Two Brits deliver the goods with US courier service

At first sight, Hugh FitzWilliam-Lay easily fits the cliche of the typical Brit import in New York. He is tall and good looking and has the kind of accent that Americans fall for. But when asked at parties about his profession, Hugh's line departs from the stereotype. Neither writer nor banker, he is in fact a postman.

The description is accurate if hardly adequate. In fact, Mr FitzWilliam- Lay is president of a courier business that was recently listed as one of America's fastest-growing private companies by Inc Magazine. Called Citipost, it will soon be in 16 US cities and recently opened shop in London.

Citipost is run jointly out of a modest West Manhattan warehouse by Mr FitzWilliam-Lay and his partner and the company's chief executive officer and founder, Richard Trayford, another Brit. Launched in 1991 with an investment of $19,500, its revenue this year should exceed $18m - that represents growth over five years of 1,664 per cent.

This being New York, however, Citipost's journey has not been without bumps. There was the embarrassment of one of their employees being nabbed two years ago as the mastermind of a $1.9m Tiffany's diamond heist. Much more awkward, however, have been their brushes with the Manhattan Mafia.

They make an intriguing pair. "Ex-greasy rocker meets Toff," suggests Mr Trayford, 33, who, after being expelled from Devizes Comprehensive, was a bass guitarist with aspirations to rock'n roll fame before stumbling into the delivery industry after a spell as a motorcycle courier in London.

Mr FitzWilliam-Lay, 31, by contrast, studied computer sciences at Edinburgh University and came to New York, via a brief modelling stint in Japan, to help the Economist magazine computerise its accounts in America. Before meeting Richard, he worked as a chef in the trendy mid-town restaurant Vong.

Their secret: offering an overnight, proof-of-delivery, mailing service for volume mail that is exempt from the statutes that give monopolies for ordinary letter carriage to government postal services like the US Mail and, in Britain, the Royal Mail. In practice, this means a lot of printed material from financial institutions as well as media and entertainment companies.

The principle distinction of Citipost, however, is its low-low prices. Rather than attempting to deliver everywhere, like the US Mail or the mega-courier companies like Federal Express, Citipost operates exclusively between cities and between business districts within those cities. "We don't do the farms or the suburbs," Mr FitzWilliam-Lay explains.

Nor does Citipost have huge fleets of lorries and aircraft. Parked against the wall of their Manhattan warehouse are rows of tri-carts - small metal trollies that Citipost employees haul around the sidewalks of Manhattan. For inter-city and international carriage commercial airlines do the work.

The strategy now is breakneck growth. By reaching abroad - aside from London, Citipost is in Frankfurt and will soon be in Hong Kong - the company hopes to tap into the flood of exempt mail coming into America. Incredibly, 17 per cent of all business-to-business mail entering the US from abroad is bound for addresses on Manhattan Island. New clients even include some monopoly state mail services, including those of Denmark and Switzerland.

"We intend to spread all over Europe and to key points in Asia," says Mr Trayford. "Once you decide to keep growing you cannot just stop. Hopefully we will become big enough that the reward will be at the end of the rainbow." The implied treasure will be the proceeds of eventually going public.

The two Brits laugh now about the diamond heist. It was perpetrated by one of their couriers who happened to have the flagship Tiffany's store on Fifth Avenue on his daily route. In the two weeks before the police finally caught up with him, he continued making his daily calls at the shop.

On their tangles with the Mafia, they are, not surprisingly, more circumspect. They suspect, however, that their main competition in New York, three other exempt-mail courier companies, are all fronts for the feared Lucchese organised crime family.

But while they have been intimidated verbally, no physical harm has come either to themselves or the business.

"The only reason they ignore us is that with their courier companies they want to maintain a public appearance of propriety and they have to turn over their cash," Mr Trayford ventures. "The atmosphere in the industry, though, is that there is absolute corruption going on."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before