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Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 11:14 GMT


Small business case study: EuroCool

EuroCool: Mark Pritchard, Costas Mavroutis and Andrew Watkins

BBC News Online talked to EuroCool, a small start-up Internet company based in the UK that wants to make it big in Europe.

It is all very well for huge UK corporations to spend tens of millions of pounds preparing for the introduction of the euro.

After all they have the money and resources to make sure they can take advantage of a financial renaissance that will change the way Europeans do business for ever.

But what about small businesses who want to play on a European stage? How do they plan to cope with the monetary union and what problems have they encountered?

Flying high

If you haven't seen a Palm Pilot before, chances are you soon will.

They have become one of the fastest growing consumer products since the television was first introduced, with millions sold around the world every year.


[ image: EuroCool is hoping the euro will boost sales]
EuroCool is hoping the euro will boost sales
A sort of electronic filofax, the Palm Pilot can also be used to download information from the Internet or personal computers, so you can read the latest news while travelling to work on the bus.

And, as the name suggests, it is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

Mark Pritchard and Andrew Watkins, two IT consultants, liked the Palm Pilot so much they gave up their jobs and decided to go into business.

From humble beginnings twelve months ago their company, EuroCool, has now become one of the leading Internet distributors of Palm Pilots and accessories in Europe.


Mark Pritchard co-founder of EuroCool: 'The Euro will double our percentage of European sales'
Customers can also download a growing range of free Palm Pilot software and applications from its website.

The number of people visiting the group's Internet page is growing by more than 10% a month and now EuroCool wants to expand its European operations by building up its customer base across the continent.

It only started selling into continental Europe three months ago and already more than a third of its orders come from there.

The group has even taken on a new recruit, Costas Mavroudis, to help deal with the new business.

Now EuroCool's founders believe the advent of the euro provides a huge opportunity to penetrate the European market.

Opportunity knocks

They point to the fact that customers will now be able to compare prices across Europe easily, which is bound to stimulate international trade.


[ image: The group wants to build a large European presence]
The group wants to build a large European presence
"The euro will enable European customers to understand our prices. People will feel more confident in making European purchases when dealing in euros," said Mr Pritchard.

"I would have thought that from day one probably 50% or more of our business could be in euros," said Mr Watkins.

"People regularly write to us asking us to quote prices in their own currencies, so the demand is definitely there," he added.

However the euro has thrown up a number of practical problems.

Uncool

The company has been bitterly disappointed by the euro services offered by leading High Street banks in the UK.


Andrew Watkins co-founder of EuroCool: 'A lot of High Street banks are not ready for the Euro'
EuroCool has already set up a euro account that it can use to bill its customers in the new currency. But payment is limited to cash and cheques.

That is not enough.

As EuroCool trades on the Internet is relies on credit card transactions. It wants to provide a facility which allows customers to pay in euros using plastic.

However none of the major banks has been able to offer such a service in time for the introduction of the euro on 1 January 1999.

That puts EuroCool at a major disadvantage to its European rivals, just at a time when competition will be at its most fierce.

"We all knew that the euro was happening, you would have expected them (the High Street banks) to have something lined up," said Mr Watkins.

Let down

"A lot of people think the euro is over there, rather than over here. However when we try and explain that we are an exporter to Europe the banks aren't there for us," said Mr Pritchard.

"That said some banks are better than others. We spoke to all the banks - NatWest and Barclays definitely seem to be more advanced and plan to introduce the service next year," he added.

However it seems amazing that the High Street banks are letting UK companies down so badly.

"It is a bit scary that financial institutions in those countries adopting the euro are much more aware of it and are much more prepared," said Mr Pritchard.

The fact that the UK has delayed the introduction of the euro also presents a challenge.

Currency risk

EuroCool's profits will depend heavily on the rate at which the euro trades against the pound.

If the euro is strong, then EuroCool's goods will become more competitive compared to their European rivals, but if it is weak the reverse will be true.

Despite the added risks, the introduction of the euro promises to transform EuroCool's business.

Left out in the cold

Compared to other companies it seems well prepared and appreciates the challenges that lie ahead.

However there is a real danger that if other small businesses fail to wake up to the opportunities and threats provided by the euro, they may be left out in the cold.



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