50 years of trailblazing for Quick Cargo Service

Source: QCS

After 50 years in freight forwarding, Quick Cargo Service (QCS) shows that that mid-sized forwarders can still be trailblazers.

It wasn’t an auspicious start for Quick Cargo Service (QCS) in 1974. Company founder Dieter Haltmayer, until recently head of cargo sales in Germany for Air Canada, had declined an offer to move to London as head of European sales to set up his own firm instead.

However, one day before the official start of operations he broke a leg in a football match and had to limp on crutches into the new venture based near Frankfurt Airport.

The recession that struck Western Europe in the mid-1970s did not help build momentum, but Haltmayer reached out to small players across the German market to build up traffic.

Realising the importance of global reach, he next teamed up with an old business contact in Hong Kong to develop traffic between Germany and the nascent Asian export juggernaut.

It helped that the company founder has always been outspoken on industry issues, which brought some of his comments on pages of Air Cargo News.

Beyond drawing attention to matters on hand, such as Lufthansa’s introduction of fuel surcharges, this also raised awareness of the German forwarder among readers and sparked new business contacts.

His commitment to improving processes and exploring new paths, as well as a continuous focus on developing up-and-coming talent, earned him the award for outstanding contributions to the air cargo industry in 2010.

Ten years earlier he had created a force of minnows in the German airfreight market. Market leader Lufthansa had concentrated primarily on large forwarders amidst predictions of the demise of smaller players.

By then at the helm of a mid-sized player, Haltmayer invited other SME forwarders to a meeting where he floated the idea of pooling airfreight and building up pallets that could be loaded straight onto planes.

“This way we could get better rates, and the airlines would speak to you,” he says.

Dieter Haltmayer. Source: QCS

Out of 75 German agents that attended the meeting, five signed up to the neutral Interessengemeinschaft Luftfracht (IGLU), which became one of the top players in the market.

Nearly a quarter of a century later it is still going with 25 participants who enjoy volume discounts that would be out of reach for many individual members.

As befits a successful mid-sized forwarder, Haltmayer was approached multiple times about selling QCS, but he always declined, looking to keep the business in the family.

He passed on the baton to a newly created management board where his son Stephan took control of sales and marketing and his sisters, Heidi and Jennifer, look after operations and finance.

Today, they run a company that has become one of the top 10 privately owned forwarders in Germany.

Going against the grain, QCS started with airfreight and added ocean cargo years later with the establishment of a branch at the port of Hamburg in 2013. Today, seafreight accounts for 40-45% of the company’s business.

QCS’s footprint kept growing. It set up branch offices in the major German markets and subsequently opened offices in European gateways. More recently this has led to an expansion drive into Eastern Europe with offices in five countries in the region.

Stephan Haltmayer, the architect of the European expansion, reports that these branches have expanded their business rapidly. He still sees ample room for growth in Eastern Europe in the years ahead, especially with the tailwind of nearshoring.

The management board is contemplating expanding into Slovenia. In Western Europe the markets of Spain, France and Italy beckon.

“We’re looking at it. It’s not easy,” says Stephan. A franchise approach may work, although having a majority stake is preferable. For one thing, this makes it easier to work on one data platform, he reflects.

Altogether QCS now has a presence in 30 locations across 11 European countries. Overseas its main markets are in Asia, the US and South America, but there are no plans to set up QCS offices in those countries.

“The future for us is in Europe. We have no ambitions to own operations overseas,” says Stephan. “The international forwarders that we work with are major customers for us. We offer them not just Germany, but Europe.”

In the main, QCS has pursued a strategy of teaming up with one forwarder per country, but it strayed from this approach when it came to tackling the China market.

Stephan was a founding member of the China Cargo Alliance, which established a forum for Chinese and international forwarders to connect.

“A Chinese forwarder can press a button and he gets quotes from ten forwarders,” he says.

Besides developing its global network, QCS has also honed its capabilities in some special segments that offer higher yield. The first one off the runway was ‘Qualified Cargo Solutions’, which is aimed at the aerospace and aviation sector.

In true QCS style, this has spread its wings through collaboration with agents in other locations that have expertise in this vertical, banding together in the ‘Aerospace Logistics Group’.

This was followed four years ago by a foray into the pharma and healthcare vertical, again with a network of partners.

Stephan Haltmayer. Source: QCS

For this venture QCS works with forwarders in the ‘Life Logistics’ network, one of the groupings under the RWSolutions banner, a Hong Kong-based umbrella organisation for forwarder networks that boasts altogether over 2,200 members in 250 cities.

The ocean business spawned activities in the project cargo sector, again in tandem with a partner. Another sector that QCS is active in is automotive logistics – “like every forwarder in Germany,” quips Stephan.

Digitisation is supporting the spread of QCS.

“The pandemic taught us a lesson that you can work remotely. If you can do that within a city, it can also work from other countries,” remarks Stephan.

This has facilitated collaboration with the QCS offices in other European countries, although he stresses that they have to operate with a high degree of autonomy to be successful.

“We can’t move cargo from the branches in Eastern Europe to Frankfurt; we’ve got to leave it to them how they want to route it,” he says, adding that all of the Eastern European branches are profitable.

Working on the same platform brings huge benefits, though. The company recently upgraded its system. He reckons that this has produced a 30% gain in productivity.

“We try to digitalise as much as possible, to keep processes and standard operating procedures slim,” he says.

One avenue that is currently under consideration would be to post rates digitally in the market, he reflects, pointing to a trend towards greater transparency in the industry.

Handling payments is another area that offers new possibilities. “Maybe we’ll offer a centralised clearing house for all 11 countries where we have a presence,” he says.

Dieter Haltmayer still recalls the prophecies of doom for SME forwarders from the 1970s. This has not really changed today, remarks his son.

“There’s always competition. In the past the couriers were supposed to take all the business away, later we’ve seen digital forwarders and e-commerce players come into the market,” he says.

He and his fellow board members are too busy working on expansion plans and exploring new avenues to spend much time thinking about these threats.

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