'Without automation we'd have to raise £5m'
The entrepreneur behind luggage delivery service Send My Bag credits technology with driving his company’s success – and says it will continue to be key to its rapid plans for growth.
CEO Adam Ewart founded the firm in 2010 after he was charged £50 for excess baggage on a short trip from Northern Ireland to London Gatwick and back in order to help his returning girlfriend get her suitcases home.
People can use the Send My Bag platform to send their luggage to a destination – such as a hotel or sports complex – then back home again rather than taking it with them on a flight.
Ewart says its customers range from families going on holiday to the elderly and disabled, amateur golfers and skiers, professional athletes, business travellers and international students.
A winner of the Queen's Award for Enterprise this year, the firm – which appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2012 and is headquartered in Bangor, Northern Ireland – will handle more than a quarter of a million bags in 2017 with a staff of just 32.
“This business has been run from day one to be profitable. Without automation we would have double the staff we have now,” he told BusinessCloud.
“We used to have manual tracking on customers’ bags but it got to a point where you couldn’t have a real person doing that for every bag every day, so we built a system which tracked them automatically.
“Then we asked: how do we interpret the tracking? So we had the system place customers’ orders into folders corresponding to whether they were going well and required no manual intervention, or required intervention and were therefore flagged up.
“We then took it a stage further: what manual action has been taken? How do we automate that?
“Over the last six months we've looked a lot at how we can resolve issues for our customers automatically – that has been our biggest time-saver.”
Such an issue might be a missed bag collection. Send My Bag’s automated platform would determine why that has happened – such as ‘force majeure’ if a heavy snowfall prevented a driver getting up a mountain – and converse with the customer to reschedule the pick-up.
“That would previously have been resolved with a conversation, but the customer experience is improved by not having to pick up the phone and explain the situation to us,” said Ewart.
Turnover is “in the millions”, he says – and there are plans to handle a million bags a year within two to three years.
All this with only £100,000 minority seed investment back in 2012 from Lough Shore Investments.
“It’s expensive to manually support customers 24 hours a day,” he said. “We could get to a million without automation but it would mean raising £5m investment and having 100 people.”
Ewart estimates that the current staff of 32 will only have to increase by 50-70 per cent to double the number of bags it handles annually to 500,000 – then by a further 40-50 per cent to get to a million.
“Every quarter we are becoming more efficient thanks to technology,” he said.
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