Business Big Interview: David McCutcheon, co-founder and chief executive of Bullet Express

As one of Britain’s fastest growing logistics businesses, Glasgow-headquartered Bullet Express has just opened a vast new facility in Renfrew, close to Glasgow Airport.

Some three decades on from its formation, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, David McCutcheon, explains the reasoning behind the move, how the business is adapting to a rapidly changing marketplace and what Bullet is doing to tackle the current inflation crisis.

Bullet Express was formed more than 30 years ago. How did that come about?

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I thought it was the worst day of my life at the time, but it turned out to be the best. I was just young then and, having gone to Italy for the 1990 World Cup, I was enjoying myself so much I stayed an extra week. When I got home I found out I was sacked from Parcelline, where I was a salesman. So my friend and I, who also worked there, decided to set up our own delivery business. He had a van so he was the driver. I didn’t have a van so that made me the salesman.

As it turned out, we ended up going our separate ways and I teamed up with my now business partner (and cousin) Gary Smith and Bullet Express was born.

From a delivery service with two vans three decades ago, how is Bullet Express structured now?

It’s unrecognisable today from what we started back then. But our principles are the same – to look after our customers and our people and to do our very best every time.

Back then, we were drivers, salesmen and bookkeepers all rolled into one. Now we’re a fully developed logistics company and we’re structured accordingly: express network pallets; worldwide supply chain; contract services; storage logistics; customs care; and aerospace logistics. It’s a complicated business moving goods around – and even more so since Brexit – and we’re structured to ensure we can get stuff to where it needs to be when it needs to get there.

David McCutcheon, co-founder and chief executive at Bullet Express. Picture: Peter DevlinDavid McCutcheon, co-founder and chief executive at Bullet Express. Picture: Peter Devlin
David McCutcheon, co-founder and chief executive at Bullet Express. Picture: Peter Devlin

Now we’ve got 800 customers, who are really our partners, and we run a 24/7 operation that literally never stops.

Having brought on board a finance director, Bridget Mackay, fairly early on in the life of the business we’ve now appointed our first managing director in John McKail. He’s made a massive difference to our organisation and has some clear ideas on how we can grow the business.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the logistics world since you started out?

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I’d have to say that communication is the biggest change the sector has seen. It’s a long way from the days when we started and Gary and I were keeping in touch with each other from red phoneboxes as we scurried around the country. At Bullet Express we’ve invested heavily in telecommunications tech and we know precisely where each one of our 144 trucks and trailers is at any moment. We deliver 2,000 pallets daily and we can pinpoint the location of any pallet owned by a customer immediately – whether it’s in storage, on the road, on a ship or on a plane.

Just in time deliveries are now the norm and we need to be on top of all our customers’ goods 100 per cent of the time.

Pallet networks have also changed the sector immeasurably since they were first introduced. By networking with other logistics companies we can compete effectively with even the biggest players in the market and offer a like-for-like national service (except ours is better of course).

It is well documented that there is a national shortage of warehousing, how are you tackling this issue?

Moving into storage was one of the most transformative moves we ever made at Bullet Express. We started small and we filled our first warehouse almost immediately. Since then we’ve now opened in East Kilbride, Baillieston, Bothwell, and London Road, with our latest facility at Westway taking our capacity up to more than 46,000 pallets – and Westway is nearly fully committed too.

The increase in demand for storage space is down to each and everyone of us – and it’s been accelerated by Covid too in my view. Previously most of your shopping took place on the high street and what little you bought by “mail order” you’d be perfectly happy to wait a week or so for. Not now. Someone ordering a dress wants to wear it tomorrow night, not next week. That in turn means that national warehouses are no longer sufficient for internet retailers who want to meet the needs of their customers, they need hubs and that’s where we fit in. And with the continued growth in internet retail, I can only see that demand continuing to grow.

Storage is now the biggest single customer for our logistics business because that’s where we’re either moving goods from or moving them to.

With fuel charges at an all-time high, how is the additional cost affecting your business and how willing are your customers to pay the extra cost?

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Fuel costs; energy costs; staff costs. Like everyone else we’re suffering, especially in a business growing as fast as ours – up 50 per cent in the last year.

At least with fuel costs there’s a process for dealing with that. All our customers are faced with paying a fuel surcharge when the price of fuel moves significantly, as it is at the moment. That way the additional cost is borne by the customer. If it was our cost, we simply wouldn’t be able to carry it.

But other costs, such as electricity to keep the lights on, gas to maintain the temperatures in our warehouses and so on, we face these like anyone else.

The one cost that I don’t begrudge is our people costs. In fact we have implemented pay rises across all our departments, with the latest, for office staff, being in March. They’re local people who work hard and these are difficult times. Many of them have been with us more than ten years – they need our support too and they deserve it.

How do you see technology playing a part in the logistics sector going forward?

It really is all about communication and ensuring that our customers have as much information as they can about what is, after all, their property and their livelihood.

Specifically, I see the further development of radio frequency identification (RFID) playing a major role in helping us to do that and the technology already exists to enable customers to know where their pallet is at any given time down to the last metre. That’s only going to develop further.

If you could offer one piece of advice to someone thinking of setting up their own business today, what would it be?

It would have to be two pieces of advice.

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The American founding father Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying: “I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” And it’s true. In the early days if Gary or I weren’t driving we were out chapping doors. There is no doubt in my mind that the likely success of a young business is directly linked to the amount of effort you put in. So my first bit of advice would be: work hard.

Secondly, there’s a lot of advice out there but you need to go out and look for it. I was lucky enough to make friends with people like Sir Tom Hunter and Lord Willie Haughey in the early days of Bullet Express and I’ve always listened to the advice they’ve been generous enough to offer. Listen carefully to what the people who’ve been there before say to you. It’s awfully tempting to think you’re the only one that’s facing a problem but the chances are that others have been there before.

60 second CV:

Born: Glasgow, 6th December 1962

Education: Spittle Primary then Cathkin High School – I left early at Christmas

First job: Youth Opportunities at a steel stockholder’s. My big break came when I joined the telesales team. Then I knew I was destined for a career in sales.

Ambition at school: To be a policeman (I’d have been rubbish)

What car do you drive: An all-electric Jaguar iPace

Favourite mode of transport: car – I’m a big motorsport fan

Music: Anything from AC/DC to Michael Buble and from Kylie to Rick Astley. Guilty pleasure: Cliff Richard

Kindle or book: I prefer to listen to books these days, so audiobooks

Last book you read: Gypsy King by Tyson Fury

Can’t live without: My wife, Tracey – she’s kept me grounded and been my biggest supporter

What makes you angry: Unnecessary red tape

What inspires you: success – I love seeing things go right

Favourite place: Ibrox on a Saturday afternoon

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Best thing about your job: Seeing others succeed and get on – it gives me a real buzz

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