“The key to winning public tenders can be as simple as filling out the documentation early.

Alex Pigot set up what was to become Tico Mail Works in 1985, in an upstairs office in Dublin’s Deansgrange. The business supplies print, pack and post-personalised mail items such as bills, statements, legal notices and direct mail.

Now, with 30 years’ expertise in bulk mail production, and the capacity to pack in excess of a million pieces a week, it is the approved mailing house for companies such as Hewlett Packard, Vodafone and Diageo.

Alex Pigot, Tico Mail Works, Sandyford, Dublin 18

Pigot, a UCD computer science graduate, is a founding member of the Irish Direct Marketing Association and a former board director of its European counterpart. The company has ISO 9001 accreditation and has strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices, including an ethical sourcing policy. It is based in Sandyford, Dublin 18.

What’s your business’s elevator pitch?

We supply, print, pack and post-personalised mail items such as bills, statements, legal notices and direct mail. An example of what we post that some people might be familiar with are Garda speeding fines.

What do you regard as your business’s greatest achievement?

Winning our first Irish government EU tender was a real highlight for me. It showed we had grown up fully as an SME. The key to winning public tenders can be as simple as filling out the documentation early.

Because everything is electronic now, once you miss a deadline, that’s it. I gather the biggest mistake my competitors make is leaving it too late to file.

What was the lowest moment?

The financial crash of late 2008 and early 2009. We did not lose a single customer, but they reduced the work they gave us. We lost money and we had to shed jobs. At our peak, in 2007, we had 52 staff. That fell to 26 within a couple of years but is now back up to 41.

I don’t know how we managed to keep morale up during that period, but I do know that very often staff who leave us come back to work here again, so we must be doing something right.

Perhaps it is because we believe a person’s home life is more important than their work life.

For instance, we agree with staff what hours they work so that it fits in with their home life – and they are then paid for every hour they work so there’s no need for clockwatching. It’s the kind of system I’d like if I worked for a company, so that’s how I’ve always done it. People love the flexibility of it.

How have you coped with setbacks?

Breathe deeply and de-stress with loads of sleep, exercise and water. It was all my Mother’s advice and it works. I tend to cheer myself up by finding the bright side of whatever issue I’m facing, even if it’s just realising that things could be worse.

Mr Micawber, the character in Dickens’ David Copperfield, said: “Something will always turn up.” And it does. And it’s always good.

“We believe a person’s home life is more important than their work life”

What’s your attitude to risk?

If it has a better chance of making lives better than worse then it’s a risk worth taking.

Who has inspired or motivated you and why?

Greg Palast is a brave New York journalist who stands up for the rights of weaker nations and disenfranchised people. He operates independently and has very limited resources, yet even so has a very loud voice. He still keeps fighting for a fair deal for all.

How do you engage in corporate social responsibility?

It is my view that work is a time and place of purpose where one can achieve some success, and be rewarded financially and psychologically. But more importantly, work must fit with one’s home life and not the other way around.

It’s why in my company I have some unusual work practices which include that each person who works here has a buddy who can also do their work should that person be sick, on holidays or have some other life event which they need to attend to.

Everyone who wants can have a leave of absence up to six months. And everybody gets a bonus out of profits.

What do you do, if anything, to switch off from the business?

Gardening and being with my partner, Tina, my children and my good friends. I grow vegetables, and I keep hens and bees. I love being able to bring my own food to the table.

What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?

Before I started I would study more how to run a company – a really good business degree course would definitely have helped. Instead I learned, and still am learning, by making mistakes.

What lessons have you learned in business that others could apply?

Give the customer what they want, not just what you would like to sell them. I started out as a computer science graduate in the late 1970s and, at the time, there was a lot of data processing going on so I thought I’d set up a business in that.

In April 1986 I was in the solicitor’s office about to close it all down when I got a message to call Irish Shell. It asked me to punch 12,000 names into a computer, and then asked me to post out 12,000 letters. I went and bought a laser printer, and that’s when the business as it is today got going. As I said, give customers what they want, not just what you would like to sell them.

Finally, if there was one piece of business advice you’d like to give to another business owner, what would that be?

Spend money on a really good business adviser or accountant. They are worth their weight in gold. When the chips are down, they have your back.

Find out more at Tico Mail Works.

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