Thursday, October 22, 2009

Royal Mail's one-man competitor

As biblical levels of rain pour down on Plymouth's streets, Ken Holder still manages to have a smile on his soaked face as he cycles though the deluge with a heavy rucksack of post on his back.

He's been working since 7.30 in the morning, and won't stop until 7.30 at night, riding up and down the Devon city's notoriously steep roads collecting and delivering mail.

And while Royal Mail workers are beginning a two-day nationwide strike, Mr Holder, 39, will definitely still be working.

This is because Mr Holder is one of Royal Mail's 29 competitors, and with just one member of staff - himself - he is its smallest rival.

There is only one problem for firms or individuals thinking of switching from the Royal Mail to his services - his company, City Centre Curriers, currently only collects and delivers across three Plymouth postcodes.

In business as a courier since September of last year, Mr Holder has been in competition with the Royal Mail since March, when he was awarded a licence by postal service regulator Postcomm.

The way this works is that anyone can set themselves up as a courier firm to deliver parcels, but if you wish to deliver standard letters - those weighing 350 grams or less - you need a postal licence from Postcomm.

Armed with his licence, Mr Holder now collects, sorts and delivers 200 letters per day on average, compared with the Royal Mail's 95 million items.

But while Mr Holder is currently not likely to be giving Royal Mail bosses sleepless nights, he does have plans to grow the business.

'Word of mouth'

"Applying for a license was surprisingly easy," he says. "The application fee was only £50, and it didn't take much longer than a month.

"The license is UK-wide, but as the business is essentially just me and my bike, I don't have the legs - or the time - to deliver outside of Plymouth."

Mr Holder now collects and delivers the local mail for 12 companies in Plymouth, ranging from solicitors to estate and travel agents, and a roofing firm.

For standard-sized letters he charges 32 pence for guaranteed next day delivery, which compares with 39p for a first class stamp with the Royal Mail.

"Business is growing slowly through word of mouth," he says. "And enquiries have certainly grown in recent weeks as more and more companies are concerned about the Royal Mail strike action."

Environmentally friendly

Back in Plymouth, Mr Holder admits he does get tired.

"It's a great job for me, as I have always been an avid cyclist, but I am shattered at the end of the week - I'm cycling 250 miles each five days, and burning 15,000 calories more than a normal person," he says.

"The bonus is that I can eat pretty much what I want."

To help ease the workload, Mr Holder now employs a student one afternoon a week to help with the collections, and his longer term plan is to consider franchising the business in other cities.

"Some people have told me I should buy a van, but I think a large part of the attraction for customers is that it is just me and my bike - it's as environmentally friendly as possible.

"I'm currently earning between £60 and £70 per day, which isn't a lot, but it is still early days.

"There is the odd day I question my sanity, but I really believe the business has a lot of potential, especially as more firms explore alternatives to the Royal Mail."

Source: BBC News by Will Smale/ Plymouth

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