Bernie Kinsella, CEO, WorldBOX.ie
Name: Bernie Kinsella, CEO, WorldBOX.ie
Employees: 19, and 80 sub-contractors (drivers)
Company Background: Thinking outside the box is something Bernie Kinsella has literally made a business of.
It was a query from a corporate customer at Wheels Couriers that really brought it home for Bernie as to how difficult it is for regular people to send a package abroad.
It’s a business Bernie knows well from working in logistics since the late 1990s – where she is still in the driving seat at Wheels Couriers as well as being involved in her new start-up WorldBOX.ie
Having started out in marketing medical software, Bernie has been working at Wheels Couriers since 1998, and bought shares in the company in 1999. In 2000, the company was sold to An Post and was a subsidiary of that organisation for eight years. She bought the company back in 2008 with hands-on business partners Joe Brannick and Philip Evans.
While corporates are long used to dealing with international shipping, it can be uncharted waters for consumers.
Targeting tourists, immigrants, emigrants and families of emigrants, WorldBOX.ie aims to bring to consumers an easy-to-access service in a saturated market. “It’s a shipping service, but it’s the service around it that makes it unique,” says Bernie.
Rather than facing the unknown of how much a box will cost to ship abroad, and indeed where to buy one and how to get it to a post office, WorldBOX.ie gives the customer everything they need.
Boxes are ordered and paid for online in advance, delivered to the door when it suits the customer, collected when they’re ready, and then dispatched.
The set-up has been a hard slog, and one of the more amusing learnings along the way, according to Bernie, was when they got 3,000 boxes delivered to their offices – and realised they needed somewhere to store them.
Thanks to the establishment of the new business, 2.5 extra jobs have been created. WorldBOX.ie is supported in many ways by a longstanding team. Through the development of the new company, Bernie has been delighted to see the core staff develop their own skills while helping to grow a successful business. They have brilliant suggestions – because they’re consumers themselves.
Interview with Bernie Kinsella
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
It was a customer complaint. A [corporate] customer asked could she ship something for herself – a book. By the time we got it in, processed it and shipped it, the cost of the shipping was a multiple of the value of the item. Afterwards, she said “If I had known that was going to cost €40 I wouldn’t have shipped it.” Of course you wouldn’t. The way that business works, when you take it in you have to DIM [dimensional weight] it. You have to measure it length by breadth, and volumetric it. Even though it could be 2kg on a kitchen scales, its volume out could be 10kg. For a consumer, it’s very hard to understand. I thought “There has to be an easy way for people.” They have to know the cost before it goes (once the boxes do not exceed the dead weight). A customer has to go to a delivery depot or something, whereas with a corporate the van arrives for them.
How did you initially fund your business?
With our own resources. Wheels Couriers is doing really well. It’s cash rich. We’re very lucky. We have the same staff, we don’t need vehicles, we don’t need anything else.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
This is our first consumer-based product. Our original business was Wheels Couriers, which is established 20 years.
What have been the highlights to date?
The first one was when the first skin of the website arrived. It looked like we thought it was going to look. We were high-fiving because it’s so hard to get across your concept to techies.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
It’s the buzz of the achievement – to see it go from an idea to something on the shelf has been fantastic. Growing a successful business that you can stand over and be proud of, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
There’s only one way: solid reliable childcare. I leave early at 6.45am, so I can get home for the homework. My husband does the school run and he works late into the evening. I’m not sporty at all, but I took up running two years ago as it’s the only thing that’s family friendly. You can run 15 minutes one way and run as fast as you can to get home. I take a decent summer holiday and log in every day. I have three children under 12.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I loved watching Smiles Dental’s rapid growth. I thought it was brilliant to see it, and the brand is fantastic. There are brilliant women out there in business: Cathriona Hallahan, the Managing Director of Microsoft and Breege O’Donoghue, ex-director of Penneys.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
I had worked in the software industry for a couple of years before Wheels Couriers. If you really understand that using software can be advantageous to your business, it’s unbelievable. We’ve cut out processes that were manual. Being able to get information from the data you have if you have the right reporting system. Using the technology with the products we have is real value added for our customers.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
There’s only one way, and that’s sitting down talking to them and seeing the whites of their eyes. You can’t sit behind a desk all day. You have to go out on the road yourself. You have to speak to customers yourself. You have to listen to them. They love to tell you what’s happening in their market, and the industry as well. Facebook is market research untapped. We are finding it fantastic.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The nightmare 2008 recession. Revenues and margins were dropping like stones. It was slash and burn. We [Wheels Couriers] were considered a luxury good straight away, not a necessity. What we had to do was throw the silver overboard to stay afloat and keep investing in our technology. It was tough. We had cash luckily, but we were faced with the question, do we keep the cash or keep investing?
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
For small business, it’s challenges like corporate governance. It frightens the life out of small businesses. Big words like data protection, employee legislation, health and safety. It’s the formality, the structure around that, and the cost involved that’s really difficult for small businesses.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
Naturally, I’m a good networker. It’s not just from a sales point of view, but listening to people and their experience – taking it in and seeing if we can develop it.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
The freedom to run it the way you want to run it. It’s diverse, there are challenges.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
I had a conversation with a business mentor as part of Action Coach, organised by AIB. It was one of the best things I ever did. He told me a story about a woman who ran a really successful business, but the company would never reach its full potential because she was happy with it as it was. Three weeks later, I was in the car driving and it dawned on me that he was talking about me. I realised I needed a challenge again.
How did you scale/grow your business?
Service, sales, shoe leather, SLAs, technology. Hard, hard work. Keeping your service levels up. It was a year of really hard work to set up WorldBOX.ie.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
At the height of the recession there were few barriers to entering our market. Anybody with a car could drive. Corporate buying criteria went out the window. Our staff have uniforms and are fully vetted and, for a lot of our customers, it became about price. We were competing with one man with a van.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
Talking to people. I find that people, especially those who are really good in business, are only too happy to talk to you and give you their ideas.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s a fantastic sector.
What’s your vision for the future?
For WorldBOX.ie to be a household name in Ireland and the UK.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
There’s an old boss of mine, and I listen to my children about technology. And really, your gut instinct is one of your best mentors as an entrepreneur.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Surround yourself with good people.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Research, research, research. When you get it up and running, look after all of the main sales yourself. When you’re out there, you’re researching, you’re listening and you’re learning.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
“The harder you work, the luckier you get.” It’s so true. One of the quotes I use – it’s not so much motivational as organisational, and is again from one of the courses with AIB – is “Eat the frog.” Get the worst task of your “To do” list off your desk, first thing.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
When it comes to a big piece of investment, get three quotes. Look at the value added from a supplier. Often, what costs them nothing is a huge bonus for you. Do your research properly. We’re terrible in small business at going for comfort and the people we like.
Article appeard on AIB Business Articles 11 November 2014