Archive for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ Category

BlackStar Has It Taped

Tuesday, May 16th, 2000

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”.

BlackStar named ‘cream of retailing cyber crop’

Tuesday, April 18th, 2000

BLACKSTAR, Northern Ireland’s leading ‘dotcom’ retailer, has been named as the United Kingdom’s No1 Web site for on-line customer service. BlackStar, a DVD and video retailer, came out top in a survey by Silicon Valley, an independent Internet research company.

The organisation reviewed 100 leading Web sites on more than 200 seperate analysis criteria in the United Kingdom and United States finding only 30 operators in the UK that meet basic standards of assessment.

BlackStar.co.uk, which employs 50 in Belfast, excelled in the survey well beyond its UK competitors and was named ‘Cream of the Cyber Crop’.

It beats conventional retailers like WH Smith and Marks & Spencer along with on-line competitors such as Entex.

Jeremy Glover, co-founder said “When we started BlackStar in 1997, some time before the baby boom of the dotcoms, we primarily set out to be an international retailer of videos and DVDs. “The internet provided the best vehicle for our business concept and that is how the comany was formed and viewed – as a retailer first and Internet business second”.

He added: “This has provided a different set of criteria for BlackStar from the outset and as with any retailer, has ensured that an obsession with customer service is central to our business.

“We shall continue to strive to improve it even further, always maintaining our philosophy that we are retailers first and foremost, and that our customers will always be the ultimate point of focus”.

BlackStar is due to float on the London Stock Exchange in the next six months with an expected valuation of between 200-300m pounds.

The company is at the leading edge of new businesses here which make use of the Internet to trade on an international basis.

The Government is spending more than 3m pounds to persuade new firms and existing businesses to make use of the technology but academics fear the province may be ‘left behind’ as the marketplace moves into cyberspace.

The number of Internet shoppers is expected to rise to four billion by 2004 and the Internet will be available over the mobile telephone after the Government completes a 20bn pound auction for licences to operate the new generation three wireless technology.

Why Eddie Irvine’s got a BlackStar on his head

Friday, March 31st, 2000

How many eagle-eyed grand prix viewers have noticed the new link between Eddie Irvine and his native Northern Ireland?

Check out his helmet. The re-design unveiled just before the start of the 2000 Formula One season not only bears allegiance to is new Jaguar team but also to his first home grown sponsorship.

Blackstar are the Belfast based Internet video and DVD retailers who have been among the first here to embrace the e-commerce revolution – and they are the first from Northern Ireland to become invoved in F1 sponsorship.

Jeremy Glover, BlackStar’s marketing director, was the man who bought the expensive space on Irvine’s helmet but he won’t say how much it cost.

“I couldn’t possibly comment on that,” he laughs, “but we are convinced it will be worthwhile.

“This exercise is not about the size of the logo on Eddie’s helmet or how much it cost. It is much more than that.

“You’ll notice that it doesn’t actually say BlackStar. That’s deliberate – it is about getting people to notice and to wonder what it means.

“We are trying to build a brand name that will be famous around the world and what better place to do it in one of the most global sporting arenas of all.

“We already have customers in 134 countries and we would like to expand on that with Eddie’s help”.

But it was close home connections which brought about the Irvine link.

“I’m from Bangor, he’s from Bangor or more accurately Conlig, which is just up the road, and we knew each other years ago,”explains Jeremy who founded the UK’s largest on-line video store three years ago with Darryl Collins and Tony Bowden.

“Maurice Hamilton, the F1 reporter who wrote Eddie’s autobiography, is a friend of my family and Michael Cooper, the grand prix photographer who took our promotional pictures at the Australian Grand Prix is from Belfast. It’s a small world even in F1”.

Irvine is happy to have an Ulster sponsor at last. “It’s great that Blackstar have come on board because it is the first real sponsor I have had from Northern Ireland in 17 years of racing. I’ve had a few friends helping me out over the years but never a commercial sponsor”.

Blackstar also see the link with Jaguar as important. “The Jaguar name is is seen as representing all things good about Britain and among our biggest selling lines are classical TV series. The two tie together very well,” adds Glover.

Ulster firm set to Net a million

Tuesday, January 11th, 2000

Three Ulster entrepreneurs are poised to take their first steps to becoming millionaires. Jeremy Glover, Darryl Collins and Tony Bowden are looking for investors to back the flotation of their Belfast-based on-line video store.

The three men behind the dynamic young Internet retailer, BlackStar, currently the UK’s fastest growing on-line video retailer, are in talks with leading investment banks with a view to taking the company public.

Set up just 2 years ago BlackStar now boasts over 50,000 video and DVD titles – the average high street store stocks around 2,500 – and customers in 95 countries across the globe.

Darryl Collins, the company’s chief executive officer and one of the founding partners said a potential flotation was just one of the options being explored.

Speaking from London today Mr.Collins said: “One of the opportunities we are looking at is taking the company public, we want to continue our expansion into Europe.”

“We are planning for the long term but in terms of Internet timescales one year is a long way away to plan – there is no way of saying how big or how far this can go. Although it would be nice I don’t think we are going to be Internet millionaires just yet”

Shoppers Set To Buy Gifts Online

Monday, November 15th, 1999

1999 is set to be the UK’s first real ‘cyber Christmas’.

Santa’s sleigh will be heavily laden with seasonal gifts purchased online via home PCs, a MORI poll has found.

There are an estimated 50,000 people in the province already connected to the internet – so thousands of pounds of Christmas business will be generated locally.

MORI surveyed 500 Internet users across the UK on behalf of BlackStar, the UK’s biggest provider of online video and DVD products.

According to the people surveyed, online Christmas shopping has its advantages. 20% of respondents expect to save money while 35% believe it will save time.

Men are more likely to see the benefits of online shopping than women and are twice as likely to see potential costs savings as a benefit.

Gone is the nightmare of the Christmas rush in shopping centres.

Jeremy Glover, co- founder and director of Blackstar, said: ‘This doesn’t just represent a step up for Christmas cyber shopping compared to last year – it’s a gigantic leap. 1999 will truly be Britain’s first cyber Christmas.’

Half of the survey respondents said web sites would have to offer cheaper prices than the High Street and free delivery in order to make online shopping more appealing.

The most popular online shopping goods are CDs and books followed by cinema, theatre and concert tickets, videos, DVDs, and holidays.

Starring role for video shop

Thursday, August 19th, 1999

A DYNAMIC young online video store is set to enjoy a new starring role thanks to a £3.8m investment boost which will create 75 jobs in Belfast and London.

Northern Ireland- based internet retailer BlackStar has secured a multi-million pound investment boost from Atlas Venture and a group of Texas investors. Atlas Venture is a technology and e- commerce venture capital firm and the Texas investor group has an investment portfolio which spans Virgin Entertainment and Ducati motorcycles.

BlackStar, established just 18 months ago by three partners, has become one of the fastest growing internet video and DVD retailers in the UK. It offers more than 50,000 titles in its online store – the average high street store stocks around 2,500 – and boasts customers in 95 countries across the globe.

BlackStar now plans to use its new investment capital to fund infrastructure and marketing initiatives on a worldwide basis. The directors of the company also hope to float BlackStar public either on the London Stock Exchange or Nasdaq within the next 12 to 18 months.

Meanwhile, business experts today warned employers to take their first steps on the information superhighway or risk being run over in the rush. The computer network allows low cost access to a global marketplace which was once the territory of international firms only.

Consumers can browse through and purchase a huge variety of goods and services, from pizza delivery to divorce lawyers, using computers and credit cards. Many small firms in Northern Ireland have already won new business by advertising their services on the Internet including Graham and Sons in Omagh which prints postcards for the Falkland Islands.

The Ulster Bank is to introduce internet banking for its largest customers next month. Paul Clarke, a partner at Deloitte & Touche in Belfast, said: “The Internet is becoming less of a technology issue and more of a business issue.

“Growing businesses that fail to embrace e-business will find their customer base dwindling as more companies develop business on the Internet.”