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09 February 2004
The Herald
It's all in the presentation; don't expect trainers or track suits at Bullet Express

AN expert on the impact of company names might assume that delivery firm Bullet Express chose the title because it is fast and accurate. Undeniable though that almost certainly is, the real reason is rather more prosaic. Owner David McCutcheon started the company when he "got the bullet" for the latest time.

With his P45 and a small redundancy cheque in his pocket, he bought a couple of vans and started leafing through his contacts book. It was not a time of lavender and roses.

That was 13 years ago. Now his Bothwell-based delivery and logistics giant is nudging its way in among the big boys, and is on target for sales of 3.5m in the year to April 2004, with a pre-tax profit of 250,000. Next year's forecast is 5m, and the firm now employs 44 people.

"Looking back now, I would have sacked me the last time," said McCutcheon in his office within earshot of the steady roar of the M74. "I went to a World Cup and took three weeks instead of two. The funny thing is that I was salesman of the month that day, and my new company car was being wheeled in as I was being shown the door."

After a false start with a partner "who wanted to spend the money as soon as we earned it", he went into business with his cousin and childhood friend Gary Smith. From day one, he knew he had to be just a bit different.

"The same-day business," he said, "was all about time-critical parcels or vital documents being delivered to the right person at the right time. Often the consequences of goods not getting there were horrendous.

"That was why people were willing to trust us. From the start, we had smart uniforms, shirts and ties, and liveried vans. People were more comfortable with us than some guy turning up with dirty trainers and track suit in a rusty old van."

McCutcheon and Smith memorised the timetables for trains and boats and planes across the UK and turned the business of same-day delivery into an art form, often accompanying parcels the length of the country at a moment's notice.

However, the nature of the business meant that sometimes they would sit for days at a time with nothing to deliver and, as time went on, it became clear that they needed another string to their bow.

They went into partnership with an Irish-based company to do overnight, non time-critical deliveries which had the effect of smoothing out the business flow and allowing Bullet to develop.

"The balance of goods is much better," said McCutcheon. "Overnight delivery is now by far the bulk of our work.

"But at the same time, the nature of the same-day side has changed. Everyone else is now doing the things we were doing 10 years ago, and the big challenge for us now is IT - satellite tracking on vehicles, hand-held computers for drivers - which allows the customer to see exactly where his package is at any given time."

The boom in the delivery business, he said, has been driven by two factors - the "miserable failure" of the Royal Mail and the dramatic growth in the just-in-time delivery doctrine, which means that large stores no longer carry large stocks.

Bullet specialises in the retail sector, where seasonal pressures can mean frantic and finely-tuned re -stocking from its fleet of lorries and vans. McCutcheon said: "What we deliver tomorrow is what we sell today."

His main concern, he says, is the imbalance in trade between Scotland and England, as a simple consequence of the disparity in the size of their economies. He said some Scots hauliers, desperate to fill their containers, are "killing the market".

He said: "The kind of cost-cutting they are doing has an impact across the whole industry."

For the time being, McCutcheon is determined to put something back into the community, with contributions to the Entrepreneurial Exchange and the Prince's Trust. At the moment he is involved in a mentoring scheme in his old school.

At a recent Entrepreneurial Exchange dinner, he was seated close to the top table, which featured entrepreneurs such as Tom Hunter, Sir Tom Farmer, and Chris Gorman. McCutcheon turned to a fellow guest and said: "I'm going to be sitting with them one day."

Ron Clark

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