‘I deal in solutions’

  5 August 2021  |    Interview

Rapid Logistics is undoubtedly a shining star at Schiphol Logistics Park. The company was established in 1989 and director Michiel Rodermond was right there in the beginning. “What was important then is just as important now: there’s no such thing as ‘no’.”

“I left school at 16 and immediately ended up working in logistics. Okay, we didn’t call it that then, and the way things were done was very basic compared to now. But I brought things from A to B and we still do that. An air courier… that’s what it was called when I did it in the ’80s. I flew all over the world every day, from place to place, with courier shipments. It’s a shame that airmiles weren’t really a thing then, because I covered huge distances. And I did this for a long time, only taking a breather for a few years in the early ’90s. I ended up in Bali, where I started a business in beach chairs and parasols. I met my wife there and our first child was born there. But by 1995 the itch had returned. I brought my family back to the Netherlands so I could return to working happily in logistics.”

Complete service
“Rapid was just a small office at that time, just the three of us. But we were instantly thinking big: we didn’t just sell transport; it was a complete service. We were available 24/7, on standby to transport anything abroad in no time at all. We even had a pool of people who were packed and could be at Schiphol within 45 minutes, ready, for example, to jump on the first flight to Karachi to deliver a computer component. That complete service paid off. Customers eagerly embraced the creative and endless solutions we came up with. One thing was important to me then and it still is now: there’s no such thing as ‘no’! Everything is possible but you need to be ready and willing!”

“By everything, I literally mean everything. Nothing was too crazy. In less than 15 hours we collected 150,000 windscreen wipers from GE in France and flew them to Detroit by courier. We’ve flown baby elephants from Tanzania to zoos around the world. The crazier the better. But the craziness wasn’t simply about achieving that extraordinary transport; it was a way to create a springboard and being able to bring in other, less urgent shipments, be it by air or sea. Less spectacular shipments, but still important shipments. A means to generate mass, or rather volume.”

“In 2007 we changed our name from Rapid Air Couriers to Rapid Logistics. In that year we were able to take on logistics for a real tech giant. We already knew the customer. He’d come to us before for emergency transports. But now we also got to take care of their air and sea freight. That’s the springboard effect I was talking about! In comparison to how things had gone with their previous carrier, the customer had different ideas about how the operations and processes should be run. He was wanting something a bit more ‘Rapid’. We really learned a lot from that collaboration. And the relationship with this customer – in fact, all of our customers – is much more of a partnership than the old-fashioned customer-supplier relationship. As a company, we’ve grown substantially because of this attitude. In 2007 we just had a small hall of 4,000 square metres; today we have more than 35,000 square metres.”

Electric scooters
“Somewhat by chance, Rapid became a player in e-mobility, electric bikes and scooters, and other market players were quick to find us. My business partner René Hendricks had been in talks with Uber and Lime for some time. They wanted to roll out shared scooters in European cities. Once that was sorted, we’d take the scooters to the various locations and even take care of the return logistics. We even carry out maintenance of the scooters and bikes at Schiphol.”

“We’re also looking at solutions for urban distribution using e-vehicles. There’s scope for enormous growth there, partly due to the growth of e-commerce. Central warehouses are needed around the city, where the carriers can deliver goods and collect returns. From there, Rapid can take care of the final mile and spread out across the city to collect returns.
We always think in terms of solutions. For example, there’s a problem with flows around the Schiphol region – everyone who knows Schiphol will know what I mean. I’m busy thinking up creative solutions to tackle this. There are already some plans on the table to put this problem behind us once and for all.”