For a small, local package-delivery company, Kingston's Go Local Courier has big designs on the North American courier market - big "green" designs, that is.
Launched just over a year ago with two smartly painted fuel-economizing Toyota Echos, Go Local Courier plans to expand into 10 other southern Ontario communities after achieving continuous month-over-month double-digit growth.
"We're hoping to be North America-wide within 10 years," says president Charles Lapointe, 53.
A long-time franchise and small-business consultant, Lapointe spent most of his working life in Toronto's rat race before moving to the quieter city of Kingston six years ago.
|Michael Lea, Business Edge|
|Go Local Courier general manager Michael Lapointe uses fuel-efficient vehicles for his deliveries.|
When he and his wife, Isabelle Racine, had their second child a few years ago, they took two years off and began looking for business opportunities that wouldn't mean going back to the nine-to-five office grind.
"We were thinking of businesses that didn't require a huge amount of capital to start and we were also looking for an industry that could well do with a bit of a revamping," Lapointe says.
Having worked a few years in business in the Kingston community, Lapointe recalled his experience with local couriers.
There were several companies already offering package deliveries in the community of 119,000 people.
But Lapointe figured the city could use one more, if he and Racine could create a different type of courier service with a more professional-looking image like the national courier companies.
Lapointe noticed that some of the local couriers didn't have commercial insurance because it's expensive.
Others had drivers who presented themselves in a less than professional manner, he says.
"Some of their drivers were very unkempt and very unprofessional - that was my experience anyhow," he says.
As a customer, Lapointe says, he sometimes worried his packages wouldn't arrive safely and on time.
And many also drove gas- guzzling vehicles.
He decided to try to turn the industry on its head, starting with Kingston.
In July 2005, after a short beta test, Go Local Courier was born.
Despite losing a local business-plan competition that would have given his company $50,000 in startup money, Lapointe and Racine started Go Local Courier as scheduled.
It was actually an inexpensive launch as the company began with just three cars - two of them Toyota Echos, which sold for a base price of about $13,000 last year.
Lapointe also had a local software developer design a dispatch-free system that avoided the need to hire a dispatcher and allowed customers to order deliveries on the company's website (www.golocalcourier.com).
Each delivery car has an HP wireless pocket PC called an IPAQ that receives the orders. The company's drivers co-ordinate with one another over who delivers which packages to which addresses.
"We're not big enough yet that it becomes a headache," Lapointe quips.
Lapointe believes Go Local Courier may be the only courier company in North America using a dispatch-free system that can track orders and provide customers with online billing and paperless connectivity.
He also promotes Go Local Courier as Kingston's only green local courier service, in line with Natural Resources Canada guidelines.
The company's website says its vehicles burn at least 55 per cent less fuel than the vehicles of its competitors and suggests this means businesses are actually helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using Go Local Courier.
The Go Local Courier model seems to be working.
By mid-November, Lapointe says he will purchase another two sub-compacts and hire two more full-time staff. Currently, he and Racine work full-time and they have two part-time employees.
John Pliniussen, an Internet marketing expert at the Queen's University school of business, says the company has done well to find itself a niche in the courier service industry.
"What I like about Lapointe's business model is it's unique and it gets people's attention," says Pliniussen.
With North Americans becoming increasingly conscientious about the environment, Pliniussen said Lapointe is smart to promote the "green-ness" of his company.
In fact, he says, there are already a number of transportation services, such as taxi companies, that are jumping onboard the "green" theme.
For example, Blue Line Transportation Ltd. in Hamilton uses taxis powered by natural gas, and Calgary's Associated Cabs uses environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles.
But Pliniussen wonders if this aspect will actually attract customers. That's because, when it comes to sending packages, people are probably more concerned about other issues, such as price, presentation of staff, and efficient and safe deliveries, he said.
Pliniussen also has concerns when it comes to Go Local Courier's planned expansion.
Being Internet-based, Lapointe will need backup plans to deal with glitches in the system and for when he gets sick.
He'll also have to ensure he has go-to people, managers whom customers can talk to in each of the communities into which he expands.
Lapointe says the company did experience one so-called glitch in the system last year when a Via Rail train derailed near Belleville and knocked out an Internet fibreoptic conduit.
The Go Local Courier website was offline for about 90 minutes.
"But so was everyone else," says Lapointe.
To compensate, he took all orders over his cellphone.
At the moment, all phone calls to the company go directly to his cellphone.
That will soon change when a local communications service begins handling the increasing number of phone calls that are going to the company.
There also shouldn't be any server problems, he says, because the company's web-server is thrice backed up to handle crashes.
As far as Go Local Courier flailing if he gets sick, Lapointe says that's not an option, as any small-business person knows.
"That's a good question and one that I will not answer because I don't want to consider that," he quips.
"But, seriously, when it's your company, it's amazing the energy and resources you find."
(Frank Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)