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Sunday 19 November 2017

Meet the man who is fighting the decline of rural Ireland with a simple idea

Philip Cullen: 'There is massive scope for this and it’s about giving back'
Philip Cullen: 'There is massive scope for this and it’s about giving back'
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

A businessman has come up with an idea which he believes will combat the decline of rural Ireland.

Wexford native Philip Cullen is the man behind Gorey’s OurTown.ie passport – and he has now developed the paper document into an app that can be used nationwide.

The app aims to increase the footfall into shops in the towns across Ireland, by informing people of everything from where to park their car to where to get a good coffee and scone in their local area.

Philip also hopes those on the road will use the app, meaning they may leave the country’s motorway network to go back into the small towns and villages that they would usually bypass.

He first launched the OurTown.ie paper passport in 2016 but said within a few months he was already looking at ways to improve the scheme.

The passport is stamped by business-owners when people go into participating shops, and a fully-stamped passport is entered into a draw for a prize.

“Originally the idea came from my own business in financial services. I’m located off Gorey’s main street and upstairs, off the beaten track,” Philip said.

“I had tried all the traditional means of advertising to get some footfall in the door.

“That was the whole idea of coming up with the passport, to generate footfall.

“It wasn’t about selling stuff or discounts, it was solely about getting people into the business for a while and it gave people in shops the chance to talk to people and meet them with a smile.

“No purchase was necessary but it was the experience of walking into the shop.

“The passport idea meant that when you go around you got your passport stamped and once you get your passport completed, you send it back in and it’s put in for a prize.

“We had some fantastic prizes donated from the businesses and the public.”

Philip’s idea hit national airwaves and he was set to roll it out to towns nearby. Instead, he chose to develop the idea first and come up with a more cost-effective scheme, the whatwherewhen.ie app.

“We liked the paper passport idea but we said we’d use it more as a launch pad. We can do everything on the app that you can do on the passport, and so much more.

“Because the paper costs so much to get printed, we have to give it a lot of time and money and we can only run it semi-annually.

“Whereas with the app has a lot more flexibility and we felt we could build in a system where businesses could even do special promotions on a quiet day.

“It is one app for the whole country and, as you drive from town to town or village to village, once you have location services on, it should pop up with shops’ opening hours, where to park the car, any special offers going on. It will be a one-stop shop,” he continued.

“The whole idea is each business will pay for a subscription and they will be able to place posts on the app just like you would with an ad on Done Deal.”

Philip said the reaction to the app so far has been “fantastic”, but he’s at a standstill with funding.

“I can’t afford to run this myself, but it’s getting a good response with regards to funding so far,” he said.

“It will cost about €50,000 to get the app fully developed, but it will really cost about €100k to get it up and running. I have some funding so far, but what I’m really looking for is financial backing.

“I have the experience, I know what I’m doing. I have the developers ready to go, I’m looking for some financial support or someone to come and do it with me,” he continued.

“I’m good at networking and I have loads of connections with business networking groups.

“We know we can do it, it’s just about it getting paid for.”

Philip, who knows the perils of running a rural business, said this idea is about “giving back” to the small towns around Ireland.

“This isn’t to make me a millionaire, there is massive scope for this and it’s about giving back,” he said.

“I can definitely see the decline of rural Ireland.

“We’re lucky in Gorey, it’s almost a suburb of Dublin with the N11 and M50.

“But I know a lot of people with businesses in Enniscorthy and Wexford town and you can see the writing is on the wall. Shops are closing.

“The biggest problem for those with businesses in rural Ireland is the lack of internet. I live about six miles outside Gorey and I have bad mobile coverage hanging out the window,” he said.

“I would only love to give young people moving to Dublin the option of coming to live and work in the sunny south-east.”

The OurTown.ie passport costs €312 for a business to sign up for three months. With the app, each business will pay €100 for an annual subscription.

“It’s really cheap, it won’t be expensive,” he said. 

 “We need to hit the ground running.”

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