Personal experiences of difficulties in finding the right service can often be the inspiration behind a successful new-start business. So it was for then Edinburgh University student Paul Stewart, who is now the director of fast growing emerging firm Uni Baggage.
The initial steps in the creation of Uni Baggage came in 2009, when Stewart recognised that problems transferring luggage between his Belfast home and university lodgings presented an opportunity.
“I was at university in Edinburgh and I am from Belfast and it was a nightmare getting my luggage across,” explains Paul.
“At first, I paid [airlines’] excess baggage charges. Then I arranged transportation at a lower cost with a courier, but it was still very expensive. Then I looked around and got the best price from Parcelforce.”
Today, claims Paul, Uni Baggage offers “the best prices” for transporting bags or parcels out of and into Northern Ireland. This is a strong claim for a business that was only launched properly in March 2010.
“The service is not only for students but it is mostly targeted to them,” he explains.
About 80% of sales are to students and their families. But there is growing demand from members of the armed services, who have similar needs to transfer bags. “We get much of our business now from the armed forces,” says Paul.
Uni Baggage wants to expand beyond these sectors into greater take-up by business and individuals who send parcels to Britain and elsewhere, but who want to avoid the normally large Northern Ireland surcharges imposed by Parcelforce and other couriers.
However, Uni Baggage does use Parcelforce for much of its delivery needs – but because it is bulk buying the service it is able to negotiate much improved rates than are available to individuals or small firms.
“We have a fixed price of £20 going in or out of Northern Ireland with Parcelforce,” he says.
Paul hopes to bring that even lower for businesses with significant demand for deliveries, enabling it to further improve its bargaining position with Parcelforce.
The key to the Uni Baggage approach is that it is an entirely ‘virtual’ business – all its operations are carried out via its website, www.unibaggage.com, or over the phone.
All deliveries are conducted through Parcelforce in the UK, Nightline in the Irish Republic and FedEx and UPS for international destinations and collections. “We operate in the Republic of Ireland and the UK, but Northern Ireland is our base.” Its headquarters are now in the Titanic Quarter.
“We are growing massively. Turnover has doubled in the last year. We see ourselves growing exponentially.”
Uni Baggage is not only a dynamic business, but it is also helping Northern Ireland consumers by reducing costs. It’s a winning combination.