BlackStar Has It Taped

If all the world’s a stage then Jeremy Glover’s latest performance in 135 countries must be worthy of a rave review or two.

Bangor-born Glover, together with two leading co-stars, has been wooing audiences across the globe with a carefully crafted Internet production called Blackstar.

In just three years it has attracted a dedicated following of small screen fans who have been able to access a world of talent at the touch of a button.

Whether your passion is for action/adventure, horror, romance or comedy – if it exists on video or DVD, then Blackstar will find it for you.

Three years ago Jeremy Glover, Darryl Collins and another friend, Tony Bowden, decided to take the plunge and go into business selling videos and DVDs over the Internet.

Back in 1997 dot coms were the Cinderella of the financial markets. Today it is a different ballgame, but Jeremy Glover is convinced Blackstar got there well ahead of the party.

“I think the recent readjustments in the market were inevitable. There were lots of over-reached, non strategic Internet-based companies flooding the market, many of whom weren’t well thought out.

“What has been happening, doesn’t worry us. We have a strong business product which we are selling into 135 countries and we are expecting further growth this year .

“Our investors are looking at an actual business plan, not a hypothetical idea.

“There are perceptions about Internet companies that are not always right – people often do not understand what goes on behind the scenes. This isn’t a make believe business – it’s a real-life solid business.” Glover said.

The company may be based in Belfast but it is an international online retailer of videos and DVDs.

Barely three years old, Blackstar is expected to float on the London Stock Exchange within the next six months and its founders are hoping the company could be valued at up to £300m.

But even Glover would admit Blackstar has ambitious targets for what is a relatively young company, even by dot com standards.

He and his friends started off packing videos from one of their houses. Today they have a network of suppliers and warehouses and have moved into upmarket and decidedly fashionable offices in the centre of Belfast.

But, according to Jeremy Glover, the principle behind the company remains the same …”When we started out there was just the three of us and a ‘girl-Friday’ called Anni. We packed our first orders off on a table-tennis table.

“In the first month we had 55 customers – 40 are still with us today.

“We try hard to ensure our customers trust us, from day one we have had secure credit card facilities in place so that people could order with confidence.”

“We are an open and friendly company, and I feel we have succeeded in promoting a friendly, helpful attitude,”

“It has always been our philosophy that people buy from people – they do not buy from computers. We passionately believe in customer care because without it you don’t have customer loyalty.

“We have customers shopping with us from every corner of the globe. We like to think we are up there with the very best online retailers in the United States, which tends to be somewhat ahead of the UK Internet scene.

“Some companies profess to have a customer care policy but when you dig down you discover they don’t really care, and the ‘have a nice day’ attitude is quite shallow.

“We are different because we do care 100% about our customers. We mean what we say, “Glover added.

He and his partners are naturally passionate about the Internet, although he came somewhat later to the medium than Collins and Bowden.

Before getting involved in Blackstar, Jeremy Glover spent 15 years in advertising, during which he was creative director of McCann Erickson in Belfast.

Northern Ireland television viewers who remember the ‘Fred there’s no bread’ ad campaign may be interested to know this was one of Mr Glover’s creations.

“My introduction to the Internet really came about when I worked for McCann Erickson during a visit to Edinburgh.

“I had called in to see my brother who was a student in the city and he happened to be on the Internet at the time. He was really clued up on it and really showed me around the net.

“It just blew my mind The Internet is so powerful; it really has and will continue to change the way we communicate with each other and the way we shop.

“Long-term the possibilities are endless.”

“The great thing about the Net is that you can really get a feel for your market from wherever you are in the world. You can get to know your customer without having to hop on a plane and send a whole team of people out to the US.

“You just have to be live in your market to understand how it operates, to experience what your customers are looking for,” he added.

Glover believes the Internet provides a more open approach to doing business.”

“You can actually go on line to see what your competitors are doing – read their job advertisements, see where they want to take their company and, of course, vice versa.

“The industry is changing rapidly so we have to stay on top of those developments.

“Tony, Darryl and myself all read a lot of books and are really tuned into customer care developments – our company has adopted a customer care approach from the bottom up,” he said.

This approach, according to Glover, is fundamental to the company.

“Blackstar could be based anywhere but the fact that it is in Belfast is great. In the cold light of day what we need to make this business a success is people – and we have great people in Belfast.

“There really are very talented people on our doorstep.

“I think people in Northern Ireland understand customer care and how to deliver it – that’s why we are becoming the call centre capital of the UK .

“There is a good attitude in Northern Ireland where people genuinely want to be able to help,” he said.

Blackstar’s whole approach to doing business does not just stop at the customer care door.

The profile of the company is very young, although this is not, Blackstar stresses a deliberate policy.

Visitors to the Blackstar office immediately notice the suit-free environment. People appear to dress for comfort rather than impact and the mood, while busy, is genuinely congenial.

Glover said: “The sort of people who apply for the jobs in Blackstar tend to be in a certain age bracket, but there is no strategy of only recruiting young people. We recruit the best person for the job.

“It may be an Internet-based company but we are also a retailer, so we need a huge range of skills – from people who understand the whole retail scene to web designers to programmers, to the people who understand the whole dynamics of the film industry.

“This is a team business. Our staff have share options – real options not a £500 bonus scheme but the opportunity to enjoy what the future may hold for Blackstar”.

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