Even armed with good intentions, we’re all capable of dropping the ball at times. This can result in things happening that we may not have been prepared for. “Surprise” is exactly that.
Earlier in my working career I was introduced to a business that was growing fast and looking for a production manager. Why the recruiter thought I was the best person for the job has always been a mystery to me. But the business’s owners agreed with his assessment and I was hired.
Auckland Mailing Service put things in envelopes. Lots of envelopes. In those days about 70,000 DLE or standard letter envelopes each day. The bulk of this work was done by machines. Bursting machines that reduced stacks of continuous computer printing into individual pages. Folding machines that folded those pages up so they’d fit nicely into an envelope. Inserting machines that put the folded material into the envelope and then stuck it down ready for the Post Office to deliver it. We also had a team of highly-skilled ladies who knew how to operate the gear and also how to sort mail in the required manner.
The business was owned by an enterprising couple who had started off in their lounge doing the Auckland Gas Company’s invoices by hand and then delivering those by scooter. The lounge soon needed a garage, that garage morphed into a small warehouse which was superseded by a much larger warehouse. Staff were acquired to help process all of this increasing volume. I joined at the small warehouse stage and managed the transition into the much larger warehouse.
The major reason for the spectacular business growth, other than outstandingly good customer service, was our business model. In those days NZ Post offered a 20% discount off the stamp price if qualifying volumes of mail were pre sorted and bagged ready to go straight into its distribution network. This discount reflected the savings to their business not having to sort through random letters that were lodged in postal boxes. That 20% discount was considerably more than our processing costs per letter, which meant that we could tout for business on the basis of handling our customers’ mail at no cost to them, and make a tidy profit.
For organisations that handled a lot of mail, our proposal meant that they didn’t need to find space for an internal mail room, to own specialist gear with its related maintenance costs, or hire administration staff. We did all of that for them.
It also meant that most of their customers were receiving invoices the day after we posted them. A couple of days saved on delivery can have a material affect on cash flow.
The move from the small warehouse to the much larger warehouse happened over a weekend. The two premises were about 100m apart. Specialist movers were hired to translocate the big equipment. A Phillipsburg inserting machine weighs more than 1,000kg and we had two of those puppies.
Various contractors switched over phones, electricity, security systems, changed locks on doors, enabled smoke alarms and all that sort of stuff.
Late on the Saturday afternoon we were done. Celebratory beers were consumed. We went home tired but greatly looking forward to the Brave New World that would begin to unfold on Monday.
Later that evening the phone rang at home. It was the security company. The alarm system had been activated at our Howick premises. Could I please go and accompany the security assessor on his inspection. Shit. I was into the van like a flash and off across town to Howick.
I pulled up outside the new warehouse to find everything dark and hushed. I checked all of the exterior doors which were securely locked with no signs of any sort of funny business or forced entry. Where was the security guard I was supposed to meet?
A glance down the street revealed a signwritten security company vehicle parked outside the old warehouse. I strolled down there to see what was going on.
Sitting in the driver’s seat was a burly Samoan gent in a security company uniform that matched his car. He was sobbing disconsolately. “Gidday,” I said. “I’m Brett. I got the call from your operation centre.”
With tears streaming from his eyes he said “I don’t understand. It only took me three minutes to get here.” Stepping out of his car he led me into the old warehouse that he had unlocked.
“I just don’t understand,” he said surveying its emptiness. “The bastards took everything -- including the alarms in less than three minutes!”
“Come with me,” I said. I led him up the road to the new premises, unlocked the door and let him in. His relief was palpable. He had soon found the wiring fault that had caused the alarm activation and fixed it. We were both off and away happily into the night.
On Monday I had a bit of work to do on our organisation’s “no surprises” policy for letting our business partners know what we were up to.