Adam Ewart of Bangor-based sendmybag.com explains how an unpleasant journey to an airport and excess baggage charges when he got there gave him the idea for his business
"I started sendmybag.com in 2006. The idea behind my business? Basically, for a fixed fee we collect luggage from students' family homes and deliver it to halls or rented accommodation near to where they're studying. We do this within 48 hours, anywhere in the UK. Obviously, come the end of term or academic year, we can take students belongings back home for them.
"It takes the hassle out of moving stuff on public transport, which is hard work if, say, a student lives in Northern Ireland, yet studies in England or vice versa. Or, if a student lives in England but studies in Scotland or vice versa, it can save mum or dad a very long drive.
"There's a cost issue, too. If a student wants to fly home with heavy cases at the end of the year, they'll have to pay excess baggage, which isn't cheap. We charge £22 per 30kg case – £20 if the student has a UCAS card number. Anyone sending more than three items receives a 10 per cent discount.
"How did I come up with the idea for my business? I was over in Oxford visiting my girlfriend who was studying there. To get back to Northern Ireland, where we're from, we had to get from her halls to the coach station in Oxford with three heavy suitcases, then travel by coach to London to the airport and from the coach stop to check-in. It was hard going, to say the least.
"At check-in, we were hit with a hefty bill for excess baggage. I thought – 'what a rip-off'. Now it's even worse – with the budget airlines you can hardly take anything on board unless you pay extra.
"Anyway, I was angry and spoke to other young people on our flight, many of whom were also students going home for the holidays. Many of them had also been forced to pay excess baggage – but what other choice was there?
"On the plane, I began thinking of an alternative solution. Midway through the short flight, I had the answer: courier. I then scribbled down some numbers to question whether the idea was viable; £20 to £25 per case seemed affordable. It was about half what they would have to pay otherwise – either on excess baggage or by sending stuff by post.
"I know market research is important, but with what was to become sendmybag.com, I knew there was demand – I'd spoken to enough disgruntled people in the airport.
"Neither I nor my girlfriend nor any of our student friends knew of any existing service. I did some online research and couldn't find anyone, so I was confident there was no competition.
"I asked various national couriers for quotes – without revealing my business idea, of course, you must be careful. It turned out I could indeed charge £20-£25 per item and still make a profit.
"Within days I'd put together a business plan. I had a basic website built and away we went – it cost me about £100 all in. Admittedly, our market research wasn't comprehensive, but because I didn't have to invest loads of money, I took the plunge. One week later we were profiled on TV in Northern Ireland and we began to receive enquiries. It was exactly the right time of year, so we were lucky.
Cash and carry
"Before launching, I tried to think of reasons why the business might not work. I've also had people ask me why don't students simply just send their own luggage by courier. Well, it will cost them more, plus, they'll have to put in the time and effort, while all you need do is follow three easy steps on our website. Lastly, our service is ultra reliable – so why would someone bother doing it themselves when they might not get their stuff as quickly?
"Students are our target and core customers, but we attract business from other people, too. The business goes from strength to strength, but that's only been possible because my initial idea was a good one."
Adam's three key lessons
- "If you've done your homework and are confident you have a unique idea, get it to market quickly"
- "If your idea is good, don't unnecessarily delay launch by waiting for everything to be perfect. Improvements can be made later – but that's not an excuse for being sloppy or unprofessional"
- "Never launch a business without researching or having deep knowledge of your market"
This case study was first published in November 2009. Since then SendmyBag has gone from strength to strength. The company appeared on Dragons' Den in October 2012 and although it did not secure investment from the Dragons, it did attract the attention of another investor.