Release Date: 15 November 2016
Release ID: 6041
AMI – the world’s largest airfreight and express wholesaler – celebrates its 40th birthday this month. Having expanded and evolved almost beyond recognition in its four decades of existence, the business nevertheless remains true to its original trade-only model.
Originally launched as part of the Air Marketing International group in 1976, the company split away in 1978 under founder and Managing Director Tony Realff. AMI’s unique trade-only concept found early favour with freight forwarders, who had previously co-loaded with larger forwarders which were often also competitors.
In its early years, AMI built strong trade lanes from its UK base to Australia, Africa, the Middle East and USA, using partner agents at destination to clear Customs, break bulk and handle local deliveries. Later, it completed its global coverage with the addition of destinations in South America and Asia.
AMI also developed multiple service options on all major destinations, using different carriers and routes to provide a choice of service levels to satisfy customers’ individual needs for speed and economy. The AMI printed tariff, comprising over 200 pages of rates, became known as the industry “Bible”, listing multiple services to almost 1000 destinations.
In 1986, the company launched a GSA (general sales agency) arm, to represent Continental Airlines Cargo in the UK. The success and closeness of the relationship that developed led to Continental buying AMI in 1987 – only to sell it back to Realff three years later, as part of a policy of returning to core business.
In 1986, AMI also launched AMI Express, providing airport-to-door and door-to-door services both for forwarders and couriers.
Realff and his team continued to develop the AMI business successfully until 1993, when it was sold to fast-expanding Menzies Aviation. Changing its name to Air Menzies International, but retaining its now-famous AMI identity, the business benefitted greatly from its new parent’s solid financial position, which opened the door to global expansion.
This initially took the form of acquiring its Australasia and USA partner, UAC (Universal Air Consolidators) in 2007, followed by its South African partner MMA in 2008. Further offices were opened in the USA, South Africa, India, Australia and Amsterdam – creating today’s network of AMI-owned operations in 27 locations.
Since 2000, AMI has pursued a determined policy of continuous online development, to improve its efficiency and enhance customer service through round-the-clock booking and tracking facilities. As a result, AMI is now the envy of most carriers, with some 40% of its cargo business quoted for and booked online. Its highly-developed web presence also enables its agent customers to react quickly to quote requests, and provide up-to-date status information 24/7.
Another shift in AMI’s business since the early days is the successful creation of two-way trade lanes between its various offices. AMI has also successfully responded to rates volatility in the industry, with the launch of spot rate desks at many of its locations. These ensure that customers are provided with the keenest possible rates on the day of booking, and their popularity is reflected in the 45% of all AMI bookings that are now handled in this way.
Perhaps the biggest change in AMI during its 40-year history is the fact that rates are no longer the sole driver for most of its business: convenience is now at least as important. Sharon Wright, AMI’s VP – Europe, is the company’s longest-serving employee, having started working for it just months after its launch. She has witnessed the company’s evolution at first hand: “When we first launched AMI, it was all about offering the lowest rates. By consolidating cargo from different agents, we qualified for the lower carrier rates at higher breakpoints, and passed the savings back to our agent customers. We took this further, building our own pallets and mixing dense cargo with volume cargo to optimise the yield from every unit.
“But the market changed, and we found ever greater demand for back-to-back shipments – each with its own air waybill. At the same time, fierce competition among carriers has driven rates down, eroding some of the significant differential we once provided - so we have had to innovate to continue adding value to the supply chain, and so maintain our role.
“We realised long ago that our job is to keep the smaller agent in the game, by making them more efficient and agile. That means, for example, being able to take over responsibility for collections and deliveries, providing centralised drop-off points and security screening away from congested airport terminals, giving faster and all-inclusive quotes, and making bookings easier. We can now provide all the physical support agents need, so they can focus on winning business and taking care of their customers.
“Our recently-launched Quote&Book portal is only accessible by AMI approved agent customers. Entering just a few shipment details provides immediate quotes on a range of carriers for consolidation or direct AWB service. Customers requiring additional services can also request these via the site, and their quotes can be printed or emailed, and are stored on the system for easy conversion to a subsequent booking.”
She concludes: “I’ve enjoyed every minute of my career with AMI thus far, and I’m immensely proud that we have left a unique and lasting mark on the landscape of the airfreight industry. AMI has helped thousands of freight forwarders to maintain their competitive edge against the large multi-nationals, and I am confident we’ll continue to do so for the next forty years!”
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