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How we made our business dreams come true

The founders of a massage candle company and a retail intelligence firm tell Linda Stewart about the importance of kindling your entrepreneurial spark and ambition


Peter McCaul at the E Spark Hub, Lombard House, Belfast

Peter McCaul at the E Spark Hub, Lombard House, Belfast

Peter McCaul at the E Spark Hub, Lombard House, Belfast

Not many people can boast that they became the youngest production controller in hosiery giant Adria Ltd at the tender age of 20, managing accounts for retailers such as Tesco Kids, Dunnes Stores and Mothercare.

But that's the position Peter McCaul (now 41) found himself in - and his next business move was rather an unorthodox one.

"I was being promoted on a regular basis, to the stage where I was being offered a company car by 21 - and I thought, 'I'm too young to have a career before seeing the world'," he says.

"So I left to live in San Francisco for a year, which is where I poured my first pint - rather badly, I might add."

That's how Newry-born Peter launched a 13-year career in hospitality - and now he's made another adventurous move, this time pioneering a way that shopping centres can get to know what makes their customers tick through his Péarlaí technology company.

Peter spent years working in bars and restaurants in San Francisco, then Sydney, finally finding his way back home to Newry, where he eventually realised his ambition of setting up his own bar.

He took over the long-established Brass Monkey Bar & Restaurant, giving it a name for live music.

"We had Natty Wailer from Bob Marley and the Wailers and Rory Gallagher's original band, Taste, playing and I absolutely loved it," Peter says.

"Unfortunately, there was a slight dip in the economy by the end of my tenure and sadly it came to an end.

A few years down the line, a family issue meant Peter needed to launch a career that could offer free time and flexibility when necessary - and that was when he returned to an intriguing idea he had come up with during his time in hospitality.

"Every cloud has a silver lining, and a few years later I began my journey into the roller coaster ride of a technology-based start-up, which after two pivots and a number of years later has evolved into Péarlaí, a world-class shopping centre specific technology company," he says.

"The best description of what Péarlaí does would be that everyone with a website uses Google Analytics or something similar to monitor their website's traffic, demographics and conversion rates.

"Well, Péarlaí has the ability to do the same, only better, more accurate and with greater detail for physical sites - i.e. shopping centres.

"We achieve this through our software platform and partnership with Hiving Technologies from Dubai, where we install readers strategically throughout a shopping centre.

"The shopping centre provides their best customers with a VIP loyalty card or keyring that enables the shopper to receive year-round discounts from multiple stores within the centre while also receiving personalised text messages from their favourite stores alerting them to offers."

Shoppers fill in an application for their loyalty card, outlining which stores they want to receive offers from. Then they will be strolling through centres like Newry's Buttercrane and will receive personalised messages saying something like: 'Hi Linda, you've been here three times this week - your parking is free today'.

It's a win-win - the customers get offers and discounts as they walk around, the tenants get key information that helps them to fine-tune their marketing strategy and the centre gets to know its clients better.

"For tenants, we provide them with indisputable evidence on how effective the centre's marketing budget has been," Peter says. "For example, we can tell Costa Coffee we sent 1,000 messages to their customers last week and out of those 1,000 messages 300 people stopped and entered their store."

"From those 300 we can tell them where they came from, how many times they visited and how long they stayed - and so much more. It's unparalleled.

"For landlords, we can give them information on which demographics visit their centre and which routes they take through the centre, which enables them to attract the perfect tenants.

"For the centre management, we give them the ability to do all of this at the simple click of a button, saving them time and keeping all their stakeholders happy."

The company is partnered with Dubai-based Hiving Technologies, which was started by Terry Ashwin, who invented the forerunner of Bluetooth and many technology world-firsts.

The scheme has been running in the Buttercrane Centre for about a month, and Peter says it's doing "unbelievably well" with some stores seeing conversion rates of over 20% when they message their customers with offers.

Many other potential clients are watching with interest, according to the entrepreneur.

"We have raised investment from London's leading Medtech business accelerator Collider," he says. "They have introduced us to the world's biggest shopping centre companies, with whom we are in discussions at the minute."

Peter says his team is in the middle of an investment round, which will enable Péarlaí to drive the business forward with international expansion plans and meet the interest it has from within the UK and Ireland, Hungary, the UAE, South Africa, Australia and India.

"We are Google Analytics for a bricks-and-mortar site - we can tell them when customers arrived, how long they came for, how they buy," he explains.

"The future is looking very exciting for Péarlaí as we look to build a local successful business with global scalable aspirations for the future. Watch this space."

Belfast Telegraph