Over the last decades, few industries have experienced the need to “press play” as much as the logistics and delivery industry. Changes have been so dramatic that the association that represents this industry recently changed its name to reflect a more contemporary view. Known for 25 years as the Messenger Courier Association of America, the group rebranded as the Customized Logistics and Delivery Association (CLDA) this past May at their Annual Meeting. 

    “The name change came as part of an overall rebranding effort to better reflect what our members do,” says Rob Johnstone, CLDA president. “Several years ago, the MCAA board began wrestling with the issue of our name. Some felt the ‘messenger’ and ‘courier’ terms no longer fit. While the name served us well for the first 25 years of the organization, it does not tell the story of what our members do today. Our members still provide on-demand, same-day deliveries, but many have added services like logistical support, distribution, warehousing, and inventory management to their traditional courier duties. They are critical contributors to the global supply chain, going well beyond their courier roots to meet their customers’ changing needs.”

    Parcel Magazine asked members of the CLDA about the changes they’ve experienced over their years in the business and where they see the future for their industry. Here’s what they told us:

    Question: What are some areas of new opportunity that your company has developed over the last few years? 

    Changes at Florida-based Esquire Express have come about because of the tremendous shift in how consumers make their purchases. Because consumers no longer shop by driving to the store, making a purchase and bringing home the products themselves, Esquire Express has adapted the services they offer. Esquire Express President Steve Howard explains the shift this way: “Now almost everything can be purchased online, so we’ve set ourselves up to deliver those purchases. We deliver pharmaceuticals, groceries, furniture, appliances, electronics and even mattresses. Consumers buy these sight unseen on the internet and want them delivered to their homes or businesses fast. This now accounts for more than 70% of our business. Seven years ago it accounted for five percent.” 
    Atlanta-based Courier Express has also noted in shift in their customer base. Here’s how their CEO Jack Messerly describes it: “Our portfolio of customers has certainly expanded as market trends have changed, especially recently. We are doing extensive work for companies specializing in pharmaceuticals, office products, medical specimens, and auto parts.” 

    In our nation’s capital, DC’s oldest and largest local courier, Washington Express (WEX) has seen enormous changes in what they provide over what they did when they began thirty years ago. “To remain viable, the company had to satisfy our existing clients' delivery expectations while attracting additional business by broadening our menu of services well beyond just deliveries,” says company president, Gil Carpel. 

    “We’ve been diversifying our brand almost since the first curled-paper business fax foreshadowed a shift in the way documents travelled from one downtown office to another.” 

    He points to the diversity of services they provide as proof. For example, they help customers with their business visas and legalization processing. “We noticed a large number of international travel and document legalization applications we were delivering were being rejected. The reasons included the fact that something was missing from those applications or that an embassy's submission protocols might have changed without our client's knowledge. It was costly and frustrating for our customers,” says Carpel. “We started it because we had face-to-face relationships with embassy personnel, and were obviously comfortable moving things fast and accurately. So travel document processing was somewhat of a natural fit for us."

    Responding to a uniquely DC need, they also started a “congressional line-standing” service. Essentially, the company has people who hold a place in line for a seat at a congressional hearing. They also do legal filings at courts and government agencies on behalf of clients. Select WEX couriers even have their own Library of Congress borrowing cards so they can check out books for law office customers. And, WEX sometimes provides paralegal support to its customers.

    WEX's newest off-shoot may just be the most unusual. It’s an on-demand floral delivery service. The company recently purchased a downtown DC flower shop called Nosegay. At first glance, the nearly eight-decade old florist looks like a business that has little in common with the delivery business. But a WEX partner in Atlanta convinced Washington Express that the $32 billion floral industry was a perfect match for an on-demand courier service. “Washington DC is the largest floral market in the country per capita," noted Carpel, "And it’s a place where nobody has time for anything let alone visit a flower shop to buy flowers." Their big competitive advantage over other shops is the speed of their services - same-day delivery at no extra cost for orders placed until mid-afternoon (most florists can only fulfill same-day orders, received much earlier in the day). 

    Question: Why do you think these new opportunities are arising? Do they say something about shifts in the marketplace or in the changing demands of consumers? 

    “I think this is just the beginning of how consumers will make their purchases in the future,” says Esquire Express’ Steve Howard. “Re-tailers have been struggling over the past few years watching their more nimble competitors, e-tailers, cut into their sales. E-tailers have a model of regional distribution centers being served by the intermodal networks of the larger carriers. These products are then delivered to local or regional last-mile delivery companies who have the expertise to deliver quickly and professionally. This model represents a substantial savings from the standpoint of the high rent that re-tailers have to pay to have their goods stored on their shelves. Customers are willing to wait a day or more for these savings, but as you see with Amazon leading the charge, next day or next week may not be good enough for e-tailers in the future.

    Courier Express’ Messerly agrees: “Consumer behavior is driving market direction with immediate gratification as the consumer’s goal. The overwhelming trend is for consumers to shop on-line and expect next day delivery. We must continually improve and expand our distribution network to offer our customers state-of-the-art solutions.”

    For Washington Express, technology and security have been the drivers of change. “First, it was the fax machine, followed by the explosive growth of email that cut deeply into WEX's envelope delivery volume,” says Carpel. “Then, heightened security measures after 911 created building access obstacles. These stretched delivery times, impacting couriers' incomes as well as the company's. Many government agencies mandated electronic communications in lieu of hand delivery following the Anthrax scare. Yet there were also emerging technologies, like more sophisticated tracking software, smartphones and GPS chips (allowing main office dispatchers to locate any courier at any given moment) that created much greater efficiencies as well. These influences converged to both force and fuel Washington Express' diversification and growth," says Carpel.

    Question: What newer areas of opportunity do you expect to grow in the next few years and why? 
    “I expect to see growth in three areas: last mile-deliveries; short term warehousing, especially to facilitate the holiday seasons where the forward positioning of certain hot items seems to be catching on and the home health care and pharmaceutical business. This last one is a direct response to an aging population,” forecasts Howard.

    Messerly shared similar sentiments regarding new delivery models: “We are seeing opportunities in the DDU (Destination Delivery Unit) model. This greatly expands our network utilizing the shipping originator all the way through to the Post Office that finalizes delivery. We have found opportunity in this middle piece of business.”

    Question: One of the hottest areas of growth many foresee is in the area of same-day delivery in re-tail. What do you foresee there?
    Howard touts the ability to cultivate loyalty among customers as the biggest benefit for re-tailers. “It’s really a matter of providing added benefits to a re-tailer’s loyal customers. I’m not sure that’s going to solve all their problems. I think they will continue to struggle as people become more comfortable ordering their consumables on-line. “

    Messerly added: “Same-day is one of the hottest e-commerce trends but the verdict it still out for the consumer who likes to shop in brick-and-mortar stores. The logistics world is answering the call of consumers as e-tailers seek same-day too. Think of Amazon’s popular Prime shipping subscription service for same-day/next-day delivery. And we know that it’s being matched by its competitors, Google Shopping Express and eBay Now. The game is on!”

    All three companies believe the key to growth always has been and will continue to be listening and responding to customer needs. “I learned a long time ago to listen to your customers, because they will tell you what business to be in. You need to be watchful of what they're buying from others. And focus on what you can do better or more efficiently,” says Carpel.

    Messerly summed it up this way: “It’s about creating partnerships with our customers to offer the solutions they seek within this rapidly changing environment.”

    *(2011 snapshot - SJ Consulting Group)