The Courier Guy: Steven Gleisner

The Courier Guy: Steven Gleisner

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Over the past few years, bakkies emblazoned with The Courier Guy logo have become a common fixture on the roads of Johannesburg. More recently, the brand has expanded to Durban and Cape Town, and the franchise has its sights set on gaining a strong national footing.

Based on a unique franchising model, it’s a simple concept built on always maintaining personalised service to ensure repeat customers, working together, and providing franchisees the chance to be their own bosses, even without large start-up capital. From the moment he began developing the franchise model, founder and franchise owner Steven Gleisner knew he wanted to provide his franchisees with the opportunities he himself hadn’t had.

Road to Nowhere

By the time Gleisner was in his late 30s, he had dedicated 15 years to the food franchise industry in various managerial roles. And he didn’t have much to show for it. He had worked his way up through the managerial ranks of first Pleasure Foods and later McDonald’s – including being trained in Chicago in order to work in South Africa’s head office, training prospective franchisees and staff – but he had no real plans for the future. “The experience at McDonald’s was great,” he says, adding that training in Chicago was particularly gratifying, but always the same problem presented itself: where was he headed?

“I was an area manager, I knew the McDonald’s system like the back of my hand – I even trained new franchisees – but I couldn’t get the finance to open my own store.” Without surety, the dream of owning his own franchise was a pipe dream at best. The thought of working for someone else for the rest of his life soon turned to disillusionment, and by the mid-1990s, knowing nothing but the restaurant business, Gleisner decided to sell everything, buy a motorcycle and head for Mozambique. “I had R2 000 in my pocket and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I was determined to figure it out.” Gleisner’s plan was to head for the beaches of our more tropical neighbour, regroup, and take things from there. “In all honesty, I had no real plan,” he admits. “I just knew that I was in my late 30s, I had no real prospects where I was, and I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.”

A Man and His Bike

And then fate intervened. Having already quit his job, sold everything and bought a bike, Gleisner was waiting for his visa to come through and killing time. Knowing this, his cousin asked him for a favour. “My cousin’s business was corporate gifts. She phoned me and asked me to drop off a sample at the printers because her courier service had let her down. I said no problem and hopped on my bike.”

When he arrived, the printer asked him, “Are you the courier guy?” Gleisner decided it was easier to simply say yes than explain the whole story. “It turned out that the printer needed a favour too. He had a parcel that he needed to get to Sandton, and he asked me how much I charged. I had no idea what the going rate was. I had a bike, so petrol was cheaper than if I was driving a car and I had time on my hands. So I said R20, which was enough to cover the costs of delivering his package. Turns out R20 was pretty cheap.”

Gleisner also gave his cellphone number to the printer, in case the woman who he was delivering the package to wanted to track her parcel. “The very next day my phone rang. The printer had recommended me to a company in Doornfontein. When I answered the phone the guy on the other end of the line asked me if I was the courier guy. He had heard I delivered packages for R20.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Gleisner never made it to Mozambique: he started a courier company instead.

Getting Started

“At the beginning, all I had was my bike and the R2 000 I had saved for Mozambique. My first clients were my cousin and her clients, and anyone who heard of me through word-of-mouth.”

Gleisner soon found out just how important word-of-mouth marketing was. “I experienced the most phenomenal organic growth. I didn’t officially have a business or a name, but ‘the courier guy’ had stuck, I was affordable, and I gave great, personalised service. My clients recommended me to their friends and other businesses, and soon I was so busy I actually needed to trade in the bike for a bakkie.”

This all happened within four months. And business got busier still. “I had learnt the value of excellent service and the personal touch during my days in fast food franchises. Yes, people – and businesses in particular – appreciate speed, but service isn’t only in how fast you deliver. It’s also in understanding your clients and their needs. I put a face to the courier business that my clients hadn’t experienced before.”

Things were going well, but there were hard lessons ahead. Growth meant that soon Gleisner couldn’t do the job alone anymore. He bought a second vehicle and hired another driver. This grew into a third and fourth vehicle, and more drivers. And suddenly the business started losing the personal touch that Gleisner had brought when it was just him and his bike.

“My clients started complaining. The communication and level of commitment that we had offered them was changing. We had lost the personal touch.” Gleisner realised that he needed to get back to his roots. “I needed guys in the van who weren’t only employees, but had a vested interest in the business, as I had, and understood business, marketing and above all customer service.”

By this stage Gleisner had been operating for almost three years. The millennium was on the horizon, and he was trying to figure out a way that he could take the model he had developed as the original ‘courier guy’, and turn it into a large, successful business, without losing the core of why he had been successful in the first place. And then inspiration struck. His background was in franchising. Why not franchise the concept?

Vested Interests

“I realised that the way to grow ‘the courier guy’ concept was to create a business where each driver had a vested interest in the growth of the business. A franchise provides that, because each franchisee takes responsibility for their area.” So Gleisner set about creating a franchise system. His experience in developing systems, operations manuals and training programmes stood him in good stead. His only real challenge was creating a system that worked for the courier industry.

“A friend of mine ran a local removals company, Able Removals, and he had a warehouse. He let me park the bakkies there, and I operated from the maids quarters connected to the warehouse. I had an office, and a ‘central depot’. I also approached Franchising Plus to help me fine-tune the concept and the operations manual. I then found new premises in Northriding, north of Johannesburg. If I wanted to eventually sell franchises, I couldn’t be operating from maids quarters.”

Gleisner tested his new concept with three franchisees. “I had five vehicles at this point, which was the only part of my business that was financed. I had grown the business organically from the R2 000 I started with, and by this stage the only credit line I had was a R20 000 overdraft facility, and the financed vehicles. I had a very good relationship with my banker though. He understood what I was trying to achieve. His support and advice were invaluable.”

With three new franchisees, all of whom were associates of associates who had heard about the concept and were interested in seeing if they could make it work, Gleisner launched

The Courier Guy as a franchise

The concept is simple. Based on the idea of ‘the man in the van’, franchisees are owner/operators who pick up packages, make deliveries and maintain personal contact with their clients. “I wanted to offer our clients a personalised logistics service. This meant they didn’t need a driver, and they could send packages throughout the country.”

The fact that drivers are owner/operators means they bring the same level of personalised service to the business that Gleisner had when he started the company on his own, and the franchise concept with a consolidated head office allows The Courier Guy to send packages throughout South Africa. “The three franchisees proved the system worked. Through word-of-mouth I started getting more people interested in joining the group, and only later did I start advertising.” Today, the Courier Guy has 52 areas, with 41 franchisees operating in those areas, and although the bulk of these are situated in Gauteng, there are franchisees in Durban and Cape Town, and Gleisner’s goal is to establish a nationwide footprint.

The Franchise

Having long since outgrown the original warehouse where he started the franchise, Gleisner has built a head office and central depot in Kya Sands, near the N14 in Joburg. From the depot, franchisees have access to most main centres without accessing the SANRAL toll routes, a significant cost saving for both franchisees and clients.

The Courier Guy franchisees buy areas. Aside from Johannesburg, there are also central depots in Cape Town and Durban, and the franchisees operate from these depots. This means that their offices are their vehicles. Why? Because The Courier Guy’s brand is based on personal service. Franchisees are expected to visit each of their clients personally, so they are on the road, fetching and delivering packages daily. There is also room for growth. Franchisees who prove themselves are given the opportunity to buy additional areas and employ drivers. But, the level of personal service must always be maintained.

“I needed franchisees to take a chance on me at the beginning, but the ultimate goal was also to help people who wouldn’t have normally been able to afford going out on their own to own their own businesses, and work for themselves. I couldn’t buy my own franchise when I was still in the food sector, and I’ve never forgotten that feeling. I wanted to be my own boss, and I couldn’t get the financing to realise my dream.”

Today, Gleisner has built a company from scratch, but The Courier Guy’s model allows franchisees to join his vision without large upfront expenses. A once-off fee purchases exclusive rights to an area. This upfront fee is determined by the size and location of the area. Franchisees do not pay marketing fees or franchise fees, but they are expected to generate ten qualified leads per month. Leads mean business for everyone.

The franchisee makes their money from packages picked up or delivered. The franchisor invoices clients and takes care of the administrative side of the business. The franchisee is then paid a fixed fee per package.

This means there is no competition between franchisees. All packages are delivered to the central depot, sorted, and distributed to the franchisees operating in the destination areas. So packages collected in Sandton by one franchisee are delivered in Claremont in Cape Town by another. If packages need to travel to another province, head office arranges transport to the franchisee in that province, or through an independent operator. Head office also holds a few areas itself.

“My aim is to grow the footprint so that we no longer need to rely on independent operators at all. I even want a few line haul trucks in our fleet for the long-distance deliveries.”

Franchisees need to be able to purchase a new vehicle – the image of The Courier Guy is important, and Gleisner insists that no vehicles over five years old or in disrepair make deliveries. There are incentives for growth. Over and above waybill payments, franchisees are offered incentives in the form of commission. Brackets of business to the value of R100 000, between R100 000 and R150 000 and over R150 000 qualify the franchisee for a certain percentage of commission.

The idea is that the added income helps franchisees grow their own business, as well as concentrate on service delivery to generate repeat business and referrals.

“This business started because I had a bike, time and I understood the value of customer service. Today I’m realising my own dream of owning a business, but I’m also helping others to do the same,” concludes Gleisner.

The franchise model

As a freight consolidator, The Courier Guy provides its franchisees with the following:

  • A central depot where packages can be brought to be delivered by other franchisees in their areas, giving franchisees access to a nationwide-courier system.
  • Line haul and airfreight to deliver packages in other parts of the country.
  • The franchisor invoices all clients directly, and pays franchisees per waybill. This means the franchisees do not carry any of the risks of clients who cannot pay.
  • The franchisor owns the depot and provides operations staff, including admin staff, a call centre, area managers, track and trace services and debtors.
  • Franchisees manage their own areas, including staff, and are expected to own their own vehicles, which must be under five years old.
Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.