LBN meets Ian O’Doherty, chief executive of the Christmas savings, vouchers and corporate rewards business until recently known as Park Group. Tony McDonough reports
It is now more than 50 years since one of Merseyside’s best-known business figures Peter Johnson began the transformation of his family butchers shop in Wirral.
Mr Johnson, known for his one time ownership of both Tranmere Rovers and Everton Football Clubs, transformed the business into Park Group, a fast-growing provider of a Christmas savings club and Christmas hampers.
Successful businesses never stop evolving and Park is a prime example. Last year the business moved the bulk of its staff out of its longstanding Birkenhead home and into plush offices at 20 Chapel Street in Liverpool city centre. It also rebranded itself as the Appreciate Group.
Mr Johnson sold up several years ago and now the AIM-listed company, with an annual turnover of more than £100m, is headed by chief executive Ian O’Doherty, who took over from the long-serving Chris Houghton in March 2018.
Mr Houghton had begun the process of pushing the company into the digital era and, as a former executive with US credit card giant MBNA, Mr O’Doherty is well placed to take that onto the next level.
Appreciate still does the hampers and the Christmas savings, helping more than 430,000 families put money aside for the festive period. But is now also a multi-faceted financial services business, offering pre-paid gift vouchers, pre-paid cards and corporate incentives.
It offers some of the country’s best-known gifting and rewards products, including Love2shop and highstreetvouchers.com. It also enables corporate clients to offers a range of rewards and incentives for staff and customers.
“What all our products have in common is that they are designed for happy occasions – what we look to do is bring more joy to the world,” said Mr O’Doherty.
He has certainly brought some joy to the company’s employees with the relocation to 20 Chapel Street, one of Liverpool commercial district’s most sought-after addresses. Other tenants of the high-rise office block include Liverpool FC.
Appreciate employs around 270 permanent staff, as well as a number of temporary workers in the run-up to the peak Christmas period. Its Birkenhead base comprised cold storage, distribution and quite old-fashioned office space. Around 220 office-based staff made the move last year. The storage and distribution facility remains in Wirral.
The 26,000 sq ft of new space offers open plan office accommodation and break-out areas for staff. Mr O’Doherty added: “The office space in Birkenhead was in little pockets. What we wanted to create was a more collaborative environment and I think we have succeeded. There is a real vibrant feel to this place.”
Christmas hampers remain an important, but relatively small, part of the business, amnd account for around 2% of total revenues. The bulk of income comes from savings, vouchers and corporate rewards.
Corporate customers will use Appreciate services to reward or incentivise staff and customers. He explained: “We enable them to offer reward and recognition to employees, perhaps for long service or for being employee of the month. Or a company such as Sun Life may offer incentives to new customers using our rewards.”
The move to digital payments, particularly using mobile phones, is a major growth area for the business. Mr O’Doherty added: “Traditionally gift vouchers would be paper and then moved on to gift cards where money was loaded into the card.
“Now we can deliver a gift card straight to someone’s phone and that has been a really significant development for us. People can personalise it with a message, a picture or even a video.”
The move to Liverpool city centre will see a push to raise the profile of the business and in the past few weeks Appreciate has taken its mission to bring joy onto the Mersey Ferries, treating morning commuters to a gospel choir and a steel band.
“There are similarities in this job to my previous role at MBNA,” said Mr O’Doherty. “One of the main things is that it is all about dealing with people and about people working together.
“Now we have made the move I want to tell more people about who are we and what we do. I want our employees to be proud of who they work for and be able to tell people. I want to make sure we are a good corporate citizen.”