Guaranteed delivery from A to Z

Satisfied clients have made Express Parcel System (EPS) one of the three largest messenger services in Prague. Now the firm is preparing to export its quality of service across borders.

Barbora Cornelio
Photo: Tomáš Kubeš

BARBORA CORNELIO could have started a lucrative side business 13 years ago, the same time she was creating EPS. As one of the founders of this messenger service she developed a strong grounding in security. “We became specialists in bicycle locks,” she says, illustrating the problem theft posed when she and her Italian co-founder (who has since left the company) set up business in a cellar office in Prague 4. Fortunately, she concentrated on EPS, helping to build it from a one-room, four-courier operation that averaged 20 local deliveries daily to a firm that currently delivers hundreds of packages each day around Prague – and Europe.
Now with 45 couriers, the firm handles about 550 packages a day, and last year’s turnover topped CZK 20 million. More importantly, the company now offers a list of services in addition to a simple drop off. “The customer today doesn’t want just to have their consignments delivered,” Cornelio says, mentioning some of the services added over the years like electronic invoicing, proof of delivery, not to mention same day delivery to Bratislava and connecting to international routes, which it started last year. “Our company has been developing gradually,” she adds.
That development took off after the first year when EPS started using computers running its own software. “In the beginning we did everything on paper and it was quite time consuming,” Cornelio remembers. Soon the company outgrow its original office and moved to a bigger space in Prague 6 – Hanspaulka. By 1997, EPS was ready for its big break when it began capturing some big clients – those who often have 100 consignments going out on a single day. That year, 10 new couriers and three dispatchers were added to the staff, and vans and pickups appeared in the company fleet. “In 1997 we made a small jump,” Cornelio says.
Early on, EPS targeted the usual suspects who had to move a lot of paper, like advertising agencies, translating companies, as well as clients located in large office buildings. Quickly, though, the company had to adapt to changing times. “Ad agencies aren’t our biggest customers anymore,” Cornelio says, pointing out that projects once sent on film are now passed on by email. “The internet has taken a lot of work from us,” she admits, “but now it also brings us some.” To compensate, EPS just started adding more services like delivering heavy consignments or secure documents, for example, and adding more value-added services like cash on delivery or call back, which notifies the sender by whom and when a package was received. “Those are things we didn’t do before because it wasn’t necessary,’ Cornelio says.


Photo: Tomáš Kubeš

Photo: Tomáš Kubeš

EPS is also looking for more work out of Prague today. In 2000, the company recorded a big increase in the packages going out of the city and now delivers regularly to Plzeň, Brno, Ostrava and other regional centers. Also in that year, the messenger service started offering same day deliveries to Bratislava. On this route, EPS teamed up with a Slovak partner delivering to Prague, meaning the two companies’ vans pass each other each day promising regular deliveries while cutting costs. EU entry has helped this route, Cornelio says, by cutting tariffs. Accession, too, made it easier to connect into international courier networks, which EPS started with last year by forming partnerships with a number of transport companies. “A wider portfolio of international partners enables us, compared to the big international transporters, to have a much more individual approach to the client,” Cornelio believes. Currently about one-third of revenues are generated out of Prague.

 

Benchmark
- Establishing a strong client base
– Adapting services to customers’ changing demands
– Building an international network
– Optimizing operations via the latest technology

Cogs in the machine
To manage EPS’s growing workload, the firm started using a new IT system in the middle of 2004, which helped introduce the call back service. The system, which took a half year to develop, has helped the company lower prices and gives it the capacity to process up to 5,000 orders an hour. Despite all of this, the backbone of the company’s operations – which have been located in Holešovice since 1998 – remain its staff of couriers and back office employees. Of the 15 office staff, the majority of these are dispatchers. “It is quite a demanding job,” Cornelio says. “It’s mostly the dispatcher’s responsibility for consignments to be delivered on time without problems.” For that reason, EPS now takes dispatchers’ training a little more seriously. “At the beginning it was very easy because we would put a dispatcher in an office and tell them to distribute consignments to couriers,” she says. “[Now a new hiree must] observe the work of a dispatcher, learn gradually and only then start doing the job themself.”
In communicating with couriers, EPS still relies on the same type of radio dispatch that it has used since the beginning. “The advantage of a radio set is that you can start speaking right away without having to dial a number first,” Cornelio says, comparing radios to mobile phones. “Everything in our company is about time.” That’s why couriers, besides being able to physically handle the job, must know Prague like the back of their hands. Cornelio says only about one out three new couriers will quit after a short time, and, surprisingly, many of EPS’s couriers have been with the company for more than five years. She admits finding the right runners can sometimes be difficult, especially in the build-up to the busy holiday season. “When we need new couriers there is never enough high-quality labor force on the market,” she says. “That is a big problem.”


Photo: Tomáš Kubeš

Photo: archive

With EPS’s future plans, it should be adding more couriers soon. Besides improving the quality of existing services, EPS will continue to build partnerships on international levels, and it is considering opening Slovak branches. The firm is hoping to increase its market share on the home front, through the efforts of its three sales managers. “We are still addressing new customers and trying to satisfy their needs,” Cornelio says. In many ways it’s the same philosophy the company has always had: grow constantly but gradually.

Blooming business

Whether courting or conveying condolences, sending flowers is a time-honored tradition. EPS realized this eight years ago when it started approaching flower shops to set up a delivery partnership under the name Floral Express. Customers buying a bouquet in any shop with a designated sticker in the window could then have the option of having EPS deliver it. In 2003, after better-than-expected demand, EPS created the website E-flowers.cz, where customers can order a standard bouquet, make their own, or send roses. According to the owner, on an average day five fellows will feel romantic enough to order flowers.

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