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Messenger Outfits Feared Doom, Then Saw Opportunity In The Big Fax Attack

August 6, 1989

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ At first it appeared the facsimile machine would duplicate efforts provided by messenger service firms, which feared their fleet-footed couriers would follow the demise of the telegram man.

As it turned out, the buzzing and clicking of the fax machine was the sound of money for messenger services.

From Los Angeles to New York, messenger services have entered the age of the fax, diversifying their businesses to cover fax services and improving their own billing and other company chores with fax assistance.

″The fax machine has helped us in many ways,″ said Mike Barbata, vice president and general manager of Jet Delivery Inc., a Los Angeles messenger service. ″We’ve got them in our office, and they’ve actually helped improve cash flow.″

The fax machine, which transmits documents over telephone lines, has grown enormously popular among American businesses. The number of machines in use jumped from about 500,000 in 1987 to more than 1 million last year, said industry consultant John F. Malone of The Eastern Management Group.

Malone said he expected fax machines to become cheaper and easier to operate, making them even more common. He predicted about 8 million machines would be in operation by 1995.

Many messenger services saw business drop by more than 10 percent in the early months of the fax boom, when businesses ranging from law offices to delicatessens began using the machines instead of couriers.

″We were worried,″ said Patty Nusser, vice president of Marathon Courier Service Inc. of Irvine. ″We did think in the beginning that it would affect business.″

But Marathon and other messenger services soon discovered that the fax machine presented unforeseen opportunities.

For instance, many businesses either didn’t have fax machines or had bought machines and found that other businesses were without them. Messenger services were called on to fill the fax gap.

″Couriers started putting faxes in their offices, and they were actually building business instead of losing business,″ said Heather Bante, vice president of Public FAX of Orange, Calif., which publishes a fax directory and fax trade magazine.

At the same time, large firms found that once they bought fax machines, they had trouble using them. With more than a dozen units whirring in some businesses, office managers couldn’t keep up with the task of getting the right fax to the right person.

Recognizing this problem, Bullit Services Inc. of Brooklyn, N.Y., expanded its facilities management division, which helps offices get better control of their fax network by providing assistance and extra employees.

At Bullit, one of New York’s largest messenger services, 200 of the company’s 600 employees work for the facilities management division, said company President Nicholas P. Rozakis.

″When the information about faxes was just beginning to be available, we started to make moves into diversifying our business,″ said Rozakis. ″It didn’t hurt us a bit.″

Messenger services also found they could tidy up their own business operations by using faxes. Jet Delivery, for example, uses faxes to send new invoices to businesses that haven’t paid their bills.

″With a bank of about 4,500 accounts, it was always trouble collecting,″ said Barbata. ″Now, what used to take two or three days by mail only takes a few seconds by fax.″

Despite the advantages of faxes, there are still some things that just can’t be sent over telephone lines. Messenger services continue to deliver computer and machine parts, large blueprints and other packages.

″There are a lot of people who still want that package hand-delivered with a signature to make sure it got there,″ said Ms. Nusser of Marathon. ″That may never change.″

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