Small Business Q&A: John Hunt from Hunt Office Supplies

In this week’s Q&A, Kehlan talks with John Hunt from Hunt Office Supplies based in Co Limerick, one of Ireland’s largest e-commerce sites that is quickly moving into the British market    

What does Hunt Office Supplies do?

Well we have a website, huntoffice.ie, and also have huntoffice.co.uk. We’re headquartered in Newcastle West in Co Limerick with warehouses in Dublin. Our tagline is ‘All Things Office’. So basically anything that helps make an office or company run we can probably provide it. From pens, furniture, and toner, to coffee and sugar.

Where does the story of the company begin?

I used to be a stationary and photocopier sales rep. My brother Seamus was a manager at a Quinnsworth branch which eventually got taken over by Tesco. We always had an idea that we’d like to work for ourselves. So in October of 1999 we bit the bullet and decided to start our own business. Back then the business was called Hunt Office Technology. With catalogues and vans we started in the Munster region and grew from there. We were hiring and had reps for almost every county in Munster. However with the growth of the internet and people’s access to it things became very challenging. So in 2006 we changed tact and created huntoffice.ie.

So did switching to online save your business?

Well let’s put it this way, there is only one multinational that sells more than us online in Ireland. That is the impact it has had. I had watched the evolution of Amazon from the very start. So that was the original thought that came to us. We had tried our own version of it 2001 to 2002, we set up myoffice.ie. But [the] logistics [involved] were tough. We were shipping things twice and broadband was nowhere near where it’s at today around the country. But in the mid-2000s we noticed that a company, who had no history in the office supply sector, was pulling in nearly a £1m from their offices in London. That was £1m per employee. So that was a big game-changer for us. So we re-invented the wheel and went through building our business again. Paid advertising, SEO, how to construct an efficient website. We had to learn it all. We adopted the model of pick, wrap, and deliver. That means we had to let seven van drivers go.

Was that difficult?

It was hard to think about doing that, but we gave them an option. They could leave if they wanted or we would train them up in SEO, web content and web development. They all took us up on the offer. So in the end we didn’t let anybody go, we trained them up to be part of the new side of the business.

So what is next?

We’re breaking into the UK at the moment, that will be the target for the foreseeable future.



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