There was a time that the white van man had a bad rep. For years the term “white man van” was used to describe aggressive driving and illegal parking in city centres by independent delivery drivers who often ignored the highway code. The BBC even created a sitcom, White Van Man, based in Manchester and centred on a delivery driver and handyman played by Will Mellor, most famous for being Gaz Wilkinson in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
However, we are entering a brace new world. The white man van has been replaced by a new breed of independent delivery driver – the Lifestyle Courier. The term seems to have first been coined by Hermes, a UK parcel delivery firm. They now manage around 7500 Lifestyle Couriers who are responsible for home deliveries of goods, often ordered online or from the High Street. Hermes have worked with Next Directory, ASOS, QVC, Tesco, John Lewis, New Look, Debenhams, Arcadia Group, JD Williams, Damart, Lakeland Limited and M&M Direct.
But nowadays independent delivery drivers are also starting to drive more business their way by marketing themselves to online retailers and customers who have ordered online. The rapid rise of sites such as eBay and Gumtree mean that people are selling their goods online, however, often the buyers do not have the means to transport them. The next step is to search for a courier who can arrange the delivery on their behalf, liaising with the seller and the buyer to agree a convenient time to both parties and deliver the purchases.
The Parcel Industry is Changing
These changes to the parcel industry are always being discussed in Post & Parcel. James Cartledge, its editor, told the BBC last month that while business-to-business delivers do still dominate the market, there is an ever-growing demand for business-to-consumer delivers as e-commerce keeps growing.
Many smaller businesses cannot afford to keep their own fleet of deliver vehicles, so outsource. In the past companies such as Royal Mail and Parcel Force would be used for a bulk of their deliveries, however today they often let their customers arrange deliver for themselves – it is easier for the business and can often speed up deliveries.
But nowadays even the bigger companies are using lifestyle couriers to help them cope with increased demand as they are flexible and are ideal to cover the busier time of the year. Costs can be kept down as a larger business no longer needs to take on more staff and increase its vehicle pool during the busier months.
Independent Lifestyle Couriers
Logically, many of these Lifestyle Couriers have started to use the Internet to market themselves. We are already familiar with one of Essex’s prominent new-age couriers, Pete Wade, who we have spoken with already. We spoke to him about the changes he has seen in the years he has been operating.
“I started my delivery business in 2009. I used to advertise in the local press and shop windows, and get a lot of business through word of mouth. These days I get calls from all over the county (Essex) as people find me through the Internet more and more. I have never considered myself a lifestyle courier but now you come to mention it, I guess I am. I do take a lot of work from eBay customers, although B2B work continues to provide a steady stream of business. The biggest changes I am seeing now is that more people are trading through new Internet services like Gumtree or making use of Facebook to sell their stuff. I think the credit crunch has led to a boom in the second-hand market and this is of course good for my business”. Pete Wade, EssexManWithaVan.co.uk
Another big change is the decline of the High Street. While we hear about the big companies like HMV, JJB Sports and Comet closing down, less is reported about the small high street businesses which are moving online. Many smaller shops may have moved out of the high street, but they have still remained in business by building websites and marketing to their previous customers via the Internet. Many are still managing to do both.
Second Hand Market in Essex
A good example of a second-hand merchant in Essex who appears to be doing well online is Mill Lane Stores in Witham.
They have a website (www.milllanestores.co.uk) but also a popular Facebook page (shown to the left). While they struggle to maintain the website (the homepage says it is currently “down for updating”) they can instantly photograph new stock and post to Facebook.
For anyone looking for a bargain services such as this are providing a way for people to quickly find items online and negotiated a price with the retailer. Once the sale is agreed it is just a matter of finding someone to deliver.
Another company using Facebook to advertise new stock is Churson Trading (owned by John Church) who have shops at 110a, The Causeway, Heybridge, Essex. Cm9 4ll and 103, Wantz Road, Maldon, Essex, CM9 5DD. (you can call them on 01621-856187 too).
Gumtree is another new site which is helping people to find second-hand items online. It has a dedicated page for Essex – www.gumtree.com/essex – where you can find 31,843 classified ads (as at 13/02/13) for vehicles, flats and houses, services, jobs and just about any item you can think of, plus community groups and social events. It is really rather impressive.
The Internet is changing our physical landscape, and people are adapting to help keep this change running smoothly. These are exciting and interesting times. These changes are devastating for the traditional retail businesses and high street services, but we may just be seeing the beginning of much more dramatic changes to the way that we all shop.
If out-of-town shopping was the buzz word of the 1980’s and 1990’s, online shopping is buzz word for the 2010’s. The high street could become a service and leisure centre filled with hairdressers coffee shops and bars, while a majority of retail purchases are made from mobile devices and delivered to your door.