Why choose Safestore? A perfect place to pilot a delivery consolidation centre

Safestore Leeds Central is in a 1930’s building just 2 minutes from Vicar Lane – a perfect location for a delivery consolidation centre

We are only too aware that basing our business in a Safestore doesn’t necessarily give an impression of permanence. The nature of self-storage businesses is such that they are particularly attractive to those who want ‘space’ for an indefinite period, with no strings attached. In actual fact Safestore offers much more and there are good reasons why we expect to stay there for some time to come.

As we have begun to consider the possibility of offering Leeds retailers a delivery consolidation service, the location and manual handling equipment which seemed unnecessary when we first moved in are now looking like vital pieces of equipment the cost of which could have been severely prohibitive. Their presence makes such a project possible and could allow us to pilot the idea with very little additional preparation and next to no additional expense.

When Last Mile Leeds began operations the 4 weeks’ notice required to vacate was indeed a significant reason why we chose the  Safestore Leeds Central as our base. It was cheap and in a great location. If all went according to plan, we wouldn’t be there long.

Over the past few months of operating from there on a daily basis, I now have some real experience upon which to evaluate what has proven to be an extremely good business decision, and I suspect I will continue to operate from there for some time to come.

Safestore Leeds Central has a large off-street loading bay

Let me list some of  benefits:

  • Secure storage space for 3 cargo bikes and additional equipment
  • room to grow should we take on a larger cargo trike – likely if we do open a delivery consolidation centre
  • A location literally across the road from the planned Eastgate development and about 3 minutes from Kirkgate Market or the Victoria Quarter
  • Reception manned 8am-6pm, able to receive goods when all Last Mile staff are out
  • 24 hour access
  • Pallet trucks and goods trolleys
  • Fork-lift truck (and four licensed drivers) –able to receive palletized deliveries (all as part of the service)
  • Off-street loading and unloading bay able to accommodate up to 4 Luton vans
  • Off-street secure parking in Leeds city centre
  • High level of security, with 24hr CCTV etc
  • Insurance against loss of £6,000
  • massive flexibility to expand or contract the amount of storage space we use
  • huge goods lift with 2.5 tonne capacity, easily able to accommodate the large cargo-trikes which we are looking to purchase (should we ever take additional space above the ground floor)

And all this for about £30.00 week, with no additional bills, or rates to pay.

There are of course a few disadvantages, the main one being that office facilities are limited, though the staff are very helpful if you need to send an odd email or Fax. We don’t have electricity in the lock-up, or a telephone line. Nevertheless, so far we have been able to handle everything by mobile, and should we reach a point where this is holding back the business then I have found that Safestore are very accommodating and seem always willing to negotiate.

Overall this has proven an ideal base to grow the business and one which could see us grow significantly larger before we would ever need to move.

Loading the Bullitt

I reckoned this single shipment weighed around 40kg

35 pieces before loading

Since Last Mile began working with DHL, I have had the opportunity to test out the cargo capacity of our Bullitts in real conditions – regularly filling the cargo boxes to capacity. Most of the time the packets we deliver are small and lightweight – occasionally bulky, but not very heavy. Nevertheless, when the boxes are filled to capacity they do add up.

Last week a single large shipment gave me the opportunity to really test the capacity of the Bullitt – not just in terms of volume, but also in terms of weight. 6 boxes and 2 extra packets of exam papers, for one customer probably weighed at least 40kg. Adding another 27 smaller pieces (above)  they all fitted into the Bullitt’s cargo box, and I was able to deliver them all in a single run from our depot.

35 pieces in the cargo box (with the first 3 ready to deliver in the overflow courier bag)

So what was the Bullitt like to ride laden? The first thing I noticed was how much harder the bike was to manoeuvre when on foot. No real surprise of course when I was pushing a bike that probably weighed close to 100kg altogether. It certainly wasn’t impossible to push and I could still turn the bike around when necessary, but I avoided lifting the bike up kerbs if I could. There was a very significant degree of flex or bounce in the frame as the bike went over bumps, but it didn’t feel as though this was more than the bike was supposed to handle, rather that it was coping with the load rather well.

The second thing I noticed was that all hills were significantly steeper! That being said I still climbed the steepest gradient I faced in first gear, slowly, but without difficulty. Once on the level the Bullitt seemed to forget the load it was carrying and it was easy to accelerate up to a respectable cruising speed.

If I was expecting to carry such a large load over a significant (relatively flat) distance I would be far less concerned than carrying it on a typical delivery route, where the bike is stopping and starting, climbing kerbs or traversing cobbles and turning round in tight spots every few minutes. Given this  if I was faced with a similar situation again, I might be tempted to divide the load choosing to make the 5 minute trip back to our depot to reload,  so as to keep the bike more easily manageable at low speeds. Overall, however the Bullitt stood up well to the test, and confirmed its capability (and indeed, suitability equipped, the capability of ‘cycle couriers’ ) to handle anything that might be delivered by a man with a van.

Last Mile Leeds in partnership with DHL

About a month ago, Last Mile Leeds began a pilot with DHL. Starting with a couple of days out with two of their van drivers I got an insight into the job of a van courier.Then over the last month I have been delivering some of their smaller packets and parcels by cargo bike.

It has been a learning experience, as we work out what sort of shipments the Bullitts can comfortably carry and within which areas we can operate. So far we have taken everything they have asked us to deliver on their behalf and have extended our geographical coverage beyond the University to the Hyde Park area. Usually, all the deliveries fitted into the cargo boxes fitted to our Bullitts, but on the odd occasion when we have not been able to carry them all at oncedid not fit into the cargo box, it was easy to make a return trip to our depot, load up and make a second (or even a third) run.

Overall, the pilot has been successful, and we look set to work with DHL on into the future. More importantly it has been proof of the concept – that cargo bikes operating to fulfil last mile deliveries have something to offer the large courier firms, and specifically that they can do this in Leeds.





The Role of the UK Cyclelogistics Federation

On 14th July 2012, Last Mile Leeds attended the inaugural meeting of the European Cyclelogistics Federation. Their website describes the federation thus:

The European Cycle Logistics Federation is a professional body which represents and supports the needs of cycle logistics companies across Europe.

The Federation is a membership organisation for:

  1. Established cycle logistics businesses (eg. delivery companies, couriers, pedicab operators, tradespeople, organisations which use cycles as part of their business operations, etc)
  2. Start-up businesses considering using cycles as part of their business operations
  3. Manufacturers and suppliers of cycle logistics equipment.
  4. Associates who have an interest in promoting the further use of cycles

The Federation is supported by CYCLElogistics, an EU funded project which promotes the delivery of freight by cycles and trikes.


But what should be the role of such an organisation in the UK? Here are few of my thoughts;

  • UK specific. Firstly, there is a need to establish within the organisation, a space for UK cyclelogistics companies. Although it is great to be part of a Europe wide initiative, and we can certainly learn from our colleagues overseas, at least some of the issues we face in overcoming national attitudes to cycle use are specific to our own context. If we are only concerned with ‘big-picture’ policy then we will risk being irrelevant to small cargo bike operations. We could consider UK, and perhaps even regional meetings, though these need not be face to face and could take the form of conference calls etc.
  • Sharing Experience. As is to be expected in a young industry, we are all learning. We could each gain much by learning from the experiences of others. At this stage in our industry’s growth, I feel that most of us recognise that anything that promotes the use of cycle logistics anywhere in the country is generally ‘good for business’.
  • Partnership broking. Each of us have worked hard to develop business relationships and partnerships with our customers, but few of us have the reach to extend these partnerships nationwide. Either we can sit on them until we have grown our respective businesses into national carriers, or we can share them.
  • Combined Representation. In the same way that Kissinger once asked, “If I want to call Europe, who do I call?”, if a multinational courier or nationwide retailer want to begin to include cyclelogistics in their delivery chain then where would they start? Either they have to hold multiple discussions with multiple different operators, potentially agreeing numerous different sets of terms and conditions or we can present them with a united front, and consistent standards of service.
  • Marketing and Promotion. Fairly obvious this, but to what extent might we consider raising national awareness relevant to individual operations…and would we pay for it? There is however free marketing to be had by mutually promoting each others businesses and achievements through our own websites and social media.
  • Quality standards. Each of us knows the strength of our own operation, but would probably not want to risk our reputation on that of others. Yet we can all gain from increased credibility of the industry as a whole. Rather than instigate a complicated system of regulation we might benefit from a simple system of either self (or perhaps peer) assessment. This might include such things as security, redundancy (can we operate if a rider falls ill ), longetivity, financial stability, whether we have the relevant insurances etc. Even having a set of external standards which members could assess themselves against could be useful in declaring our respective competancies to deliver what we say we can to potential partners.
  • Managing competition. The elephant in the room here is competition. Even though, on the whole, we are not competing directly as we are operating in different cities, might we be in the future? How many of us would like to expand our operations, and what would happen when two members overlap? Overall competition is good, and it would be a mark of a maturing industry when most towns or cities had at least two cyclelogistics operations. I don’t know exactly what the role of the Federation would be, but I would hope it would help avoid turf wars and price wars.

I have posted a link to this on the Cyclelogistics forum, and although I will leave comments open below, I suspect discussion there will be more fruitful.

Delivery Consolidation to Leeds city centre

What do Bristol, Göteborg, Ljubljana, Ravenna and Riga all have in common?

They were the five European cities involved in the START (Short Term Actions to Reorganize Transport of goods) project which ran from 2006-2009.

From their site:

Acknowledging that the current system of goods distribution is rich in emissions and not necessarily energy efficient, the five cities of START has implemented a mixture of complementary long-term planning actions, for the reduction of the need of transport, with short term initiatives, such as access restrictions, consolidation centres and incentives. The approach of the project is based on the close collaboration between city governments, transport companies and local businesses formalised in local freight networks, which have been established in each START city.

The idea is simple. By having delivery hubs on the outskirts of these cities, which can receive goods on behalf of city centre retailers and businesses, and can then consolidate these into fewer vehicles, there is a saving of delivery costs, as well as reduction in traffic and CO2 emissions. The scheme was promoted through additional delivery restrictions and incentives for those using the scheme.

Would such a scheme be effective in Leeds? And what sort of role could cycle couriers have? There are clearly numerous empty buildings within a short distance of the city which could act as a delivery hub. The majority of retailers are within a pedestrianized precinct which is restricted to vehicles between 10.30am and 4.30pm, and although many of these are large enough to have staff able to receive deliveries outside normal business hours, for the small independant retailer, such restrictions can be problematic.

Cargo bikes can offer an effective solution to this problem. Should Leeds ever consider such an initiative, Last Mile Leeds are already perfectly positioned to take advantage.

Cycle Couriers vs. Van Couriers: Pros and Cons of a cargo bike

If Last Mile Leeds are to make cargo bikes the delivery method of choice for Leeds city centre deliveries we must reinvent the cycle courier as a realistic alternative to the van courier.

To this end, I spent two days with a van courier for one of the big international courier firms this week. It was a great insight into the challenges of their job, and the constraints they work under and has helped me to identify the advantages (and some disadvantages) a cycle courier riding a large capacity cargo bike would have over the driver of a traditional transit van.

Advantages of Cargo Bikes

  • The large majority of deliveries we completed could have been carried easily in a cargo bike. Indeed I would suggest that our cargo bikes could have carried 80% of the deliveries we made at one time.
  • Delivery deadlines and pickups which cannot be made before a certain time, mean that delivery routes must double back and couriers may on occasion visit the same customer twice in a single day. Bikes are better able to negotiate the leeds city centre, against the clockwise traffic flow of the city centre loop.
  • The pedestrian precinct is off-limits to motor vehicles between 10.30am and 4.30pm. Not so for bikes which can be wheeled to any premises, even within the covered quarters.
  • Parking. Even when access is straightforward, vans must spend time parking, maneuvering and turning and they often park some distance from the reception or delivery entrance. Bikes are able to pull up right outside, and pull away just as quickly without obstructing clients or customers.
  • In Leeds city centre deliveries were rarely further than ½ a mile apart. Vans offered no advantages in terms of shorter journey times, even when traffic or one-way streets allowed.
  • Cargo bikes can operate efficiently from city centre locations. If our cargo bikes must return to our depot to pick up additional deliveries (either newly arrived or beyond their capacity) this is a short trip – all the shorter for a bike. Vans are typically away from the depot for the duration of the day.

Disadvantages of Cargo Bikes

  • About 20% of our deliveries or collections were either beyond the capacity of a cargo bike, or if carried would limit the ability of the bike to carry other deliveries.
  • Customers (even regular customers) are not predictable. One day they may have a single envelope and the next 20 large boxes— the former easily delivered by bike the latter would require a van.  This means that where this unpredictability exists, a bike can only supplement a van, rather than replace it.
  • This is particularly the case when collecting from customers, as such pickups rarely give an indication of volume. Therefore the ability of a bike to collect may not be confirmed until actually in front of the customer.

Cargo bikes clearly have their place, but are limited by their capacity. Large capacity cargo trikes, such as the Cycle Maximus, do exist that would accommodate loads equal to a small van, but these would lose some of the maneuverability of a two-wheeler and are usually required to operate as part of a mixed fleet. Such bikes are on our horizon, but as yet are not an imminent purchase.

Bullitt Cargo bikes, 3 years on « Buffalo Bill’s Bicycle Blog

Here is an interesting review of the Bullitt having been used for the heavy lifting of commercial cycle courier work, for 3 years. It does suggest that Last Mile Leeds has bought the right bike for the job, though may need to address the design of our cargo boxes sooner rather than later. Look out for us in Leeds, delivering documents and small packets on behalf of a large international courier, as part of a pilot project beginning next week.

Bullitt Cargo bikes, 3 years on « Buffalo Bill’s Bicycle Blog.

Leeds Cycle Couriers or Leeds Cycle Delivery

Lets face it Cycle Couriers don’t have the best of reputations…

They are all Gung-ho, red-light jumping, thrill-seekers with a death-wish and no thought for other road users, right?

Certainly not the sort of person you want to entrust your deliveries to…unless it’s an emergency. So that is when cycle couriers get called – in an emergency. When something has to get from your office to someone elses office NOW, then you can put up with the bad rap for the sake of speed.

Obviously not all cycle couriers are like that. There are cycle couriers in Leeds and to the best of my knowledge, none of them have dreadlocks and all of them wear helmets. Although Last Mile Leeds can can offer rapid point-to-point collections and deliveries, and we probably are the quickest way to get your urgent item across the city,  we want to change the perception of cycle logistics, and are aiming for Last Mile Leeds to become the delivery method of choice for all inner city deliveries. That is why we have deliberately chosen to promote ourselves as Leeds Cycle Delivery rather than Leeds Cycle Couriers.

Our cargo (or freight) bikes allow us to deliver virtually anything that could be delivered by a man with a van and we soon expect to be running regular routes at set times for a number of our customers. This is not dissimilar to the myriad of other courier firms operating vans within the city, who (with the exception of the proverbial ‘white-van-man’ ) don’t have the same negative associations. Rather than contributing to the traffic problem and infuriating other road users, by choosing our services you are helping to alleviate some of the congestion in our city.

So next time you think of ‘Leeds Cycle Couriers’, instead think ‘Leeds Cycle Delivery’ and give Last Mile Leeds a call.



Leeds City Council Business Starter Taster Workshop

I attended the first in a series of business start-up taster workshops run by Leeds City council on Monday. The meeting offered 6 speakers, with support and information for those interested in starting up their own business. I found that I had already passed through this stage as most of the information provided I had already learned, but the speaker from HMRC was quite helpful.

The most interesting thing I learned was that an employee benefits from their employer paying National Insurance contributions of 13.8% when they earn £144.01/week  but the employer does not have to pay National Insurance contributions (at 12%) until they earn £146.01/week. Therefore there is a sweet spot of earning £145/week when the employee gets the contributions from their employer, but doesn’t pay them themself. I’m not sure whether the amount of NIS contributions really makes any difference at all in the light of the recent announcment of a fixed rate state pension.

Here is the agenda for these meetings…with a link below:

    1. An overview of business support within Leeds –  Leeds City Council
    2. How to access, Business and Patent Information Services  – Library Business Services
    3. Business advice and guidance  – Leeds Chamber
    4. Making Tax & Book keeping less painful  – HMRC – Business Education & Support Team
    5. Maximising your marketing ability  – Chartered Institute of Marketing
    6. Are you eligible for the  Enterprise Allowance scheme? – Job Centre Plus
    7. Networking (between speakers and attendees)