‘Custodians first and carriers later’

‘Custodians first and carriers later’

When we think of successful home grown logistics companies, the first name that comes to our mind is Safexpress. Suja Nair reveals the modus operandi of their services to the niche healthcare segment and their future plans

“We strongly believe in being ‘custodians first and carriers later’. All our vehicle fleet is equipped with GPS tracking technology. We take end-to-end responsibility of safe and timely delivery of the consignments and are very accountable to our customers. Also, we identify the diverse logistics requirements of various verticals
and customise the solutions according to the clients’ needs”

– Pawan Jain Chairman and Managing Director


Logistics plays a vital role in the global economic cycle as it bridges the gap between the manufacturer and the retailer. It is the process of planning, implementing, and controlling the efficient, effective flow and storage of goods, services, and related information from point of origin to the point of consumption for the purpose of conforming to customer requirements. One such global player in the domestic logistics industry who satisfies all the needs of its consumers is Safexpress. It has won many awards and accolades in the long run, the recent one being the Amity Corporate Excellence Award.

With an investment of Rs 1 crore, Safexpress began its journey in 1997 as a national company. The business unit began as a small entity with nine offices, 12 vehicles covering four routes and 20 employees, and since then, there has been no looking back. Today, growing at a phenomenal rate of more than 30 percent year on year, Safexpress is a Rs 500 crore organisation and aims to attain Rs 1000 crore turnover by 2010. The company has 41 hubs and super hubs, around 2500 employees and a fleet of 3300 GPS equipped, weatherproof, ISO-9002 certified containerised vehicles covering 5,00,000 km daily. These vehicles are serving over 550 destinations and delivering 36 million packages an year. The warehousing space of Safexpress exceeds three million square feet. Safexpress has strongly established itself as the leaders of the logistics and supply chain industry.

Eyeing the future

Healthcare segment is one of Safexpress’s special focus area which contributes 16 percent of the revenue. With more than than 100 percent customer retention rate Safexpress has always given due importance to the demands of their customers. Aiming at expansion, they are investing heavily in infrastructure development and will soon be coming up with 32 logistics parks and will be adding seven million square feet of warehousing capacity. The investment is planned for a total of Rs 1000 crore in infrastructural development in the next three years. Pawan Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, Safexpress, says, “We have plans for expanding our specialised logistics product range. This range would be specifically designed for the healthcare industry after thoroughly analysing its needs. Apart from offering our multi-modal services, we will be providing single window solutions and, along with managing the logistics channel end-to-end from distribution channels to pharmacy or patient level. We would be offering specialised logistics solutions to the rural healthcare, customised pharma and cold warehouses pan-India, packaging solutions, implementing bar-coding to prevent spurious drugs and offering solutions as per regulatory norms like GDP, US FDA, MHRA and GCCDP.”

With a view to provide customised logistics services for booming retail industry Safexpress also sponsored the ninth Marketing and Retail Conclave. The conference saw the presence of leading retail players from all across the world. Vineet Kanujia, General Manager Marketing, Safexpress said, “The idea behind sponsoring this conclave was to bring the retail and logistics industries closer. Safexpress has been at the helm in harnessing and synergising the needs of the retail industry for the growth of the economy. We have successfully managed to gather the required inputs and the coming period will see us roll out these plans.”

Safety and confidentiality measures

Safety has always been a top priority for Safexpress, especially when handling pharmaceutical products, as they need extra precaution and measures. According to Jain, “We strongly believe in being ‘custodians first and carriers later’. All our vehicle fleet is equipped with GPS tracking technology. We take end-to-end responsibility of safe and timely delivery of the consignments and are very accountable to our customers. Also, we identify the diverse logistics requirements of various verticals and customise the solutions according to the clients’ needs. Even our very first customers are still with us. This goes on to show the quality of service that we provide to our customers.” As a professional logistics company, they are very careful while dealing with companies having similar product portfolios. As a corporate policy, they believe that they not only carry the product of their clients but also carry their corporate brand image. And that is the main reason their clients return to them. Some of their top-notch clients in the healthcare sector are Ranbaxy, GlaxoSmithKline, Dabur, Lupin, Organon, WHO, Allergan, Wyeth, Novartis, etc.

Challenges faced

Logistics is not an easy industry to be in, and above all, dealing with healthcare logistics is definitely not a layman’s job. You need to have in-depth knowledge and good expertise in this area to maintain quality and authenticity of these products. Healthcare logistics segment is highly specialised and extremely diverse with their own share of problems and challenges. Though the share of pharma retail segment, comprising 5.7 lakh chemist dealers, is very small when compared to the entire retail industry, the concept is fast catching up. As the logistics requirement of this segment is different from that of the chemists, there is a higher scope for innovation for service providers like Safexpress. Jain opines, “Our initial challenge was in terms of getting a thorough understanding of this vertical and then offering separate specialised logistics solution for its different sub-segments. This was necessary as each segment had a completely different logistics requirement and demanded different handling.”

Apart from this challenge the main trouble was handling biological drugs. The logistics solutions for carrying any biological drugs involves super specialised standard operating procedures (SOPs) and sophisticated handling as compared to logistics for routine pharmaceutical products. Biological drugs mainly comprise of vaccines, antigens, hormones, cytokines, enzymes that demand unbroken cold chain logistics solutions, where the desired temperature has to be maintained consistently as per its pharmacological stability requirements. The human blood and blood components logistics demands are more stringent in terms of maintaining cold chain and doing temperature mapping.

Divide and rule

To simplify the complex work of handling the niche area of healthcare, it is further bifurcated into eight sub segments, ie biomedical engineering devices (BMED) segment comprising medical imaging, tissue engineering, bioinformatics, clinical engineering and medical devices; diagnostic equipments segment (DE); surgical disposables and instruments segment (SDI); alternate and traditional medicine segment (ATM); modern medicine segment (MM) comprising pharmaceuticals, bio-pharma, biotech, OTC’s, molecular, API and bulk drugs; biotherapy and lifestyle drugs segment (BLD); bio hazardous segment, and lastly, the most popular and the most demanding, temperature and time sensitive/cold chain segment (TATS) comprising clinical trial drugs, biotech cultures, biological drugs i.e., vaccines, serums, enzymes etc.

They are focused in terms of offering their logistics services to this specialised vertical and also have a separate in-house team headed by a qualified healthcare logistics expert and specialist. The services are totally customised as per the demand of different sub-segments of the healthcare industry. Jain adds, “For the sub-segments such as BMED, BLD and DE we offer specialised and systematic logistics solutions, warehousing and reverse logistics solutions. For the TATS segment we offer temperature sensitive qualified shipper boxes, cold pharma warehousing solutions, as the requirements are more specialised. Whereas for ATM and MM Segment, which still largely prefer conventional transporters and truckers offering cost-effective and risky solutions, we provide our multi-modal logistics solutions.”

Regulation in logistics

Manufacturing and marketing of drugs needs FDA approval, but what about the logistics part? Efficacy and effectiveness of a drug is also dependant on how it is handled. As per international FDA standards it can be understood that any mishandling of a biological drug can lead to pharmacological changes in its salt content in terms of its stability. Jain clarifies, “It is the manufacturers who have to abide by the FDA norms and not the logistics companies. However, there is still a wide gap between US-FDA and Indian central Drug Regulatory Authority’s (DRA) norms and guidelines. In fact, the DRA guidelines for pharma manufacturers are not very well implemented or for that matter not very well defined.” The Indian Drug Regulatory authorities still do not have a process of accessing logistics norms. Due to the absence of logistics regulatory standards and stringent norms in India, many of the pharma manufacturers prefer sending drugs through conventional transporters and truckers. He further says, “However, the Indian healthcare industry is slowly witnessing a paradigm shift in terms of biosafety of drugs with respect to the mode of logistics used for their movement. The trend is changing with more and more providers opting for specialised supply chain and logistics providers like us.”

The current logistics scenario in the healthcare segment to an extent is still primitive. The pharma retail segment is a very promising and upcoming segment. “The opportunities from the logistics perspective are very high as most of the pharmacy retail players are approaching the third party logistics service providers to provide them with effective logistics solutions for the smooth functioning of the back-end operations,” Jain concludes.