Podcast Ep 141: Nightline and Parcel Motel founder John Tuohy is back in the parcel business, this time with smart parcel locker service OOHpod.
As I chat to Tuohy it is apparent that OOHpod is no ordinary parcel locker service. He has a vision to make it amenable to the collection of all kinds of items from e-commerce purchases by consumers to groceries and pharmacy prescriptions as well as corporate and automated click and collect services for retail businesses.
This vision includes a fitting service and returns facilities allowing consumers to try on their purchases and return them if needed.
“No matter how well established your business is, there’s always going to be challenges, and you know you just really have to try and anticipate them”
The company aims to place “out of home” lockers in 1,000 locations across the island of Ireland by 2025.
Tuohy is the founder of Nightline and Parcel Motel, which he sold to UPS for €30m in 2017. He has since started OOHpod, investing €1m of his own money in the business.
Signed, sealed, delivered
He left school early. Having tried his hand at a few different things, he eventually got a job as a driver with a local courier firm.
Tuohy always had an interest in entrepreneurship. He spent two years completing a start your own business course with FÁS predecessor AnCo prior to becoming a delivery driver. And while he didn’t start his own business straight away, the seeds were sown.
He set up logistics and delivery company Nightline with his friend Dave Field in 1992. They each invested £10,000 redundancy money they’d received and ran the business out of a spare bedroom in John’s house.
Nightline grew into one of the biggest express delivery and logistics companies in Ireland, with a turnover of more than €50m and more than 1,000 employees at its height.
The company created the Parcel Motel service which offered a “virtual address” so customers could purchase goods online from places that did not deliver to their home country.
“We started Nightline just working from the spare bedroom in my house. We never raised investment apart from some friends and family money. We mostly funded the business through reinvestment of profits and bank borrowing.”
The youngest of six kids, Tuohy left school after 5th year to make a living and contribute to the household, working initially in retail. He was the first employee of FedEx in Ireland. As he worked his way up to management level he gained a fascinating insight into senior management and negotiations. By the time he was 21 he was the youngest person to join management at FedEx. “Somebody told me I still hold the record on that.”
Business difficulties at FedEx in Europe in the early 1990s led to Tuohy taking redundancy.
“I was quite an earnest, serious young man and I had a mortgage. I could have emigrated to London, but I decided to stay and start a business. There were quite a number of customers in Dublin that were quite reliant on the FedEx service, particularly to the US, which was a phenomenal service. Although they closed in Dublin they were still open in London and there were many small indigenous businesses and multinationals who had become reliant on this next day service to America, so we just focused on that by providing an onboard courier service and we acquired those clients. Every day we’d send somebody over on an Aer Lingus or British Midlands flight to London who would take those parcels and hand them to FedEx for the next delivery service.”
Starting from his house with two little vans, a postal strike in 1992 sealed the young firm’s future as the phone was ringing off the hook.
Tuohy is no stranger to challenges. Two weeks after Nightline moved into its first proper premises, the building completely burned down. Fortunately he was able to get the business back up and running within a fortnight.
Nevertheless the business blossomed and within10 years it had delivery depots dotted all over Ireland.
He says a lot of people don’t realise business is not about how good your product or service is, it’s actually the amount of money in your current account that determines whether you’ll be in business from one week to the next.
“When you’re young in business, because we were only in our early 20s, then you do have that feeling of that of being invincible, you know, and you have that great energy. There’s no stopping you. But I suppose what we took forward from there is, is that you’re always going to have setbacks in business, no matter how well established your business is, there’s always going to be challenges, and you know you just really have to try and anticipate them.”
Nightline was primarily a B2B business. However, following the 2008 recession he noticed a decidedly strong shift towards online shopping. While attending a trade show in Paris he came across a Polish business that was making collection lockers and he struck a deal.
ParcelMotel was Tuohy’s first consumer-facing business.
He researched the e-commerce market and was struck by a statistic that indicated 70% of what’s bought online by Irish people comes from overseas. He also spoke to his driver network and realised there were clear challenges trying to deliver parcels to people who weren’t at home.
He also noticed that many UK retailers didn’t deliver to Ireland but they were active in Northern Ireland and an idea was born.
“Parcel Motel took off like a box of matches! It was just phenomenal. It was phenomenally successful because so many UK brands at the time didn’t ship to Ireland. And the ones that did, you could still get better deals and free delivery to Belfast and that was easier and faster for customers from the Republic.”
Four years after starting ParcelMotel, the business along with Nightline was acquired by UPS for €30m.
It is evident that there was something about the consumer-facing experience that inspired Tuohy to return to the market this year with OOHpod.
“The ideas that we had for Parcel Motel we just sort of rejuvenated them with OOHpod and I’m happy to say that UPS are a client of ours now.”