John Tuohy left school early. He spent two years completing a start-your-own-business course, eventually getting a job as a driver with a local courier firm.
In 1992, he helped to set up a logistics and delivery company called Nightline with €10,000 of redundancy money, running the business out of a spare bedroom in his house.
The company later added the ‘virtual address’ service Parcel Motel into the mix. It mushroomed into a regional logistics giant, with 1,000 employees and €65m in annual revenue.
In 2017, he sold the business to UPS for €30m, leaving him at a loose end. Now he’s back with OOHPod, another ‘virtual address’ service that’s similar to Parcel Motel but is open to any delivery company or courier firm. He aims to have 1,000 OOHPod locations around Ireland by 2025 and is investing €1m of his own money in the business.
But he has a problem. Public transport hubs won’t entertain parcel lockers on their premises.
“If you go to a suburban rail station in the UK, you’ll find a parcel locker of some sort because public transport authorities there realise that to encourage people to use public transport, you have to provide them with the other services that commuters need,” says Mr Tuohy.
“In Ireland, Irish Rail and the Dart won’t even entertain a conversation about putting parcel lockers in suburban stations. So it’s more of a challenge for us to establish the market here and get people to understand the importance of this from a sustainability point of view.”
Mr Tuohy says that he has been told it relates to the installation of a device that requires electricity on site.
“But if you go into any Dart station, there are plenty of vending machines,” he adds.
“I’ve no idea why this is. We’re not asking for something for nothing. When we put a parcel locker in a petrol station or convenience store, there’s a revenue share. But it’s just a flat no from Irish Rail. 500,000 people commute by public transport every day. People are going back to offices now, they’ve ordered something and they’re not at home to take delivery of it. This is really a sustainability issue as much as anything else.”
A spokesperson for Irish Rail said: "We did enter into negotiations with Mr Tuohy as well as other parcel locker providers. We explored all options, but ultimately from an operations perspective the placing of these type of units on our properties would not be feasible for us."
At present, OOHPod only has seven locker locations up and running
At present, OOHPod only has seven locker locations up and running. Three are in Dublin (Ranelagh, North Wall and Dublin Airport), with four in Northern Ireland.
The northern ones are set up, Mr Tuohy says, to cater for people who use UK online shopping sites that no longer deliver to Ireland. Three of those four are located within 20km of the border, to cater for southern Irish shoppers.
The close proximity to the Republic is also aimed to help with those who may want to return items. The company is introducing a facility that aims to allow people to try on a garment they’ve just received through the post so they know whether to immediately return it from the same parcel locker.
“If a customer has travelled from Dublin to get something they’ve bought online on a UK site, we provide the fitting room there for them to try it on. And then, rather than bring it back home, they might want to return it. Because about 30pc of everything bought online, particularly, fashion items, get returned. It’s a big part of online shopping.”
Even still, these are things that tinker around the edges of the basic parcel locker model. What is fundamentally different about OOHPod compared to his old firm, Parcel Motel, which is still up and running?
“Mainly that Parcel Motel is a closed network, because it’s owned by UPS,” he says. “Whereas this is completely open to all the courier companies, who can access it directly as if it was their own infrastructure. Local merchants can use it for click and collect, so they can drop off directly to the locker if they want. They don’t have to use a third party or a courier to do it. And then consumers can use it directly as their delivery address. They can use it to leave their keys for their mam to pick up or to drop keys off if they have an Airbnb.”
In the Nordics, and particularly the Baltic countries, it’s a normal way of life
Pricing for the service ranges from €3.50 per individual parcel (for a maximum of 48 hours each time) to €11.50 for 30 parcels. There is also an oversize parcel option for €6 per item.
There are corporate pricing plans for businesses to host lockers on their premises instead of front desk personnel acting as de facto delivery receptionists for people ordering from Amazon every week.
Mr Tuohy is bullish for the long-term prospects of his niche. He says that the parcel locker model is one that should reach most corners of urban areas throughout the island.
“In the Nordics, and particularly the Baltic countries, it’s a normal way of life,” he says. “In Estonia, more than 90pc of all items purchased online are now delivered to a parcel locker. By the time I sold Parcel Motel in 2017, about 10pc of the population had an account with us. So it’s a popular idea.”