Tim Alpe

tim-alpeToday we travel across the Tasman to talk to Tim Alpe, the co-founder of travel business Jucy. Tim, who was just named as New Zealand’s Entrepreneur Of the Year, started the business in 2002 with his brother Dan, concentrating on affordable car rentals. Today the business is in the campervan and hotel sectors, and is turning over more than $NZ26 million.

Alpe talks to us about misspelling your firm’s name, staying ahead of the pack with smart marketing, and illogical competitors in the tourism market.

Can I start with a dumb question maybe?

Sure, I’m good at those.

Why no “i” in Jucy?

Firstly, we couldn’t spell ourselves, truth be known. And second, we just wanted something totally unique. I mean we could have put an “i” in it but it’s a bit like the Wotif scenario where they can’t spell either and it seems to work pretty well for them. Some university student came up with the saying: there’s no “i” in it because it’s all about you.

Ah, very nice. Has it worked well because it is that extra bit distinctive?

I think that’s the whole point, it’s not the norm. It’s not what everyone else did. So we tried to have something that really stood out and I suppose we got people asking the question about why no “i” in Jucy. So it’s been a great move and in saying that we also make sure that we do come up on Google for the other spelling, so that we are covering for people who can actually spell as well.

Can we go back to the start of your story, where you and your brother buy 35 second hand Daewoo cars to set up a car rental business. Where did the inspiration for that move come from?

I was working for Tourism Holdings which is probably New Zealand’s largest tourism company, they deal in car rental and motor home campervan rentals. So we were working for them and really saw a gap in the market to look at offering a second tier product, but using next-generation marketing and using the web to generate business, as opposed to going through the traditional trade, travel agents, that sort of thing. That was also how it began. There were probably about 200 car rental operators in Auckland at the time so it was pretty saturated. So in some ways I don’t know if that was well planned or not.

Initially, what were the things that you did to stand out? Was it a particular segment of the market that you targeted?

I was 27 and Dan was 25, so we were sort of targeting more that youth market, the backpacker market. That was really where we tried to position ourselves, but as it turned out we ended up getting a lot of other people outside of those parameters as well.

Originally we really stood out because we used the web. We were the first to put an online live booking engine. Everyone does it now, but we were the first to really do that, which enabled people to book and get quotes instantaneously as opposed to having to wait up to 24 hours to get a reply as to whether the car was available and what was the price.

And that would have been a huge advantage back then.

Absolutely. We also gave people toll free numbers on our website from around the world. So if someone wanted to ring up and call us from the UK or Germany, they could do that at no cost to them. I suppose we really took a street fighter, hustling mentality to it in order to get business. And we kind of had to because we were the new kids on the block and no one really knew about us.

In a market that competitive has it been hard to try and stay one step ahead of your rivals in terms of product or service innovations?

I don’t think you probably can to be honest. I mean it’s pretty obvious what we do and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find out what new initiatives that are coming up. I think the only way that we can really do it is to ensure that we’re constantly looking for that next latest and greatest marketing tool to get business, whether that be online quotes, or now with social media. So we’re already looking at what is the next thing, we now have live chat. We give ourselves three to six months before our competitors follow I suppose.

Is there a formal process for generating those new ideas?

Not really. I mean we don’t come up with all this stuff by ourselves. So we’re constantly looking offshore as well. I mean if there’s an operator in Alabama who’s doing something amazing on their site or in the way that they’re marketing, we’ll replicate it. I guess it’s more just making sure we’re out there, we’re understanding what’s going on and we’ve got the right people for that next generation of marketing. And social media has been huge for that. We have dedicated social media staff whose sole role is to do our Facebook, our Twitter, our blogs, everything else.

Yours sounds like a business where you can probably see the return pretty quickly from social media.

Yeah we can. I think a lot of people see social media as just something that you have to do. You’ve got to have a Facebook account, you’ve got to have a Twitter account. We actually see it as a way of generating business and also increasing our brand awareness. And for us we can actually see it produces significant returns which is the exciting part about it really.

And have you worked hard to develop models to track those returns?

We’ve worked really hard to develop those models because everything we do – whether it’s our spend with Google or our advertising both traditional and non-traditional – everything comes back to an ROI. We’re pretty adamant about not just throwing money out there.

You came to Australia in 2008. What have been the challenges with growing in a very competitive market like Australia?

I think that in Australia there’s always been a sort of New Zealand curse. You know, you do well in New Zealand and you look across the Tasman and the market is three times the size and there’s a great opportunity, but you underestimate it and you end up stuffing it up. A lot of New Zealand companies have done that. I think that we were very adamant from the start that we needed to understand the market, we needed to be there. We saw it not as a New Zealand company launching in Australia as much as launching a branch for an Australian company over there. That’s pretty important to us and we employ Australian staff as well. I think we understood it a lot better, we’d proven it here in terms of the product offering. I think if you’ve got a good product, a good attractive brand I don’t think it makes a difference if you’re in Noosa or if you’re in Christchurch.

Are there particular vagaries of the Australian market that you’ve noticed? It’s always good for us to get an outsider’s view.

I think there are a lot of similarities but there are a lot of differences. We import vehicles from Japan and from New Zealand into Australia and dealing with some of the compliance side of things is incredibly interesting, because some people are a law unto their own. But that’s fine, you’ve just got to understand the market and understand the differences really. We’ve had really good growth in Australia and we’re loving doing business in Australia. We treat it as a bit of a domestic market anyway. I think again we’ve actually learnt quite a bit from our Australian business which we’ve been able to replicate over here. There are benefits on both sides, really.

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