How working together helped me to grow my business.
Naresh Patel, an Essex-based freight forwarder, on why team-work really matters, and how it can give you a vital edge over your rivals.
“I love my job and am proud of what my company, Vyom Services Ltd. (VSL), has achieved. Freight forwarding is a very rewarding profession, but can also be very challenging too. I’ve been a freight forwarder for three years now, but I’ve been in logistics for 14 years in total. For anyone unfamiliar with the freight forwarding business, I specialise in providing manufacturers with the safest, most efficient and most cost-effective means of transport for their goods – whether that’s in the UK or abroad. And, in case you’re wondering, I don’t own any van or lorries. And I certainly don’t own any planes or trains. Instead, I’ve built up a vast network of transport contacts in the logistics sector. My contacts move goods for me, leaving me to find the best price for my customers, and to navigate the complicated world of domestic and cross border logistics, so my clients don’t have to.
So what makes a good freight forwarder? You need to be customer focused and very knowledgeable. Your clients are your business and you are theirs. If you’re a nine to five person then this job probably isn’t for you. From my base in Grays, Essex, I tell my clients – and I’ve got 95 of them right now – that they can call me anytime. My phone’s always switched on and if I can’t take their call immediately, I ask them to contact me via WhatsApp. And, believe me, I get a lot of calls. It can be anything from moving a load for my customer at the last minute to sorting out customs documentation or insurance paperwork at a busy international border. So understanding complex legislation and being able to act quickly on behalf of your client is vital.
What more? Well, you need to be super agile and responsive to the needs of your customers. That’s how you retain them and win new business too. But that’s only one side of the coin. You also need to review what you do and be prepared to change with the times.
These days, for instance, many large customers want what I would call ‘niche road-based services’. Take one of my biggest manufacturing customers for example. One day it called me and asked me if I could provide same day transport for its Crossrail project. I’d never tackled the same day goods arena before. It didn’t faze me. But then the company made me aware of the specialist vehicles and drivers that are required for the job. It was only then that I began to realise that I might have bitten off a bit more than I could chew. Why? Because any Heavy Goods Vehicle working on the Crossrail project has to meet its stringent lorry safety requirements. All operators must be members of the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS). They must have blind side detection equipment installed. These upgrades can cost several thousand pounds and so the majority of UK fleets don’t meet the standard. And, what’s more, any driver at the wheel has to undergo a one-day training course. All these specific requirements greatly limited my options.
After ringing around some of the largest parcel and goods carrying companies, I began to wonder if I should throw in the towel and admit defeat. But a chance conversation with one of my contacts provided me with the answer. He told me about Haulage Exchange (HX). I laugh now, because at the time I had no idea what HX was, let alone what it could do for me. But fast forward to the current day, and I would say that my same day transport arm of the business is 100 percent reliant on it.
So how has HX helped me? Well, firstly it gives me real-time access to its virtual fleet. Its fleet is huge – there are over 40,000 vehicles to choose from – and, most importantly, it also caters for forwarders like me who need specialist drivers and vehicles. But when I posted my first load, I really didn’t know what to expect. I’d already been let down by a large parcel carrier and had fairly low expectations. But within five minutes of putting the job on the HX, I had not just one – but three – offers. They were all very competitively priced and fitted the strict Crossrail criteria to a tee. I can honestly say – that that day – more than any other was pivotal to me in terms of growing the business. It meant that not only could I deliver for my customer, but in many other contracts too.
Some 18 months later, I have added 35 clients to my portfolio, who use me exclusively for my same day service capabilities. I post between 30-35 loads each week and I’m confident that when I move to new premises later in the year and take on some new staff, that number will only increase, as will my margins. I’ve already increased them by five percent thanks to HX. It may not seem much, but that’s an extra couple of hundred pounds each week, which is really making a difference to my business.
But HX’s virtual fleet has also helped me win more business in the next day space too. For instance, I recently won a large contract with a major hospital supplier. Without HX, however, I wouldn’t have landed the work. I’d tried to win it previously, but without success. The problem was that the provider needed vehicles to collect the goods on Saturday, store them on board the vehicle over the weekend and then deliver them early Monday morning. Finding a haulier to do this job was virtually impossible, so I’d always have to turn the work down. However, when I advertised the job on HX, I found several interested parties – who were all highly experienced and supremely qualified to do the work. The supplier is happy and so am I.”