vast network of contacts he has built up using the Exchange – plus his refusal to take short cuts have helped him to forge new opportunities.
He says, “Pre-planning really goes a long way – particularly when you are transporting fragile and delicate goods,” he says. “It’s not just about covering the furniture in polythene bags to protect them from dust and damage. The item that you’re delivering has to be secured to the van in such a way that it doesn’t move about, but not strapped down so tightly that it marks or chips the furniture while in transit. That’s not easy to achieve and takes a lot of preparation to get right. Many drivers ignore this and hope for the best.”
But not Nick who always “makes sure the item is heavily protected before setting off”. One day his diligent approach was recognised by a warehouse manager and rewarded in the best possible way.
Nick explains, “I was carrying an antique furniture bar for a contractor I was working for through CX. I’d taken great pains to surround it in foam and blankets. I then made sure it was securely strapped down before setting off. However, when I got to Bordon the warehouse manager asked me where the packaging was. I told him that the furniture had been strapped down in such a way that it could not be moved or marked.”
“After inspecting it more closely, he saw that I was right, apologised and shook my hand. I thought that was the end of it. But the warehouse manager picked up the phone and asked if the company, that I was subcontracting for, could allocate me more work. I now do 10-15 white-glove jobs for the supplier where we unpack, inspect and install the item of furniture before removing all packaging. It’s specialist work and not everyone’s cut out for it.”
However, Nick says that his experience transporting precious goods proved invaluable to his success and has become an important niche for him. As well as antique furniture he also carries scale model buildings for a retail design firm.
Explains Nick, “I’ve transported about 30 of these scale models including one of the Shard. They’re about four feet high, lightweight and very delicate. The work is quite challenging as the models have to be taken apart and re-assembled at the delivery point. However, once they’re put back together again, my biggest worry is moving them safely to the room they’re being displayed without breaking, scratching or marking them.”
“Often this means doing a detailed recce the day before. And sometimes it means thinking out of the box. For example, we would normally use the goods inwards entrance to make deliveries, but for a model being exhibited at the South Bank Centre we used the front door instead because the loading bay wasn’t wide enough for the plinth to fit through. So after walking three different routes, I decided that actually climbing the steps and taking the model through the front door was the easiest solution.”
Perhaps then that’s first and last time that anyone has managed to manoeuvre the Shard – London’s tallest building – through the front doors of the South Bank Centre, but Nick Reakes has proved he’s an expert in moving fragile and unwieldy consignments.
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