Wednesday 16 October 2019

Local heroes: Entrepreneur out to cash in on demand for souvenir euro note

German expat banking on licence to print money which is popular across Europe, writes John Cradden

Peter Schneider from Euro Note Souvenir shows Irish versions of the personalised banknote he expects to be a big tourist hit, near Headford in Galway. Photo:Andrew Downes
Peter Schneider from Euro Note Souvenir shows Irish versions of the personalised banknote he expects to be a big tourist hit, near Headford in Galway. Photo:Andrew Downes

It may not be an actual licence to print money, but one Galway-based firm is banking on the astonishing popularity across Europe of the 'zero-euro' note.

The zero-euro is an souvenir banknote authorised by the European Central Bank and printed by Oberthur, a facility in France that also prints the real euro banknotes.

Like a traditional banknote, it has a watermark, holographic protection and tactile marks that are visible under UV-light.

As well as looking and feeling like the real thing, it can be personalised with a picture of any visitor attraction, event or building.

Euro Note Souvenir owns the exclusive Irish licence for the zero-euro banknote and is currently in the throes of rolling out a service whereby visitor attractions here can purchase banknotes with their own attraction or motif displayed, and market them to their visitors on-site via an ATM-like machine, or online.

It recently ordered an initial run of 5,000 zero-euro notes with a picture of a iconic Celtic harp and a map of Ireland, and has already sold more than half of them, with many orders coming from overseas, including Germany, France and the US, and even from as far away as India.

The concept of a personalised banknote for visitor attractions is already well-established in other EU countries, particularly France, Germany, Slovakia and Portugal, according to Euro Note Souvenir founder Peter Schneider.

"This is the great benefit that we would like to bring to Ireland, and make it as successful for Ireland's tourist sites as it has been for those in other countries," he says.

Schneider is originally from Germany but moved to Ireland in 2006 after he fell in love with the place during a work experience stint organised as part of an international business course back home.

Since then, he has worked mostly in international IT companies in different roles, including Apple, Red Hat and EMC in Cork and then SAP in Galway, where he still lives.

His interest in entrepreneurship and ecommerce was sparked by a distance MBA course he took recently with the University of Liverpool, which included modules on the subjects.

"I had thought about it [becoming an entrepreneur] before but I would have never known how and where to start and, you know, going through all this stuff in the university course gave me a lot of confidence.

"This was my biggest takeaway from the whole degree, that I learnt to find out what I need to do to."

After reading about and then researching the zero-euro banknote concept, which was conceived by French entrepreneur Richard Faille in 2015, Schneider opted to take a punt on purchasing the licence for Ireland.

"It was a huge spend, like €30,000 for the five-year licence," says Schneider. "It took a huge personal financial risk but I really believe in it.

"Tourist and visitor sites don't have too many options when it comes to nice souvenirs and keepsakes for their customers, and there is not so much innovation, I would say.

"Businesses have been selling postcards, souvenir coins, mugs and other products for a long time. But the zero euro banknote is something entirely new, and it is not only appealing to visitors who like to purchase a souvenir, but also to the general public and to banknote collectors."

He says there are already up to 3,000 collectors across the European Union who are collecting the banknotes and waiting for the latest motifs to become available.

The success of a run of zero-euro banknotes featuring a motif of German philosopher Karl Marx hints at the business potential here. Issued earlier this year by a German tourism agency to commemorate the bicentenary of Karl Marx's birth, the original run of 5,000 sold out in less than a month, and a further 100,000 were purchased by buyers across more than 40 different countries.

The zero-euro is already the best-selling souvenir in France, some three years after it was first launched, and while the recommended retail price is €2, some editions have become hugely sought after among collectors.

Indeed, the most valuable zero-euro banknote issued so far, which features the Duisberg football stadium in Germany, is said to be worth between €800 and €900 on eBay and other auction sites.

One of the potential selling points of a customised zero-euro is as a fundraising tool for charities or a special project, such as restoration or rebuilding work. For example, a Vauban castle in Germany issued a customised note with a price of €5 in bid to raise funds for the restoration of the historic building.

Located in Headford, Co Galway, Euro Note Souvenir is currently staffed by three people, including Schneider, albeit on a part-time basis. The note is marketed via its website and social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, and at local trade events where possible.

It has sold to customers Germany, France, Spain, Slovakia, Great Britain, Poland, India and the US, but the Irish market needs to be built up and the concept made better known, said Schneider, including reaching out to the better-known tourist destinations like Dublin Zoo and the Guinness Storehouse.

The company is also working with a local distributor, John Tinney of Lir Coins in Dublin.

"He took a good number of banknotes to distribute them in Dublin, and he is also a great help when it comes to planning new motifs or talking to potential customers," said Schneider.

To date, the business has been entirely self-funded through personal funds and private loans, but he anticipates that will change this year.

And while he continues to work in the IT industry, he hopes to be in a position to devote himself full-time to the business within the next year or two.

In the meantime, he is already enjoying being his own boss and the responsibility for all areas of the company, as opposed to just part of it. "This is what I like to do - to have the full picture and to be able to work on all aspects of the business as opposed to only a small part," he said.

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