Options exist to reduce Island delivery costs

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Part III of a series

EDITOR’S NOTE: Manitoulin Island businesses and consumers have often raised concerns over the relatively high cost of shipping goods to the Island, especially when compared to farther distances on mainland. This series will explore why and what can be done. 

MANITOULIN—Delivering products to Manitoulin Island can be a hassle for those not coming in this direction already, something that Derek McKenzie knows well.

“I’ve worked in this business for 13 years. Everybody loses money on Manitoulin,” said Mr. McKenzie, co-owner of Sudbury-based IAW Courier Service, which services Manitoulin Island.

Mr. McKenzie said if shipments are not needed immediately, some couriers will offer a better rate if they can hold the package until a few more Island-bound deliveries pile up. Otherwise, making a whole trip to Manitoulin for one rush delivery would be extremely cost prohibitive for the end consumer.

“The problem with the Island and most areas outside Sudbury, it’s sparsely populated and covers a very big area,” said Mr. McKenzie.

He gave the example that paying a driver a day’s wages would likely be around $140 after the various taxes and deductions. Adding $60 in fuel costs brings the trip’s total to $200, so even with a load of eight packages at a rate of $25 each, the run would only break even. 

That figure does not account for the additional costs of insurance, maintenance and the purchase of replacement vehicles.

Jeff Bebonang of Island-based Jeff’s Taxi said a lot of his business involves same-day deliveries from Sudbury. 

“Every day, Monday to Friday, myself or another guy go to Sudbury early in the morning and make our way back just before noon,” he said. “If someone on Manitoulin calls me by 10 am, they’ll get their parcel by that afternoon. That’s what we base our delivery service on.”

He started the delivery portion of the business using a cube van, but that soon drew the attention of would-be competitors. At one time, said Mr. Bebonang, he had five competitors that were all pricing their services aggressively to secure business.

However, after downsizing the vehicle back to a minivan and keeping the taxi work alive, he has found stability.

“I’d say I always have seven or eight customers that call daily, sometimes more. Most of the stuff we bring back is automotive parts—there probably isn’t a garage on Manitoulin that doesn’t use us for that service,” he said, adding that municipal works departments are another big user.

The advantage for paying the same-day delivery charge of up to $40 through Jeff’s Taxi is that sending an employee from a garage or municipality would cost far more than the delivery charge.

“In all my 19 years of doing it, I’ve only had two people complain about the costs,” said Mr. Bebonang. 

One aspect of the courier business has been a major help for Mr. McKenzie and IAW Courier—he has an affiliation with both Greyhound and Ontario Northland, bus transportation lines that also offer parcel delivery services. 

His company offers customers delivery of their packages to these bus lines for their further distribution, as well as the option of collecting parcels from the companies’ Sudbury terminals and taking them to their final destinations.

It was relatively little-known that when Ontario Northland decided to run a bus service to Manitoulin Island, its Bus Parcel Express delivery service came along for the ride. Through it, packages could be dropped off at any of the communities that hosted bus stops. 

Ontario Northland offers a unique pricing option that it calls ONvelopes. Within a standard-sized box, shippers can fill the box as much or as little as needed and will be charged based on its weight.

For instance, a box weighing 10 pounds would cost just $12 to transport from Sudbury to Manitoulin, far less than a comparable courier service. Increasing the origin distance to North Bay only brings the price up to $16. For Sudbury deliveries of 30 pounds, the cost is $18 and for a 50-pound shipment the cost would be $23.

Islanders will remember that the short-lived Ontario Northland bus service to Manitoulin was discontinued in November 2019 after having started in April of 2018. The service was replaced with a taxi-based shuttle from Espanola to Little Current, with connections available to points farther onto the Island.

All In One Taxi assumed operations of the shuttle service this past November and owner Ken Niles said the transportation service is still business-as-usual—including parcel deliveries. Full details about using Bus Parcel Express can be found at OntarioNorthland.ca.

Ontario Northland is not the only delivery company to offer designated community parcel hubs. Purolator spokesperson Courtney Reistetter told The Expositor that the company provides its best shipping rates through partnerships with Purolator authorized shipping agents.

These agents “are local companies that accept deliveries for our customers to pick up from the company’s location in a single spot,” she said.

She listed the six Island partners: Robinson Auto Supply in Gore Bay, Bridal Veil Esso in Kagawong, Manitowaning Guardian Pharmacy, Buie’s Grocery in Spring Bay, Ward’s General Store in Tehkummah and Andy’s Shell in Wiikwemkoong.

“We would like to have a shipping agent partner in Little Current, though there are not any local businesses in Little Current interested at this time,” she concluded.

There are also web-based shipping search tools such as ShipTime.com which help businesses find the best-available rates, though not all options may be listed, such as local small-business couriers.

For long-time Islanders, the notion of having to pay more for goods and services because of the costs of bringing them to Manitoulin is an understood reality of Island life. Despite the temptation to shop off-Island for cheaper sticker, the economics often work out rather poorly when considering time and transportation costs.

“I don’t really know what we could do otherwise. We decided to live here, and these are the expenses we incur for making that decision,” said Andy Campbell of Campbell’s Heating, a company that does a lot of business with small Island courier businesses.

“I think it’s important to recognize the local guys to do it here,” he said. “I know they’re not making fistfuls of money doing this, as far as having a person driving a van to make deliveries. They deserve appreciation from the locals.”