It started in a garage, with a few dozen employees. Three decades later, PPL has grown into a firm that delivered 33 million shipments last year. This year, it has already surpassed that number. At the beginning of each year, PPL starts getting ready for the most demanding season – Christmas. In 2020, the coronavirus in spring interfered with the preparations. As bricks and mortar shops were closed, people immediately switched to the internet. Suddenly, the number of transported packages doubled.
“We’re used to the pre-Christmas rush. But if someone told me in January that we’d shift the entire customer service to being home-based in one week, I’d probably tell them that they were crazy,” recalls Milan Loidl, PPL Marketing Director. During March and April, deliveries went up by 105 per cent in total; on some days they were up by as much as 160 per cent compared with data from 2019. “It was actually a sort of second Christmas. At times, the situation tested us to the limits because the restrictions were introduced basically overnight, and you don’t make up the staff numbers so quickly, but we managed it. So hats off to our employees,” he adds. It also helped that in the first wave of the pandemic, people were mostly at home, which drastically reduced the number of undelivered shipments. Like many other businesses, PPL has joined the nationwide fight against the coronavirus, for example by delivering protective equipment for free to institutions in need and enabling hand-sewn masks to be sent by individuals at no cost.
„We’ve got 90 per cent of the Czech Republic covered. In our towns and cities, the pick-up points are up to a 10-minute walk away; in the countryside, they’re no more than 10 minutes away by car.“Milan Loidl, Marketing Director, PPL
A network of more than 2,000 of what are known as PPL Parcelshops works with PPL to deliver parcels. “In the past, our biggest problem was that we’d arrive to find that the recipient wasn’t at home. Today, however, it’s common for people to collect their package at the nearest pick-up point,” says the director. But he admits that it took some time for customers to get used to this delivery method, even if it is more convenient for them. “You pick up the package when and where it suits you. You don’t have to arrange another delivery time with the courier and reorganize the whole of the next day because of that,” he adds.
Some pick-up points – because they also carry out their own business – are already struggling with capacity. Therefore, the company opened three PPL Parcelshops under its management, two in Prague and one in Brno, which handle nothing but shipments. The firm’s future plans include building a network of delivery lockers next year, known as PPL Parcelboxes. “Picking up items at a Parcelshop or from a Parcelbox costs the customer less than home delivery. Besides, as a result, traffic volumes will be reduced,” Loidl says, referring to a pan-European trend in which some cities are banning journeys to their centres because of increased traffic and poor air quality.
Initially, in the early days of PPL, the company concentrated on intercompany shipments. Today, the situation is entirely different, and most of the business involves deliveries from online shops to private customers; the former are PPL’s primary clients. “Our second group of customers is shipment recipients, who are no less important to us. Often, it’s they who decide which firm will deliver their package to them,” he adds. Several times a year, PPL talks to the online retailers about how satisfied they are with all aspects of their cooperation: transport, invoicing, customer service. “Our sales team is segmented by customer size. We’d like to speak to everyone individually, but we’ve tens of thousands of clients, so this isn’t possible, unfortunately,” explains the director. The largest customers hand over 25,000 packages a day.
PPL has been about service quality and customer focus since the very beginning. “We started with no packages. We had no backing from abroad, and we have achieved everything all by ourselves. We strive to offer a slightly higher level of service overall, but the price must still be attractive to the customer; we’re not a premium service,“ notes Loidl. In 2006, German postal service Deutsche Post DHL bought PPL, which kept its brand, one of a few to be allowed to do so.
Among other things, PPL uses market research agencies to understand its customers better. This year’s survey showed that Czechs most often buy electronics online, followed by clothes. “During the coronavirus crisis, many customers ordered items they normally purchase in bricks and mortar shops, but even after the restrictions were eased, they continued with this shopping method,” he adds.
Currently, the biggest problem facing PPL is the capacity of transit centres and human resources. “We’ve seen growth of 20–30 per cent, but we don’t have 20 per cent more drivers available annually. Before the crisis, we had a problem finding employees for virtually any role in the company. In the autumn, the situation improved as people lost their jobs, yet Czechs aren’t particularly interested in manual work,“ concludes Milan Loidl, who has spent his entire career at PPL. He has been with the company for almost 20 years, although he originally took it as an “emergency solution” after school.