Monday, 30 April 2018 17:39

NZ Taxi owner disrupts himself with postal service: can Aussies be as smart?

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A New Zealand-based taxi fleet owner had the brainwave to do what Aussie taxi services have failed to see: self-disruption to add a delivery service, now with massive growth and a new franchise business.

Couriers have often been the bane of my life. Turning up on time only exists in some fictional reality, while tracking a parcel to your door is impossible – even though you can track your pizza delivery in real time!

I've long wondered when someone would disrupt the courier business, and a New Zealand taxi fleet operator has managed to do so, far more intelligently than the delivery-drive cold-food horrible mess than is Uber Eats and other lame delivery services.

And so it turns out that Murray Bell had the idea to transform his Whitestone Taxis business into Whitestone Post, which grew into using a global technology solution that helped him automate processes, intelligently utilise his staff's spare time, and which grew into a whole new business opportunity that was never originally envisioned.

The idea started as a part-time project in 2014, but first, some important back story on how we got here.

Bell tells us that his business started two decades before that as Whitestone Taxi, growing into "a prominent taxi service provider in Oamaru, a South Island town in New Zealand, 90 minutes up the highway from Dunedin."

He explained that he wanted to "optimise driver downtime during late night hours" – and it turned into a Eureka moment!

He hit upon the idea of offering a "private postal service within a defined area".

The drivers would do late-afternoon pick-ups of mail at senders’ doors, sort it, rubber hand-stamp the envelopes “Whitestone Taxis” and deliver it within a guaranteed 10am timeframe.

Genius! Talk about effectively using labour already available, and clearly not pestered by the type of massive rush-hour traffic you'd see in a major city.

It was the beginning of a beautiful business, because thanks to this success, Bell wisely decided to invest in his fledgling, but rapidly growing, mailing business.

This is when Whitestone Taxis transformed itself into Whitestone Post, and when Bell knew he had to get even more serious than he had already been in bringing the business to this point.

To do this, Bell initially bought a Pitney Bowes Dm800i Postage meter. The company, with three part-time staff, was now growing.

As volumes were on the rise, Bell told us that he "wanted to invest in automation", which was clearly a clever move.

As one does, Bill researched the market diligently, and decided to invest in Pitney Bowes automated mail, fold and insert line. He even decided to get in on the act of printing some of the direct-mail content himself, and pumping it through his gradually expanding mail service!

Well, when you get a great idea that customers love, it's no surprise to learn that the idea flourished!

Business started picking up, whereby in 2014, Whitestone Post delivered 3500 mail pieces in six months, posting a year-on-year growth of more than 160% in just three years!

Bell could tell that he was on the right growth path, and his vision to better utilise his staff time, while at the same time growing revenues using the right automation solution.

As you can expect, it transformed the company. It turns out that disrupting yourself isn't just something Apple does, but something successful businesses do to re-invent themselves and stay relevant in the modern era.

So, it's here that Bell has some interesting observations for small to medium enterprises.

At this point for SMEs reading, the Bell tolled for thee, with Bell reckoning that "digital transformation for SMBs can be quite different to those of enterprise customers".

He says that "the key to success is not just deploying one or more digital technology or automating the process, but encapsulate it to transform business models, develop new revenue streams related to core products or services".

Indeed, as Bell says when he speaks to SMEs: "For small and medium businesses like us, everything starts with a change in mindset".

As you'd expect, Bell's disruptive efforts didn't just end at disrupting his own business for the better, but actually disrupted the businesses of others.

This is because, in no time, Bell explained that "the efficiency of the Whitestone Post service began to give the national carrier, as well as other private national competitors, some stiff competition in the local area – and today, on a national basis

We're told that this steady upward growth encouraged Bell to expand his business, but this time with the belief that automation that would help them grow and scale.

To achieve this, Whitestone Post "opted for a solution that included SendPro P1000 with a Relay 7000 mail inserter and a Riso ComColor X1 7150 inkjet press", which Bell noted "provided efficiency and scale".

Here's a photo of the Riso ComColor X1 7150 - the article continues thereafter, please read on!

 

Of course, there were more benefits.

A number of these included but were not limited to: uploading graphics from a PC to print logos, inserting a return address, and adding a promotional message.

Bell said that sending efficiency also increased as Send Pro P1000 could seal and print envelopes for up to 180 letters a minute, and Relay was able to fold and insert communications into more than 5000 letters an hour!

Fast forward to the recent past that was 2017, and Bell said, "Whitestone is now growing organically by offering franchise in other parts of New Zealand.

“At the moment, we can print on our RISO for any franchise that is a start-up, delivering all the printed material to them. We can also print, insert and address from our clients’ databases.

“Amid all the talk of declining use of postal services, our experience has been that addressed direct-mail is a thriving business -- and market research shows that it receives far more eyes on it than letterbox inserts,” Bell continued.

Looking back over the past three years, Bell concluded: “We’re now providing all sorts of digital services, you wouldn’t associate with taxis, and are now sourcing work from all around NZ making the most of Internet connections".

So, if you have an idea that rings a bell in your own mind, and have a way to disrupt your own business for the better, then Bell's example makes a loud clanging sound that success is in everyone's reach.

Whether you'll need one of Pitney Bowes' intelligent machines to do the job depends on the type of disruption you have in mind, but even with all the digital devices we have at our disposal, physical printing and physical deliveries are just as an important part of the mix as ever.

Now if only some of Australia's taxi companies could be as smart as Murray Bell, instead of merely trying to copy Uber's app yet again – but that's a saga fit for print and delivery in the future.

Until then, may all your deliveries come on time, and may courier companies one day let you track your delivery as efficiently as you can your pizza – which makes me wonder if that statement rings any bells with Murray!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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