Already a mother of one, pregnant with her second child, and in the middle of a recession, Lucy Tibbetts admits she had a few moments of doubt before setting up Mail Boxes Etc. last year.
The company, which offers a range of business services under one roof, opened its doors in Camana Bay in December, after two years of preparation and effort from Tibbetts and her husband Sasha.
“We wondered if this was the right thing to be doing… A couple of years back, as we were starting out with this, the reports were that the economy was going to be plummeting over the next year, we wondered if this was the right time to be starting a business. It was a really big question for us,” she said.
But they did decide to go ahead, banking on the fact that by the time the economy recovered, they would be already established.
By the time they opened the business in December, their youngest child was just a few months old and the older one was four.
Her experience as a working mother was one of the incentives behind setting up the business, Tibbetts said.
After having her first child, she ran a consultancy business from home and found herself running around the Island, sending mail, printing, copying, and couriering packages through Fed-Ex.
“I thought that was just how it was and how things worked here. Then I came across the Mail Boxes Etc. concept. They were looking to expand throughout the Caribbean,” she said.
“I started thinking this could be a really good concept for Cayman, where there are so many small, home-based businesses that can’t afford a $30,000 copier.
Mail Boxes Etc. offers a wide range of services that businesses need – packing, shipping, printing, copying, courier services and more.
The company is an agent for courier firms, Fed-Ex, UPS and DHL, so people can drop their goods to be shipped off island to Mail Boxes Etc.’s office.
Setting up the company at the outset was not simple, Tibbetts admitted. “Because it was such an innovative and new idea, we had some challenges getting the various licences we needed to proceed with it. There was no precedence for it here so the processes didn’t really exist for this type of thing.
“It took two years to launch the business but once we got past the initial hurdles, the rest was smooth sailing. We started building in April 2009 and opened in Dec 2009. What we learned? Be sure you have a lot of time to put into a start-up and a good project plan.”
Getting capital was also another hurdle they had to deal with.
“Raising the capital needed for a start-up, especially during an economic recession, can be a challenge, but we recognised that under-capitalisation can be detrimental to the best of business concepts. So we focused our efforts on raising the capital we needed to fund the build-out and sustain the business in its first year,” said Tibbetts.
They explored numerous options including private investors, the Cayman Islands Development Bank and other lending institutions until they found a solution that worked best for the fledgling company.
She said she and her husband chose to open their business in Camana Bay because it is a location that is growing in terms of retail, commercial and residential. “It’s a perfect fit,” she said.
Although Cayman’s Mail Boxes Etc. opened in December last year, its official launch was at a Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event in March, an occasion that Tibbetts believes has propelled the company forward in terms of new customers and business.
“We saw an immediate increase in interest,” Tibbetts said. “It was really successful. We achieved our objective of raising awareness about what we do,” she said.
“A lot of people think we’re a post office. We do have postal services, but that’s just one of the many services we offer,” Tibbetts said, adding that the Business After Hours gave people an opportunity to visit the premises and see for themselves what was available.
One service the company offers that is proving increasingly popular is a US address service, so individuals and companies can have a postal address based in America, which is a boon for those dealing with US-based companies that only ship within the United States.
Mail Boxes Etc. handles Customs and duty fees when packages arrive from the US, so customers can simply can come by the store and pick up their mail and parcels, paying the company the duty price.
The company has recently launched ocean freight services, to add to the air freight service it already has.
It also partners with the Cayman Islands postal service to sell stamps and offers many of the services one expects from a post office.
Customers can also have their passport photographs taken there.
They can also access mailboxes and do mail drops 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Mail Boxes Etc. is not just for businesses, it also caters to individuals as well, packing goods for them and shipping them overseas.
Although only a few months old, the company has already seen a few unusual items coming through its doors, including a surfboard and a first edition hardcover of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn printed in 1884.
“We’ve had quite a few visitors come to us to pack and ship conch shells, which are not permitted to be shipped to the US. So the customers end up taking the conch shells in their suitcase and shipping their dirty laundry instead,” she said.
The business, which has six full-time and part-time staff, is open 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.Mail Boxes Etc. is at the corner of Market Street and Fort Street in Camana Bay and can be contacted on 745-1400 or by email on [email protected]