Courier delivers strong growth in competitive market

Inside Track: John Tuohy, chief executive, Nightline

What distinguishes your business from competitors?
With the exception of An Post we are the largest Irish-owned company in the parcel-delivery sector. Nearly all the rest of the companies in the sector are multinationals.

We launched the first parcel motel service in Ireland. People no longer have to wait at home to sign for packages, nor do they have to send deliveries to their workplace. They can collect them at a parcel motel, located at petrol stations and convenience stores around the country.

And your major success to date?
There have been several. We have doubled the size of our business between 2009 and 2013. We have increased employment nearly 50 per cent from 500 people four years ago to more than 700 now. We were a finalist in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards last year.

What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Trying to maintain a sustainable business despite ever changing circumstances. We started as an international courier and forwarding company. We had to re-organise the business to become a domestic provider. We morphed from an import/export business to a distribution business. We have had a lot of competition from multinational carriers who use overseas' profits to cross-subsidise their Irish operations. That has kept us on our toes.

The lack of postcodes in Ireland has also been a huge problem for us as it can take a long time to locate a particular address. People who live next door to each other in rural Ireland often have the same address. Couriers are hugely reliant on local knowledge to deliver packages.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in business?
We started out the business with £10,000 redundancy money in 1992 and we haven't had to seek investment as we controlled expansion for the most part.

However, our cash flow was under pressure when we were expanding.


Historically, main street banks weren't interested in financing software development except for Anglo, so you had to rely on day-to-day cash. Our cash flow came under huge pressure when we developed our own IT platform, known as Smartship. You learn as you go though.

Who do you most admire in business and why?
Cooley Distillery founder John Teeling. Seven of the businesses he started are quoted on the London Stock Exchange. He is not a celebrity entrepreneur – you don't see him on the news a lot – yet he has made a great contribution to Irish society.

What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
They need to continue to invest in and support local, small businesses as well as large multinational companies.

There should be equal investment in small start-ups and cottage industries. They often provide local employment in rural areas.
What was the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
The American entrepreneur Doug Richards said it doesn't matter how good your business idea is – it's the amount of money in your current account on any given day.

Do you think the banks are open for business at the moment?
We got financed by a private British bank so we were lucky. The banks seem to be advertising that they are open for business a lot, but at the same time no-one seems to be able to get loans.

How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We want to continue to build a sustainable business in a very competitive market. More people are shopping online now so we need to adapt our business to that. We now have parcel motel so people can collect from automated terminals.

How much is your business worth and would you sell it?
It's probably worth a lot but I have no plans to sell it as we're having too much fun running it.

In conversation with Pamela Newenham