Let’s face it. We bike messengers are trying to keep a dying industry afloat. Please don’t ask us how long its gonna last, because we don’t want to think about it. Some cities have tried (successfully or not) to unionize to help make conditions for messengers on the road better. But this is a long and grueling process that often leads to a lot of fired bikers.
Lately, a lot of smaller, independently run messenger companies have been springing up in response to thinning work load, poor treatment and most importantly, low pay.
While I was in Toronto for the 5th annual Mayday Alleycat, I got a chance to catch up with Hank of Send It Courier. Hank is one of the owners of Send It and we talked about how (currently) Toronto’s only independent courier service does things and follow around Cameron for a few routine deliveries.
Okay, lets start off with an introduction! Who are you and what is Send It Courier?
Hank: My name is Henry Mesias. Some people call me Hank though. And Send It Courier is Toronto’s bike messenger Co-Op!
How did Send It get its start?
Hank: When I first moved here and started working as a bike messenger, I ran into Toby Spunt… who is very famous in the bike messenger community world wide haha. Toby had been talking about wanting to start an independent company. I guess he had tried a couple times before, but never really took off. I got to this one summer I wasn’t working as a bike messenger and I was working at a bike shop. I really missed being on the road and I had some money saved up. It was then I saw this as an opportunity to start a company. I mean, why not?! You see some other companies around like Cut Cats (Chicago) or TCB Courier (San Francisco) doing the food stuff and mixing the other elements of the messenger industry. I talked to Toby, one thing led to another, we got a couple other people involved and just got the ball rolling! It was a real slow start to begin with but once it started rolling it got kinda crazy!
Now what makes Send It different than all the other courier companies in Toronto?
Hank: Well Send It is currently the only independent courier company operating right now (in Toronto). We are actually a legitimate co-op. Our (business) status in the province of Ontario is a worker’s co-op.
What is it about the business model that makes Send It so progressive in Toronto?
Hank: Send It is a little ahead of the curve in a lot of ways in Toronto. There’s a lot of messenger companies here that are still operating from the 90’s and a lot of the software they use is from the 90’s. There’s a whole lot of paper waybills that are still being used, turned into the offices, and scanned (at the end of the day). I’ve noticed in North America a lot of people are shifting to backpacks and hitting freight, large boxes, and all sorts of big stuff that you can’t fax or email. We’re trying to tap into that market; but also use a different type of messenger software that allows us to capture digital signatures and pretty much go completely paperless. We are also trying to diversify what we do by picking up food delivery, for example.
Can you talk about why the way Send It is doing things is important for the future of this industry?
Hank: Yeah! Like I said before we try to diversify the things we deliver. We do the downtown messenger work, food delivery, and weird cargo stuff. We have 5 Bullitt cargo bikes now, which can at any time be all on the road at once, in addition to one or two other people on regular bikes. We’re just trying to grab anything that can possibly be delivered and do it. Working as a team is also a big thing. We use open air radios to help each other out if anything ever goes wrong. In addition, we’ve been trying to create a really equitable structure. We know it can get real cutty out there when people are doing commission sometimes; so we created an hourly wage. It’s not like we don’t believe in commission. We have some night time food shifts that are fully commission based. But sometimes during the day, you’re sitting around stressing because the company’s rates are so low, you only made 20 bucks and you spent more money on food than what you made on your paycheck. So being able to know that you’re getting that hourly wage, even if its dead, makes you feel a little better about what you’re doing; makes you wanna hustle harder; and makes you wanna show up for work everyday on time. It creates a really good team atmosphere for everyone.
What do you think is the future of this industry and where do you think things are going in Toronto?
Hank: I think the future in the Toronto messenger industry is really interesting, because in a lot of ways Toronto is a little behind the curve. It’s not a normal thing here (bike delivery). Its also a lot of companies are consolidating everything into one building. A lot of companies make their paycheck by moving walkers and bikers down 5 blocks, but once everything is consolidated into one, that’s not going to exist anymore, and a lot of people are going to lose their jobs. The real future for Toronto is going to be diversification. I think you are going to see more independents spring up. There already have been a couple that have sprung up and gone away, but I’m sure there will be more to come.
When I see another independent, I’m going to be stoked! I know its competition but more independent companies are better than none. I know there are other companies that are going to be moving into Toronto within the market of the “same day delivery” but for now its just us out there doing these “one and done” calls. But we do it the best, we do it the fastest, we have the most reliable riders and I think a lot of people really appreciate that. The future is also having bike messengers that are really stoked to come to work. People who don’t have bad attitudes, stoked on what they’re doing and having customers really appreciate interacting with someone who is not that bummed out about riding in the rain.
I think the future of the bike messenger industry is going to be run by the independents. Its gonna be companies like us who are going to diversify everything. You’re gonna run mail, boxes, food, wine delivery and just across the board anything that can be delivered. Because right now, everything is pretty 9 to 5. The way we run it is we get up and have deliveries starting at 7:30 am and we work till 10pm. I think that flexibility allows us to deliver a box of food with a recipe for someone to cook dinner at their house.
You wanna let everyone know how people can get in touch with you? And if you’re in the Toronto area how they can use you guys?
Hank: Yeah! You can check out our website. All our information is there and we got our rates for everyone to see. You can also send us an email with any questions about getting a delivery done and we’ll get back to you ASAP. Oh! You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram to see some of the stupid things we deliver like 6ft long sandwiches haha!