This morning, despite the $3.50 per gallon price tag, Jay Holgate fueled his Prius for about $21. That’s great, considering he’ll get about 50 miles to each gallon. And that’s even better, considering he has to multiply those numbers across the seven vehicles in his courier fleet.
“When we first started back in 1999, we were doing what every other courier company was doing, which was putting a lot of miles on cars, using a whole lot of fuel to get things delivered,” Holgate says.
Then, around 2007, several factors forced him to reconsider how he did business. One, of course, was the economy; the real estate dive hit the courier industry hard, and several competitors closed shop. On top of that, Holgate’s son was diagnosed with autism at a time when authorities suspected environmental factors as a cause.
Deciding to make better use of resources for the sake of the city and the people in it, Holgate’s company rebranded as Green Express. It began distancing itself from the traditional courier model of chugging fuel and averaging 20 miles per gallon. Holgate began evaluating every operation through “green” lenses that matched his new fleet of hybrids — which earned Green Express status as the first courier company in the country to go green.
“For us, it really just had to do with doing the right thing,” says Holgate, the managing partner. “In a city with 5 million people, if you have the ability to use cars that use less fuel and put less emissions in the air, you should do it.”
He soon learned otherwise: In the business world, doing the right thing isn’t always good enough. Sure, some customers were drawn to green alone, but the majority still asked prices first.
“Ultimately, in this town, every good decision is based on the bottom line,” he says. “Unless a businessperson can find a financial reason to do it, they’re most likely not going to do it. Our market is still price-driven, so I would never tell anybody to go out there if they’ve got a great green idea and just go do it based on doing the right thing. It doesn’t matter how good the idea is if it doesn’t save people money. It’s got to have a lot more value than that.”
The green appeal may work in good times, but when a recession washes half of your business away and leaves money tight, you need a new approach. Fortunately, a green business can also be an efficient, cost-effective business.
Working with Georgia’s Clean Air Campaign, Holgate closed down Green Express’s central Alpharetta office. Out of the gate, that cut the brick-and-mortar overhead of maintenance, heating and cooling — not to mention the hidden costs that accumulate when employees drive to and dress for the office.
“I’m not using as much dry cleaning now because I’m not going into the office in a dry clean shirt every day; I’m working from home,” Holgate says. “We’re just not using nearly the resources that we once were.”
The company made other cuts, too, like going paperless by e-mailing bills instead of printing, labeling and mailing invoices. Everyone is now mobile, with drivers relying on GPS — which cuts down on the fuel wasted by getting lost or taking longer routes. Holgate is also consolidating deliveries, so instead of having three drivers come from different directions to all travel toward, say, Duluth, they’ll drop their packages in Dunwoody, one employee will deliver them all, and they’ll split the ticket.
“Wherever we were using natural resources, we just said, ‘How can we cut it?’” Holgate says. “We try to use more common sense. We just try to do it as efficient as possible. And with the pressures of the economy, it kind of forces you to be frugal where you can, too.”
By making those adjustments across the board, Green Express has become not just more sustainable but more streamlined. That efficiency even transfers over to price — which is, after all, the most critical customer driver.
“With what we’re doing, our price is the same as the competitors,” Holgate says. “The difference is that we’re not putting a bunch of emissions into the environment. So if the price is the same, why not go green? It’s hard not to join in that argument.”
How to reach: Green Express, (770) 394-3131 or www.greendelivers.com