This week the Business Herald will share the stories of Kiwi businesses that have been forced to adapt in a post Covid-19 world. Like all New Zealanders, we are proud to shine a light on all the incredible work being done to help our country recover
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen Freightways' business lurch from one extreme to another but for chief executive Mark Troughear, the lessons have been about being nimble enough to cope with change, backed up by a good working culture.
Like most businesses, the impact of the pandemic and the resulting restrictions have been huge on NZX-listed Freightways and its 5000 or so employees.
Fortunately for Freightways, for which the courier trade makes up 70 per cent of its business, the company was classed as an essential service.
"All of our businesses were either an essential service provider, or were acting as a supplier for essential services providers," Troughear said.
The company's courier services were handling a lot of medical product and were involved in the distribution of vaccines to various district health boards and pharmacies.
The company also delivers a lot of fresh food - it does all Countdown's grocery deliveries.
"We are heavily involved in providing essential services but as soon as level 4 hit, our volumes fell by 65 per cent.
"Our express package network is a pretty big, expensive thing, which you need to keep operating even though you might not have so much volume going through."
At its peak, Freightways can employ 12 to 14 Boeing 737s flights every night.
It has 30 branches around New Zealand - 75 B-trains and truck-and-trailer units that link all the branches together. Then there are the couriers who feed out of the branches - picking up and delivering.
Faced with a 65 per cent fall in volume, the company had to adapt as best it could in order to continue its essential services while trying to keep costs down.
"Through April volume slowly and steadily increased but volume was still down by 50 per cent which was still a hell of a lot but it was still a lot better than many other businesses, so we were grateful for that."
Then came level 3.
"As we came into level 3, suddenly we had this boom in online shopping when the Government loosened restrictions and allowed contactless transactions.
"On April 28, it went from being down by 50 per cent to back to being similar to what we had at Christmas time, so we brought all our resources to bear to deliver that volume."
When it came back, it was a different kind of volume.
Typically Freightways is involved in business-to-business deliveries - picking up, say four or five items from one business and delivering them to another.
But with the easing of restrictions it became more involved in delivering to residences - typically just one item.
That change posed challenges.
"We might have had the same level of freight but we needed a lot more resources to deliver those items.
"All the courier companies have had to adapt to that and some of them have done it better than others - but that's the challenge for the industry.
"What's really important is that your people have a great attitude. The minute volumes came back they were on their toes and ready to go.
"Our people really embraced it. There is a great culture within businesses like (the Freightways units) like New Zealand Couriers, Post Haste and Sub60.
"We have had sales people willingly jump into vehicles and go out and deliver freight.
"We have had managers sorting freight to help out teams," he said.
"It's been a set of circumstances that you get through and I'm really happy with the way our people have dealt with it," he said.
Three questions with Freightways CEO Mark Troughear
What has been your biggest challenge of the outbreak?
"The biggest challenge has been in adapting. Our industry is a just-in-time industry. You literally don't know what you are going to have until you get it."
With volumes going from minus 65 per cent to plus 110 per cent meant the company had to be quick on its feet.
Your biggest learning?
"To be [able to] move quickly. To be nimble. Make sure you have a really good culture where people are prepared to pitch in, no matter what you ask of them.
"If you can do that, you can look after your customers, and if you can look after your customers, they will be with you for a very long time, so that's what we are trying to do."
One year from now our business will ...
"There will be more home delivery than there was in the past. That's a thing that will change structurally.
"I would like to think that we will have more people working from home.
"And certainly in a place like Auckland, if every day of the week there was 20 to 30 per cent of people were at home instead of the office, our drivers would love it.
"In a year's time, we will have grown a few new services to add to our portfolio."
The company is already reaching for the skies.
Freightways is about to launch a transtasman air freight service - using the same aircraft employed on domestic routes.
"We can help New Zealand exporters get product to Aussie and then bring product back in - which we have never done in the past," he said.
"That's an opportunity that we have seized on," he said.
"Next week we will be a significant player in the transtasman airfreight space which we have not done before," he said.
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