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Small Business Spotlight: Lightning Express Delivery Services

After working for a messenger company that changed ownership time and time again, Tom Cobb began to wonder if he could do a better job if only he could have greater control of the company’s direction.

Fast forward some 16 years, and Cobb is a proud co-owner of Lightning Express Delivery Services, a San Diego-based company generating $1 million annually.

“If I learned anything from (his previous company), it’s if you are going to have your own business, you better be there and you better run it because otherwise, you don’t know what’s going on,” Cobb said.

Cobb’s partners in the business are his friends and former co-workers at Marathon Messenger, Ron Hill and Gary Cove. Cobb said when they started the business, the three hoped to make eight to nine deliveries a day. But today, Lightning Express makes between 200 and 300 deliveries a day, many of which involve taking documents up to Orange and Los Angeles counties.

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Although he’s pleased with his choice to become a small-business owner, Cobb admits it’s not always an easy job. Making sure payroll is always met and his employees don’t waste time when calls for deliveries are slow are among the constant challenges to be faced. But Cobb said whenever conflict arises, his first line of defense is to remind people that Lightning Express is as important to him as children are to their parents.

“This is very much a family type business,” Cobb said. “It’s our life, we created it.”


VITALS

Name: Tom Cobb.

Title: Operations manager-partner.

Company: Lightning Express Delivery Services.

Company address: 4205 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92103.

Company phone: (619) 294-4123.

Year founded: 1990.

Prior business experience: Office manager/dispatcher at Marathon Messenger.

Average hours worked weekly: 50.

Source of startup capital: $5,000 and our Shell gas cards.

2005 revenue: $1 million.

2004 revenue: $1.1 million.

Number of employees: 24.

Web site: www.lightningexpress.biz.


BACKGROUND

Birthplace: Galveston, Texas.

Education: High school; Oklahoma Christian College.

Age: 42.

Current residence: Mira Mesa.

Hobbies: Home projects and spending time with my dogs; also a Chargers, Spurs and Padres fan.


JUDGMENT CALLS

Reason for getting into business: To continue working with my good friends and to have the ability to hand-pick employees that share our goals and ambitions.

How I plan to grow the business: Continue to concentrate on economy-priced structures in highly frequented geographical areas.

Biggest plus of business ownership: You are now finally in charge of your own financial destiny.

Biggest drawback: You are in charge of everyone’s financial destiny.

Biggest business strength: Ability to be direct, honest, negotiable, goal oriented, involved hourly, daily and available on the phone.

Biggest business weakness: Trying to please everyone all the time at the same time.

Biggest risk: Not being able to please everyone all the time at the same time.

Smartest business decision: Hiring professionally attired drivers, friendly, energetic phone crews and offering bonuses to staff for new accounts. Choosing to work with great individuals, including Jody, Beth, Carlos and Glenn.

Biggest business mistake: Letting that guy selling perfume, watches and black-and-white wall art into our office.

Toughest career decision: It’s all tough. You’ve just got to make sure you’re having fun while you’re doing it.

Biggest ongoing challenge: Keeping my desk clean and preventing anyone from giving out the serial number to my copier.

The most important part of my business: The balance of time, money and service.

My business works best when: I’m answering and asking a lot of questions. Listening to what our clients are requesting. Promoting a quick, first-name, ‘Hi, where are we going’ service.

Best way to stay competitive: Watch, listen and change.

How I measure success: By how well does our staff know our clients; when a delivery request sounds like a personal phone call; when a new driver gets a client compliment; and when the sound of an incoming fax brings everyone running hoping one of their new accounts is coming through.


GOALS

Goals yet to be achieved: Business ventures and offering of discounts with organizations open to trade for services, products and/or entertainment credits for valuable employees.

My five-year business plan: Expansion of delivery requests and discounts to Los Angeles and Orange County.

I would sell my business only if: I couldn’t recall my clients’ names, remember the streets, ZIP codes and which drivers were close by the request.

Guiding principles I will continue to follow: If it’s a problem, fix it, and if you can’t fix it, delete the source.

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