Saturday 24 March 2018

Long journey on the pig's back is bringing home the bacon

Michael Dwyer took full advantage of the late Nineties dot com boom, writes Jane Suiter

jane suiter

PIGSBACK founder Michael Dwyer is running hard to ensure that his company takes its fair share of international brand advertising.

The international marketing graduate from DCU started out in the food industry working for Jacobs, before moving to Danone and working in Paris before coming home to become group marketing director of Green Isle Foods. One of his fondest memories was the inflatable shamrock for Chocolate Kimberley in the 1990 World Cup.

He always knew he wanted to set up on his own, it was simply a matter of waiting for the right opportunity. His dad had left the Revenue Commissioners at 50 to set up his own tax consultancy so he says that value for enterprise was always in the family.

By the time he hit 35, married with a couple of young kids, he decided if he was ever to do it, it would have to be now. It was 1999 and the dot com boom was in full swing in Ireland.

The first idea was, a website which would allow the brands to market themselves over the internet. The site would put up trial offers and benefits on line. Then began the long job of securing commitments from friends and family. "We didn't go to venture capitalists then. We needed people who would honour their commitment."

Dwyer soon realised he needed a better name and the name pigsback was born. "It was unique, distinctive and very Irish," he says. "It also allowed us to build a load of features such as piggy points and piggy banks and so on."

Now eight years later has some 460,000 members although the active membership is closer to 250,000, with staff of around 75 in CityWest. In the UK where Dwyer set up in 2005 there are some 600,000 members with about 350,000 active.

The Irish company is already profitable making just over €700,000 on a turnover of €4m in 2005. Turnover should reach €6m this year, says Dwyer. The UK business which was set up with a €1m investment is due to make a profit in 18 months' time. "The potential in the UK is huge," says Dwyer. "It's a really big challenge but should be possible as the brands have an increasing need to get to consumers online." And of course the faster the growth in broadband, the faster the potential growth in the business.

All the research points in this direction. The proliferation of TV channels and radio stations means their individual impact is being diluted and marketers are spending less money on TV. In Britain many people are spending more time online than on watching television. But on top of that the arrival of personal video recorders, such as Sky Plus and TiVo, impacts in the long run on TV branding since consumers can now watch TV while skipping ads. A key attraction for the brands of pigsback is that the average pigsback member spends 15 minutes each time he or she logs on. "We are a really sticky site and the great thing is that our members welcome communication."

He also stresses what he calls empathy marketing, the parent company of pigsback, which is designed to be transparent and permission based. Thus the members know what they have signed up for and the company always attempts to make everything clear.

So why on earth would anyone sign up to be inundated with more information about brands? Dwyer says there are significant benefits with excellent reward schemes from two to one offers for restaurants such as Wagamama or Captain America, as well as free tickets to the theatre and cinema, Xtravision vouchers and cheap offers from CDWow.

And unlike most of us it seems pigsback members are different. Rather than merely stuffing vouchers and special offers into a drawer only to be forgotten, pigsback members redeem some 80 per cent of all their vouchers.

However, Dwyer is not content to leave it to the UK and Ireland. His latest venture is in Canada where mega telephone company Bell New Ventures is setting up the concept in Calgary, although this is a franchise. BNV will spend €7.2m to develop the site. If it works it will add several millions to pigsback annually.

So what does Dwyer do when he's not working? Running, he says, he competed in the Dublin City Marathon and he loves mucking out his daughters' stables. They'll no doubt enjoy Calgary, the horse riding capital of Canada.

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