Like many a good business, Gideon Kasfiner's First Luggage is based on a simple, timely idea: when you go on holiday, send your luggage separately, then you won't have to worry about it.
The idea came to Kasfiner, 51, after the September 11th attacks on America. Suddenly, airports and flying anywhere had become a nightmare. Kasfiner, who'd been in the shipping business in Britain since leaving conscript life in the Israeli army in 1977, thought: "Why should travel be such a difficult and unenjoyable experience? Surely it should be the opposite."
The problem, he soon realised, was luggage. "If you don't carry your luggage, it's much easier to travel. And if you don't have luggage at airports it takes away the bulk of the security issues as well." So in the summer of 2004, with £200,000 raised from the sale of a shipping business he'd started some years earlier, Kasfiner set up an office near London's City Airport. "We chose that area because it wasn't very expensive."
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Kasfiner hired three members of staff all experienced in shipping and sales and took the plunge. You can do all the market research you want, he says, "but you never really know until you give it a go". But he was able to tap into favourable deals from old friends in the shipping business. "Our main carrier is Fed Ex. As our volumes grow, we can source good deals."
A third party was contracted to design a website and given a small percentage of sales, enough to cover their costs. This meant we didn't have "to lay out a whole load of cash on day one", says Kasfiner. Marketing was important, and still is, "because our biggest challenge is to tell the world what we're doing". So a public relations firm was signed up to help secure editorial in newspapers and glossy magazines. "The business reacts quite quickly to what goes into the press. If we get an interesting article, the phones go crazy, so there is a big effect from our marketing to our sales."
Having launched in summer 2004, First Luggage had a rocky first few months, with disappointing sales. But Kasfiner didn't worry. He knew the business would need time to take off. By Christmas, sales were rising as the skiing season got under way and it has been growing ever since, 50% year on year since 2004. This year, Kasfiner expects First Luggage to turn over between £1.8m and £2m.
With airlines beginning to charge for luggage, "we suddenly look an attractive alternative", he says. It costs about £80 to send a 30-kilo case door-to-door from London to Val D'Isere, for example only a few pounds more than what some airlines will soon be charging and without the peace of mind that comes with First Luggage's money-back guarantee. Unsurprisingly, Kasfiner is bullish about the future. "It's a very scalable business, because the bulk of it is run at the back end on computer systems." That has the benefit, too, of keeping staff costs down. "The idea is to let the technology run as many of the operations as possible."
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