Two Midlands entrepreneurs have launched Messages4U, a groundbreaking internet-based business which they believe has the potential to make significant inroads into the multi-billion pound market for greetings cards and floral gifts.
Messages4U provides an alternative - or additional gesture - to traditional flowers or cards as a way to express feelings, or mark special occasions such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries, engagements, births, Christmas, Father's Day, Mother's Day or even Halloween.
The Messages4U gift package enables people to record a 30 second voice message via the telephone, and select a music track to follow - both of which are burnt onto CD which is then packaged in a smart sleeve cover and posted directly to the nominated recipient's address.
All you do is log on to www. messages4U. co. uk and follow a simple set of instructions.
The concept is the brainchild of Walsall man Brian Perrins, who came up with the idea while on holiday in South Africa.
He said: "I was motoring down the East Indian Coast when I spotted a large hotel and decided to stop for the night.
"While slowly downing a bottle of red wine in the restaurant, I started to scribble down some business ideas. Perhaps the creative juices were stimulated by the power of the grape, but it was then that I came up with the ' blueprint' for Messages4U.
"I kept thinking that there was nothing more powerful than words and music and started working out a way to harness the two together as part of a messaging gift service.
"The concept is very simple and I realised that, apart from the development costs, the venture would be virtually self- financing once it was up and running."
He added: " We approached Business Link in April 2004 and found them to be very helpful. Their team put us in touch with local suppliers who could potentially help us with the technical elements of our venture from the initial taping of the voice message and delivering it across to the selected track and burning the two on to CD.
" Business Link also advised us of the innovation grants available through Advantage West Midlands.
"This proved to be a great help and we started looking at the legalities behind the business.
" We have also taken advantage of the Mustard programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund, Advantage West Midlands and the Business Links in the West Midlands.
"Through this scheme we have received - for a nominal fee - eight days of professional consultancy from accountants and business advisors Moore Stephens to help us develop our strategy and opportunities."
Business partner and financial director David Keller from Cleobury Mortimer takes up the story: "While the idea may be essentially straightforward, there were several major hurdles to overcome, not least of which was the telephony side of the venture. This has involved some fairly groundbreaking work.
"We needed to get a catalogue of music and a licence for the tracks. PPL, the UK broadcast collections society, said they were unable to provide us with a licence as there was no existing business around like ours and consequently no music industry ruling on it.
"We then contacted and met with four major recording companies - Sony, BMG, EMI and Universal. They all liked the concept and saw it as incremental business to their existing activities and we gained agreement with them all. Subsequently the four became three with Sony and BMG joining forces to become Sony BMG."
Mr Perrins said: "The concept of Messages4U is very simple and apart from the development costs, the venture is virtually selffinancing now it is up and running.