Saturday, 15 December 2018

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Geek Box

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Walt Disney famously once said, "a man should never neglect his family for business.

"But what if you could combine your business with your family? Well, that's exactly what Leslie Lenaghen has done. He set up GeekGear only a year ago, along with Mum, Doris, and sister, Deborah. And in the space of just twelve months, the family have been able to turn the company into a huge success.

The idea to start their own business came at just the right time for the Lenaghen family. All three family members were unhappy in their jobs at the time, so felt there wasn't much to lose. Both Leslie and Deborah worked as German interpreters and customer support workers, while Doris had worked in a care home for almost 15 years. "We felt we needed a change and that it was time for something new... Everyone was up for it," says Leslie. "Luckily, all three of us had quite a bit of savings. We all put money in, leased an office in Grangemouth, and it all took off from there."

 With all of the family making such a huge commitment to starting a new business, it was important to find an idea that they were all confident in from the start. Leslie explains why they decided to go for a subscription box format: "It's quite a new concept – these sorts of companies have only been going for a few years, but I saw an American company doing it very successfully and that's where I got the idea from. We decided just to give it a go."

Subscription boxes are big business at the moment, with thousands of companies offering monthly boxes containing just about anything you could imagine – beauty products, books or, in this case, geeky products. There is a huge trend for geek-themed merchandise online, so Leslie and his family really wanted to capture a share of this market.

"We only got about 100 subscribers in the first month," admits Leslie, "and that was with a lot of advertising. So persuading people to subscribe was probably the biggest challenge initially. There are a couple of similar subscription boxes out there, and competition is stiff. So we had to try and bring something else to the table that nobody else is doing and I think we've done that quite successfully."

The concept of GeekGear is simple: the customer pays a monthly fee, and each month they receive a box with a different theme. Previous boxes include Star Wars and Power Rangers, and for Harry Potter fans there is also two World of Wizardry subscription boxes. All of the boxes contain an assortment of things like mugs, prints, wearables, figures, and a monthly t-shirt.

 "There are literally hundreds of geek subscription boxes, but none quite like ours," says Leslie. And according to him, planning ahead is key to staying ahead of the competition. Each GeekGear box is timed to coincide with movie and TV show releases wherever possible, as in the case with the Star Wars and Power Rangers boxes. July's box is also sure to appeal to fans with a Game of Thrones theme.

"We plan about 3 months in advance," says Leslie. "A lot of the products are shipped from warehouses in China, so we have to allow time for that, which is why we need to plan ahead. So to plan a box it really takes a number of weeks, just to get all the items finalised. Any designs have to be approved by licence holders, then get sent over to manufacturers in China, who then have to make the product and ship it back to us, then we package everything and wrap it nicely, then ship it out to the customer."

Leslie believes that the GeekGear boxes are better than similar subscription boxes because of the personal touch. Each item is hand-wrapped by one of the GeekGear staff members, allowing customers to unwrap each item as though it were a birthday or Christmas gift. "We actually have lots of our customers doing "unboxing" videos on YouTube," he says. "It's basically a video of people just opening our boxes, and capturing their reaction to it. Obviously, our customers don't know what's going to be inside, so it's a bit of a mystery."

Another way that GeekGear products stand out from other subscription boxes is that they offer exclusive merchandise you can't get anywhere else. Leslie has managed to secure a World of Wizardry deal with Warner Brothers for exclusive Harry Potter items and he also produces a lot of the designs himself. "It means you truly are getting something unique," says Leslie. "We're currently working on a deal to bring an exclusive Funko Pop figure, which everyone is going to go crazy for, so watch this space! And we've also recently designed a unique tyrannosaurus power coin for our Power Rangers box.

Customers have indeed been subscribing in their thousands –GeekGear currently have over 7000 subscribers, and the company has only been running for a year. "The time has really flown in," says Leslie, "because we've grown much more quickly than we imagined. We reached the 7000 subscriber mark within about eight months, so we've actually had to pause for a bit until the rest of the company caught up!"

Of course, in the online world, things can move fast, as Leslie and the GeekGear team have found out. "We currently have about 20 YouTubers and vloggers who do unboxing videos for us every month," says Leslie, "and between them, they have about 20 million followers, so things can really start to trend quickly!"

"When we first started the business, we had targets of the numbers of subscribers we hoped to achieve. Our first target was to have 1000 subscribers by Christmas last year, and we actually had over 5000. Things have been hectic and stressful at times, and we've had to move office four times in the past year. But that's a mark of our success, the way I see it, and getting those first 5000 subscribers was one of the best moments for me so far."

 When asked if things had eased off and become easier in the business, Leslie replied that every month is stressful from a logistics point of view, to get the boxes sent out on time. "Working on a deadline is always stressful," he says, "especially if you're waiting on stuff coming on a boat from China, which is outwith your control. We have to ship by the 21st of every month, which often involves a few late nights as the date approaches. Shipping delays can set things back if items don't arrive on time. Recently a shipment was supposed to arrive on the 10th of the month but didn't show up until the 17th, giving us only four days to pack and send 7000 boxes, which was a nightmare.

But despite the fast-paced workload and tight schedule, Leslie couldn't picture himself working anywhere else:

"Every day is different – every morning I have a to-do list which never gets completed! No matter how long I work there are just always things needing to be done. We have a plan of action, but as long as we're done by the deadline then that's the main thing. Sometimes the customer support staff go and help out with the production line because that's obviously the most important part – getting the boxes out to the customers on time."

There are currently only 11 employees at GeekGear, and with three of them coming from the same family, it means working in close proximity to one another. Leslie says: "working together with family is fantastic, but can sometimes be challenging. When we are at work we are colleagues rather than family members."

Leslie's Sister Deborah manages the customer support side of the business, while Mum, Doris is in charge of production, which includes packing and sending all of the boxes. "And then there's me," laughs Leslie. "I do everything else! I probably have about seven job titles, including Director, Graphic designer, Buyer, Social Media Manager, Bookkeeper... It can be hectic and stressful at times, but running your own company is a lot more fun as you can make your own rules."

For Leslie, the biggest challenge at the moment is keeping the customers happy and giving them what they want. He says: "because people's expectations keep rising it's harder and harder to meet these expectations. Obviously, you can't please everyone all of the time, but we just look to improve every time and make each box better than the last."

So what will the future hold for GeekGear Box? The business continues to go from strength to strength, and the family hope the new store, located in Falkirk High Street will add to the success of the business so far. Leslie says: "We'll be selling all sorts of geeky merchandise, including t-shirts, comics, figurines and trading cards, from all our customer's favourite geeky brands – Batman, Superman, Nintendo, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh! and more." The store is set to open on 24th June and a special launch event is planned with lots of giveaways and goodie bags filled with merchandise.

With the current trend for subscription boxes continuing to soar and the rocketing number of GeekGear subscribers, things don't look to be slowing down for the business anytime soon. It's been a hectic ride, but for Leslie, that's a mark of his success and he wouldn't change a thing so far. "The thing I enjoy most is working with friends and family, and having so many happy customers," he says. "Little over a year ago, all three of us were in jobs that weren't getting us anywhere, and now we are in a company we've built from scratch and which tens of thousands of people love. Quitting our old jobs is the best decision we've ever made, and we've never looked back."

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