Archive for the ‘Irish News’ Category

Video Retailer’s Meteoric Rise

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2001

BlackStar, the online DVD and video retailer, says pre-Christmas sales were up more than 250 percent on the previous year and the company is set for profitability in the third quarter.

In the pre-Christmas period, BlackStar shipped more than 100 tonnes of product from its distribution centre on Belfast’s Ravenhill Road. It claims to be one of Royal Mails biggest customers in Northern Ireland.

Company chief executive and co-founder Darryl Collins said the rapid sales growth demonstrated the robustness of BlackStar’s business model in a hostile dotcom market. He said everyone at the firm was “focused on profitability.”

He said: “There are a lot of products that can sell well online but not everyone can do it well online. These figures show how well BlackStar is delivering. We’ve learnt countless lessons over the last three years.”

The boost follows a difficult few months for online retailers. In October, Swedish based online CD, video and DVD retailer, Boxman, ceased trading. Like BlackStar, it was consistently ranked among Europe’s leading pre-flotation dotcoms.

BlackStar itself was forced to lay off 20 staff in the autumn in a bid to cut costs. However, Mr Collins said the bearish market was now working in BlackStar’s favour. He said the company had enough money in the bank to see it through to profitability.

“The rest of the market is taking a bit of a bath at the minute. There is less competition because people don’t feel like backing potential competitors,” Mr Collins said.

“Equally, more and more people are going online and more and more people are becoming more comfortable with ecommerce. We have a double benefit. We are losing competition and we are on the crest of a growing wave. This is the case of ‘survivor takes all’ and BlackStar is well positioned.”

BlackStar employs 120 people. All but a few are located in Belfast. The company also has a small office in London.

Mr Collins said profitability was the next big milestone for the company. No British dotcom has yet managed to make a profit.

“We are also working on what happens next,” he said. “That will provide huge opportunities for BlackStar.”

He said future plans included rolling the business out across Europe as well as acquisitions.

BlackStar postponed a planned flotation last year, but still managed to raise £6.2 million during a second round of funding in the summer. A flotation now looks unlikely in the short term.

BlackStar beats UK and US to win award

Thursday, April 13th, 2000

Belfast dot com BlackStar has been named the top customer-friendly company in a cross-Atlantic survey.

The survey was carried out by a Silicon Valley-based and reviewed 100 websites in the UK and US.

BlackStar was described as “cream of the crop” beating retailers like WH Smith and Marks and Spencer and online competitors such as Entexpress. BlackStar was formed in 1997 and has become a market leader in online DVD and video retail.

The company is expected to float on the London stock market within the next six months with an expected valuation of between £250 and £300 million.

One of the co-founders, Jeremy Glover, said the company had set out to be international retailers long before the “baby boom” of dot coms.

Learn from one of the Stars of the Net

Tuesday, April 11th, 2000

Belfast-based BlackStar could teach other businesses a thing or two about succeeding in the world of e-commerce. Since its launch in January 1998 the company has led the way in the UK e-commerce market to become its largest internet video and DVD retailer.

BlackStar entered the world of Formula One racing in March when it signed a sponsorship deal with Jaguar’s race ace Eddie Irvine. Irvine will be sporting a crash helmet with side panel advertising and is reportedly delighted to have support from home. “It was a great opportunity to be associated with a famous sportsman and a growing exciting sport” explained company director Jeremy Glover.

Hot off the grid, BlackStar now plans to become a public limited company and float on the London Stock Exchange within 12 months.

A summer time investment of £3.8 million allowed the company to launch itself into the world e-commerce market. The international investment came courtesy of Atlas Venture Ltd and a group of Texas investors, including members of the Texas Pacific Group.

The first step was a policy to extend BlackStar’s distribution base which involved setting up a sales and marketing office in London and the creation of new jobs. The company currently employs 70 people but this figure is set to rise to 250 by March 2001.

Almost half of the £3.8 million investment went into advertising and the immediate result was a fourfold increase in their customer base.

Estimated sales figures for March topped the one million mark and Mr Glover proudly noted that sales for the first quarter of this year have already doubled Christmas sales.

There are now satisfied BlackStar customers in 134 countries across the world and three new countries, Guam, Liechtenstein and Vanuatu, joined the customer base last month.

Undoubtedly, a part of the internet retailer’s appeal lies in their guaranteed free mail postage and packaging to anywhere in the world as well as their no quibble returns policy.

“One of the lessons we have learnt is that an attractive web site isn’t everything. The most important thing is filling orders”,” Jeremy Glover said.

“95 percent of all videos are dispatched within 24 hours and we have timed shipping so that pre-ordered videos or DVD’s arrive on the day release. We have a customer obsession, it focuses our staff and is a daily mantra.”

It is not difficult to find evidence of this customer obsession – BlackStar’s top 25,000 customers received a gift-wrapped copy of It’s a Wonderful Life as a Christmas gift.

In a similar customer friendly vein, the BlackStar Web site contains staff photos, mini biographies and lists of their favourite films.

As well as this the customer care department recently increased its hours of service from 10 hours a day to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We put that human touch in because at the end of the day you buy from humans not a computer. A company’s aim should be to provide a service not just to make money,” explained Jeremy.

US investors back BlackStar

Thursday, August 19th, 1999

BELFAST-based BlackStar, has secured a £3.8 million international investment that will create 75 new jobs over the next six months.

Since its formation BlackStar has captured a clear lead in the UK e-commerce market over the past 18-months to become the UK’s largest internet video and DVD retailer.,

The investment from Atlas Venture Ltd and a group of Texas investors will be used to fund infrastructure and marketing initiatives to propel BlackStar onto the world e-commerce stage.

The company has also revealed plans to become a public limited company, floating on the London stock exchange or NASDAQ within 12 to 18 months.

Darryl Collins, one of three founding directors of BlackStar said: “The new finance recognises the success of our business model, brings heavyweight investors to our board and positions us for aggressive growth.

“We have grown to have a significant customer base in 95 countries and for the sort of competition we are likely to face in the future, we need to have a war chest to take on all comers.”

BlackStar’s main competition comes from the high street. However as BlackStar’s director Jeremy Glover insisted the company is revolutionising the way peoples shop for videos.

“If you look at high street stores they carry 5 per cent of what is actually currently available and so it is very restricting by shelf size and not everyone lives close to a Virgin or an HMV store,” he said.

BlackStar offers more than 50,000 videos and DVDs in its online store at www.blackstar.co.uk. This compares with the 2,500 typically stocked by a high street retailer.

As an early stage internet firm, BlackStar is in the unusual position of generating actual revenue and profit, with revenues growing more than 30 per cent month-on-month since their launch early in 1998.

Online purchases in Western Europe, which accounts for 70 per cent of BlackStar’s current market, is predicted by Fletcher Research to grow to over $18 billion by 2004.

Although BlackStar will maintain their Belfast distribution base, it will also be setting up a new sales and marketing office in London.

The reasoning for the expansion to London is twofold. “It is getting close to the film distribution companies and it is also building relationships with the media in general,” said Mr Glover

The jobs will be in a wide range of areas including graphic designers, programmers, pickers and packers, customer service, administration, finance and fulfilment with recruitment ongoing.

Atlas Venture is an international technology and e-commerce venture capital firm which has invested in companies such as Confetti and Egroups.

The Texas investor group includes members of the Texas Pacific Group who have been especially active in Europe with significant investments including Virgin Entertainment.

“BlackStar is one of the very few Internet start-ups in either the US or Europe that is generating real income. In fact its balance sheet looks more like that of a traditional retailer than an Internet start-up. Through its obsession with customer fulfilment and satisfaction, the company has a strong lead in a fast growing market niche,” said Vic Morris of Atlas Venture.