A hamper is not just for Christmas
FUTURE PROOF:The downturn led to a dramatic change of customer base for Purcell’s firm
At the height of the boom, Emer Purcell supplied 30,000 hampers every year to companies around the State, but a fall in corporate demand following the downturn led her to diversify outside the corporate market, creating hampers for baby showers, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and other special occasions.
“We would have sent out 30,000 hampers a year up until 2008,” she says. “Then the downturn arrived and my corporate clients started suffering. I went back to what I was doing when I first set up – knocking on doors. Prior to 2009, I had never focused on the domestic market.”
Until the crash, the business relied mainly on the Christmas rush, with corporate clients ordering hampers as presents. Back then, Purcell was sending out 18,000 brochures a year, mainly to corporate clients, who made up 95 per cent of her customer base.
“Now we are a year-round business as opposed to a Christmas business. A lot of our turnover comes from Mother’s Day hampers, Valentine’s hampers, baby hampers, etc.”
Purcell started the business in a pub in west Cork in 1993 to occupy her spare time during quiet periods. She sourced products, including cheese and salmon, locally to put in the hampers and sold them to business people who had holiday homes in the area.
“One of my customers, who was a business owner, came in and said ‘I buy all my hampers from Harrods and I love yours. I want 300 of them, I’m going to send a van to collect them’. I knew I was on to something then.”
Purcell had worked as a race-horse trainer until the age of 30, but gave up the job to work in the pub. She left the pub in 1996 and dedicated herself 100 per cent to the hamper business.
“Prior to going fully into the hamper business, I took a year out to study equine acupuncture in China. Racehorses respond really well to acupuncture as they can’t be given drugs. My contacts in China helped my hamper business as I started sourcing baskets from there.
“I delivered hampers to the then Anglo Irish Bank in the back of a horsebox in 2003.”
Then the banking and property crash occurred. “In 2008, I knew some serious changes had to be made as my corporate clients were suffering and they were starting to pull back.
“A lot of my clients went out of business. It was very sad as I’d ring them and discover they were no longer in operation.”
Lower corporate demand led Purcell to examine her cost base and reduce the price of the hampers.
“I hit the road, went to festivals and found out what the public wanted and what they were willing to spend. Our hampers now cost between €10 and €50 on average. They used to cost between €100 and €200.”
However, while the spend is down, Purcell has noticed an increase in volumes. The company did just 100 hampers a year when she first set up; now it does thousands.
“Corporate clients now account for 40 per cent of our customers, having been surpassed by the number of domestic customers.”
The company also witnessed a major increase in sales through its online business. Some 80 per cent of the business now comes from online.
Purcell has also benefited from the mass emigration following the downturn.
“We’ve noticed a huge amount of hampers are being ordered for delivery abroad. They are mainly Irish hampers containing Tayto crisps, Barry’s tea, Ballymaloe relish, etc. It’s obviously parents sending the hampers to their kids who have emigrated.”
She has also seen a major increase in people ordering from Australia and America, which she puts down to people who have emigrated.
“Shipping costs have become more competitive. International shipping costs have been reduced, as have courier services within Ireland. We used to pay €14 to have a hamper delivered in Ireland, we now pay €6.”
The company sources over 350 types of gourmet food, delicacies and fine wines for its hampers, which are sold to corporate customers and private consumers around Europe, the US and other parts of the world.
“We have a lot of Irish artisan products in the hampers, but we also like to import items like pâté from France and pasta from Italy to keep hampers interesting.”
And the secret to her success, Purcell believes, is doing her utmost to keep the customer happy.