In our series of interviews with business leaders about their journey so far and plans for future success, we speak to Anthony Birchall, director and co-founder of gifts.ie, an online personalised gift delivery service based in Dublin.
Gifts.ie was founded by Anthony Birchall, who has a background in IT, and his brothers John and Joseph in 2004. The business has been one of Ireland’s e-commerce pioneers and prides itself on fast delivery times and excellent customer service.
What is your business’s elevator pitch?
“We supply high-quality, personalised gifts throughout Ireland and worldwide, both for individuals and corporate customers. I suppose our USP is time to market: all of our orders are occasion based – whether for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas – so everything is time sensitive. Our guarantee is that, if you order before 4pm, it will be made and shipped the same day.
A lot of companies do quick deliveries, but there is a huge difference between picking an item off the shelf and sending it off and what we do. About 85% of our orders go from the sender of the gift directly to the recipient – so they need to be presented differently. They need to be packaged nicely, and have a personalised greeting message, for example.
“Some of the personalised services we do, whether it’s jigsaws, embroidery or laser-engraving, take time to carry out – so the processes we have put in place to be able to deliver these types of gifts quickly are very important.”
What was the key motivation and raison d’être behind your business?
“When we started the business in 2004, we saw that gift giving wasn’t done online at all in Ireland, but the market potential was huge.
“Today, about 50% of our personal business comes from Irish abroad: people sending gifts home to their friends and family, such as photo gifts of grandchildren. Mother’s Day is our second most popular occasion outside of Christmas as there are so many people sending gifts home from abroad.
“Even back in the 1990s at college, I could see the potential of online commerce. We were lucky in starting up so early, because we got a great domain name. We do really well on organic search; when people Google birthday or Christmas gifts, we always come up number one.”
Looking back now at the early stages of your business, would you do anything differently leading the business?
“We probably would have made the move into quicker deliveries sooner if it had been possible – but it’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of the production processes we now use for personalisation were not available at the time.
“Hard work is involved in every order that comes in, but it’s really important to be involved in that stage rather than just acting as a distributor”
“I’ve also learned the importance of bringing on key staff at an early stage. In those days, there were a couple of areas where we needed key people to help us, for example in sales and marketing.”
What’s your driving force – what keeps you motivated to drive the business on?
“On a daily basis, paying the bills is a driving force. But the biggest motivator is, when I go down to the floor, there are so many stories behind every order: each one has a story or sentiment.”
What does achievement and success look like for your business?
“It’s a question of keeping people happy. If someone places an order with us, we process the order and send it out to the recipient. And if that recipient is touched by their gift and thanks the sender, we have a customer for life.
“The development of our staff is also important. It’s great to see when they get into the hot seat, they are able to take over – so when the volumes are high at Christmas, they’re capable of managing their own teams.”
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given?
“We were told early on that we should put greater focus on the quality of our products and our customer feedback. This means there is hard work involved in every order that comes in, but it’s really important to be involved in that stage rather than just acting as a distributor.”
What has been your proudest achievement with your business to date?
“Last autumn we moved into a new 10,000 square-foot premises, which has been an incredible challenge. It took all summer to work out the legal details, so the last six months have been non-stop. But we had a great Christmas, and we increased our volumes and our sales significantly because we were in a larger space. It has put us on a great course for the future.”
Your approach as a leader is best described how?
“I’d say hands-on, for one – l like going down to the shop floor several times a day and being with staff and helping them. I also like to delegate, but at the same time, I like to be available and to encourage people. It’s about getting that balance right.”
How are you preparing and planning for Brexit in your business?
“We import a lot of lines now directly from Asia, but for smaller-line items that we wouldn’t be able to order by the container load, we still rely on a lot of suppliers in Ireland and also in the UK – I’d say it’s 50/50.
“When the UK EU referendum came up, we were really worried about it. But the more we talk to our suppliers in the UK, the more we are taking a wait-and-see approach. The fact is we just don’t know what to plan for.”
Parting shot: what’s next for your business?
“The new facility will allow us to continue to grow – we were really on top of ourselves in our last premises. And 60% of our customers order on mobile now so we’re looking at the development of a dedicated app.”
Source: Business Achievers