Opening up the post: Five companies that would like to snatch a slice of the Royal Mail's monopoly on letters

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TNT

Australian-based company founded in 1946 by Ken Thomas as Thomas Nationwide Transport.

Now: Worldwide sales of Aus$2.8bn and 31,000 staff.

UK: 35 depots and 8,500 staff.

Plans: No interest in competing for just a month. But says it is interested in setting up a rival operation to the Royal Mail if the monopoly is lifted permanently. Says it would offer a nationwide service at a uniform price and possibly install orange post- boxes to collect the mail. Would seek subsidies and a duopoly arrangement similar to that of BT and Mercury.

DHL

Founded 1969 in San Francisco by Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn (D, H and L). Started flying shipping documents to and from Hawaii.

Now: operates in 223 countries with 31,000 staff.

Performance: 1994 sales of $3.1bn

UK: 46 offices, employing 2,700 people handling 14 million parcels a year.

Plans: Core business is international express delivery: "We will have extra people to handle extra volumes, which have risen by 15-25 per cent in previous strikes." Supports a uniform postal service at a uniform price. No current plans to introduce a domestic mail delivery service.

Federal Express

Founded in the late 1960s by American Fed Smith who saw the need for an overnight delivery service.

Now: Offers package and delivery service in the US and 192 countries but specialises in intercontinental deliveries. No domestic service in UK or within Europe. Total staff: 107,000.

UK: 1,000 staff, mainly out of depots in Stansted and Prestwick.

Performance: 1995 sales, $9.4bn. Profits: $298m

Plans: "It's not really our market. The Post Office is a pretty good operation and offers a good service when you compare it with others around the world."

UPS

United Parcel Services was founded as a telephone message service in 1907 by Seattle teenagers Jim Casey and Claude Ryan. Took early decision to paint all vehicles brown.

Now: Operates in more than 200 countries with 320,000 staff.

Performance: 1994 sales, $17.2bn

Plans: "UPS will not step in and offer a solution to the strike situation and I do not want to raise consumer expectation that we will do so," explained Colin Beesley, the UK marketing director. "We don't see this as an opportunity. In just a month no one would be able to put that kind of infrastructure in place."

Hays

British transport and distribution group, already operates one of the country's biggest private postal networks, called Britdoc.

Now: Service has 28,000 members, such as banks, building societies, law firms and NHS trusts and handles 750,000 items each night. Service costs two-thirds the price of first-class post. Members drop off and fetch their post at 1,200 collection points around Britain.

Plans: Hays says it is taking on new customers at the rate of 250 a week. But the chairman, Ronnie Frost, is wary of strike-breaking.

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