Inside Track: Perfectcard’s pre-paid debit cards avoid the voucher glitch

Nikki Evans has built business into largest shopping centre gift card player


What sets your business apart from the competition?
At the forefront of our business is that we put our customers first. We treat them well so that they’ll come back and buy more.

Also, we bring the security of a banking-type product into the retail environment. Unlike HMV vouchers for example, our products are regulated and the money is safeguarded.

All the money has to be kept in the equivalent of client accounts, so it can’t be touched in day-to-day operations. If we cease to exist, our cards will continue to work.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
To persevere. You’re always going to get some initial knocks, so it’s about perseverance.

To get the licence (from Mastercard) in the first place took about eight months, and it then took a while to sign up a shopping centre.

At the end of 2007, we got Dundrum Town Centre, and once we got them as a reference client it was easier to sign up other centres.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
The biggest mistake I’ve made is in hiring the wrong people. In a small company, you can’t carry any fat, and every role is crucial.

If you hire the wrong people who don’t have the skills or aren’t the right fit, you will see the consequences of that in a small company. You can think that it will sort itself out but it doesn’t – I’ve learned that the hard way.

If it’s not working out now, I would be more pro-active in ending the relationship.

And your major success to date?
That would be gaining the largest share of the shopping centre gift share market in Ireland.

Who do you most admire in business and why?
People who fail and pick themselves up and try again.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
They’re still not necessarily open for funding for small and medium businesses, unless they’re very much asset backed.

They're only lending over a two- to three-year period, which means that most of your cash flow will be going to service what you borrowed, which defeats the purpose of borrowing in the first place.

The impact of this lack of funding is that it hampers your growth potential. You have to expand organically and can only expand within what cash flow you can generate. I have seen a lot of businesses go under for want of working capital over seasonal periods.

What one piece of advice would you give to the Government to help stimulate the economy?
The Government has to mandate the banks to look at their lending terms for small to medium businesses over the medium term.

They also need to look at introducing business and entrepreneurship earlier in the education system. We have a lot on innovative technology but unless people are trained in how to commercialise it, it can be lost.

What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
The biggest challenge would have been earlier on in persuading Mastercard to give us a licence to use its platform.

How do you see the short term future for your business?
Growing the business is still tough, because a lot of businesses aren’t paying bonuses. But in the medium term, there are opportunities for the pre-paid business.

What’s your business worth and right now and would you sell it?
It’s only worth what someone would pay to buy it! Today I wouldn’t sell it, because there are some things I would like to do to add value first, but sometime in the future I would.

In conversation with Fiona Reddan