It is not every day that a company reports that its biggest challenge is keeping up with demand, especially in the current economic environment. But that is the case for the newest telecommunications company in the Barbados market, Columbus International Inc., which operates as FLOW Barbados.
Managing director Niall Sheehy told Barbados TODAY that since the company officially started operations here over nine months ago, things had been “exciting, fast and dynamic”, adding that the company was expanding its operations twice as fast as it initially anticipated.
“The demand from the public has been really strong. One of our biggest challenges is trying to keep up with that. Last year when we launched, there were about 100,000 homes in Barbados and our plan was that by the end of 2013 we would have services available to 25,000 of those,” he said. “But in actual fact we finished 2013 with services available to almost 50,000.
“So we almost doubled what we said we would do in terms of the footprint that we built out in 2013 and that has continued into 2014 . . . . I would hope that by the end of this year we would have about 90 or 95 per cent of [households in] Barbados covered in terms of our service,” added Sheehy.
FLOW currently offers voice, broadband and video services.
Sheehy said the demand among customers was for all the services.
“In every other market that we operate, typically voice is not as popular; but our voice product is priced at a point where it is as equally in demand, and we have seen massive uptake in that as well. All three services are in huge demand,” he added.
As of December, 2013, the company had services in areas of St James, St Michael and Christ Church. Sheehy said FLOW was currently building out operations in St Philip and other parts of St James.
The company is expected to fill at least 60 positions by the middle of this year, taking the staff complement to about 260 full-time staff and about 40 contractors.
Sheehy said that despite the economic doldrums, FLOW had “a lot of confidence in the Barbados market” and would continue to expand its operations. The company is about to launch a Cloud personal video recorder service, as well as a video on demand that would allow people to, among other things, pause a movie, record shows and watch them whenever they wanted to afterwards, as well as watch movies on their mobile devices.
The managing director said there was also a plan to introduce a FLOW To Go application that would allow people to accept calls made to their home phones while they were overseas.
“Those three products are imminent. And when I say imminent we are talking about months rather than years. As a matter of fact, all three of them are available and we are using them internally, or just commercializing them right now,” he explained. “And from speaking with people they were excited about the offerings,” said Sheehy, adding that Barbadians were finally getting technology they had been waiting for.
But the demand is not only among individuals. Businesses are also taking up the Columbus Business Solution services.
“There is a huge appetite out there amongst businesses, both small and large enterprises, for our services,” the FLOW boss said, adding that the offerings were on par with what were being offered in developed countries.
“Also, we are talking with the Government about a number of major projects around telemedicine. There is a big demand out there and interest to see what we can bring to the table . . . . We believe we can make a huge difference to the way people do business.”
Sheehy said the company was “very pleased” with its experience in Barbados so far, and that the Government had been “very helpful and coorporative”.
As for competition, the managing director thinks it is “great”.
“People in Barbados can see for themselves what the effect of competition has been on broadband and video. But we have complete confidence in our plan, and the demand that we have seen has been really positive,” he said, attributing the success so far to the employees and their customer service.
Last year, the company acquired the Orange Mall in Warrens, and began reconstruction on the facility after the last of the tenants moved out in December. Sheehy said the work, started in January, was expected to be completed by the end of the third quarter of this year, at which time the company would move its entire operations there.
“So I would hope by September or October this year we will be all based inside there. Essentially there are going to be a retail outlet, a warehouse at the back . . . and all of the top floor is going to be corporate offices.”
Sheehy opted not to disclose the exact investment in the new location, saying only: “It is many, many millions. It is a multimillion-dollar investment, both from the acquisition and then obviously the refurbishment.”