Scaling to need

Bacchus Marsh Nursery 1975-2000.jpg

BY KERRY ANDERSON

Small businesses are extremely versatile. They can be scaled up and down according to the times and needs.  And there is no better example than the Bacchus Marsh Florist & Nursery currently under the third generation of ownership in the one family.

In 1966, only three months after unexpectedly becoming a widow, Josephine Jennings was cajoled by her daughter to have a look at a small plant nursery advertised for sale in the rural Victorian town of Bacchus Marsh.

While her husband had worked long-term for the State Rivers Authority involving a move from Maffra in Gippsland to Halls Gap in the Grampians, Josie’s duties had previously revolved around the State Rivers owned home and raising five now grown up children.  Suddenly, left without a home and a husband to care for, it made perfect sense for her to move closer to where her married daughter Yvonne Marsden lived with her family in Bacchus Marsh.

“She wasn’t very keen on the idea of buying a business,” says Yvonne, “but I knew she was gardening mad and the shop had a residence at the back for her to live in.  By the time we had walked through the shop she had bought it!”

Housed in a small cottage facing the main street, Josie’s nursery was relatively simple consisting of small plants, seeds, fertilisers, and pots. For some time the adjacent shop, also part of the freehold, was rented to a hairdresser.

‘Mum did ok with the business,’ recalls Yvonne who helped out by driving a ute and trailer to buy new stock from Melbourne when the shop was closed every Monday.

After remarrying, Josie’s new husband, Bert Layton, helped out for some time until they got the travel bug in 1971 which is when Yvonne and husband Lyle took over the business from her mother.

‘Lyle thought it would give me something to do now that our three boys were all at school,’ Yvonne recalls with a wry smile, or maybe it was a grimace? They started by leasing then purchased the property.  For the first six years Lyle continued working elsewhere to help pay the nursery off until he also joined Yvonne in the business full time.

Yvonne says that the best eleven years of her life were when the whole family moved into the tiny residence at the back of the shop so the kids didn’t have to go home to an empty house after school.

Within a year the profits had been tripled. ‘I bought product in much bigger quantities and more lines,’ Yvonne explains. ‘We also started selling sand, soil and pine bark from the back of the shop and really got into horticulture in a bigger way.’

Perhaps the biggest change to the business was the introduction of a floristry. ‘This ended up as being as good as the nursery in terms of revenue,’ says Yvonne who taught herself the art of arranging flowers.  Land at the rear of the shop was purchased to build their new home and the residence was given over to the business.

The ‘big drought’ that first reared its ugly head in the 1980’s and re-emerged in the 1990’s effectively shut down many wholesale nurseries as water restrictions impacted on sales and prompted change.

Yvonne and Lyle downscaled the business to its original size and built shops to rent out which has effectively become their superannuation.  Lyle was then able to give more time to his passion for farming and training race horses while Yvonne continued with the floristry and nursery on a smaller scale.

2007 heralded another change when their youngest son, Brian and his wife Kerryn, bought the business. 

The value of intellectual property and knowledge of customers and processes should never be underestimated. The transition was a very easy one given that Kerryn had worked with Yvonne in the business for 15 years prior.

‘It was a great business to go into. We just kept it moving slowly but surely. While some new business owners like to promote that it is under new management, it was business as usual for us,’ explains Kerryn who admits to simply telling customers that Yvonne wasn’t in today when asked. ‘I didn’t want to embarrass them that they didn’t know.’

Brian is quick to clarify that there were no family favours given in the purchase of the business. ‘Mum and dad have worked hard all their life and deserve a good retirement.’  The couple also knew it was a good solid business that has stood the test of time.

But times do change and so do customer expectations and trends.  For a start, Brian and Kerryn introduced seven day a week trading about eleven years ago.

‘Rain, hail or shine, we are open,’ says Brian.  While they employ between four and six staff members at any given time, he and Kerryn work Sundays and public holidays to cut down on penalty rates.

‘When we get busy we get really busy,’ adds Kerryn. ‘We cater for a lot more weddings these days. People know that we are always open which is important.’

While the couple have only ‘made a few cosmetic changes to the shop’ and introduced a few different lines including a lot more indoor plants, there is always plenty to do especially with regard to the floristry component of the business.  ‘Flowers are always evolving,’ explains Kerryn. ‘There are lots of different ideas and trends to keep up with.’

Their daughters, Jamie and Keely - great-grand daughters of Josephine - also work in the business so there is the potential that one day there may be a fourth generation added to this family dynasty of small business owners.

Whether scaling up or scaling down, or simply doing what it always does best, the Bacchus Marsh Florist & Nursery is a great example of how small business families can live and work where they love over many generations.

VISIT THEIR WEBSITE

ABOVE:  Josephine Jennings just prior to purchasing the Bacchus Marsh Nursery and her daughter Yvonne who later took over ownership.

The Marsden Family’s top business tips:

  • YVONNE: Work it yourself.  You have to have staff but it pays to always be around.
  • LYLE: Own your own property.
  • BRIAN: Don’t spend more than what you earn (impressed on him by his mum!). 
  • KERRYN: Understand that you can’t please everyone.

KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business’ and grand-daughter of Josephine Jennings. Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

 

 

Year of the Camel

Camel Milk Co Chris & Megan 2018.JPG

2018 is going to be the ‘Year of the Camel’ according to Chris and Megan Williams of Camel Milk Co. Australia. While there is no official proclamation, indications are that their Kyabram based business is going to make it worthy of such accolades.

With traditional dairy businesses under pressure it is no surprise that rural communities are rapidly diversifying and becoming home to a wider range of micro businesses. But camels? Seriously? Two questions that immediately came to mind for me were: 1) How on earth do you milk a camel? and 2) Why on earth would you want to?

A road trip on a hot January morning to the Camel Milk Co. Australia near Kyabram helped answer these two questions for me.  The ‘How?’ was easily resolved by arriving right on milking time.

Which brings us to the ‘Why?’

We managed to wrangle Chris off a tractor to sit down with Megan so I could hear first-hand their fascinating story, delivered in half sentences that they finish for each other, a charming testimony to a shared passion. And, to their secret delight, I unwittingly request milk when offered a coffee.

From modest beginnings in 2014 with 3 camels on 100 acres, Chris and Megan have expanded their business to nearly 250 camels on 480 acres with plans to expand even further.  Straight away this indicates what a success story it has been but not without the usual risk and hard work associated with a start-up business.

Working with Megan’s parents on their Victorian dairy farm, the newly married couple were looking for something different but still agricultural based.  While researching what they could do, their family expanded with the arrival of three active boys within a period of less than four years.

‘We were looking at getting our own farm and getting the work-life balance going,’ says Chris. ‘It was important to us to have a sustainable income and not have all our eggs in the one basket.’  Initially they looked at miniature Herefords and goats but eventually they settled on camels.

To understand why camels were their beast of choice we have to back pedal to when they first met in 2008.  Chris had just immigrated from the United Kingdom to work on a cattle station east of Alice Springs and Megan was driving tourist coaches. They met in a pub in Alice Springs; as you do.

In what appears to be love at first sight, Megan jumped ship - or coach to be accurate - and started working with Chris on Andado Station where they frequently came across camels roaming wild.  A subsequent fascination grew with these majestic animals that were imported in the 19th Century to help build the telegraph from Adelaide to Darwin, and eventually abandoned to roam free and breed to feral proportions. 

When the couple moved to Megan’s family property in Victoria where drought, rising expenses, and declining income, has seen the water dependent dairy industry struggle; they brought with them the knowledge that camels survive well in the harshest of climates.  But surely milking camels was unheard of in Victoria?

‘Dad always says that if you are a farmer you are one of the biggest gamblers in the world,’ laughs Megan.  ‘We didn’t know for sure if there was a market,’ she acknowledges but, incredibly, as soon as word got out there was a waiting list before they even started producing milk. 

What started out as Camel Milk Victoria was soon rebranded Camel Milk Australia Co. when it turned out that fresh camel’s milk is highly sought by a large middle eastern customer base in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth through fine grocers and boutique stalls.

‘In their countries camel milk is a staple,’ says Megan. ‘Australia has a huge advantage over other countries because we have disease free camels.  Once you have a recognised brand in Australia then it is trusted overseas as well.’

As a result they are already exporting milk to Hong Kong and Singapore with supplies about to also hit Iran.  A shortage in the United States is another opportunity they are currently pursuing.

With high protein and low fat, camel’s milk is also attractive to the fitness market.  Sipping the coffee I requested at the start of our interview, it doesn’t even occur to me that I’m drinking camel’s milk until pointed out by Megan.  My initial thought is that it tastes very similar to skim milk.

Having resolved the ‘How’ and ‘Why?’ we turn to the many challenges of starting a new business enterprise, not to mention such an unusual one.

Their initial test pilot with three camels proved that they were on to a solid business idea so it was time to purchase more land and more camels.  Your bank would be more than willing to help? I ask the question tongue in cheek and inevitably Megan fires up.

‘You see bank adverts that encourage you to do something new, niche and innovative but it’s a load of crock!  We changed banks and it was positive for a while but the final decision was made by people in the city who have no idea.’ Instead, the sale of some dairy heifers they were growing helped them get started.

Not relying on finance and taking a ‘stepping stones’ approach turned out to be a huge positive.  ‘We had to make the money before we could spend it,’ explains Chris. ‘The advantage is that we own everything,’ adds Megan. ‘It’s good to grow into business, not go into business.’

Sourcing camels has also been tricky. ‘It’s not as easy as buying dairy heifers,’ Chris admits. Usually they are mustered directly from the outback. Their specification of a pregnant female camel hasn’t always been adhered to resulting in one truck load arriving that included bulls and calves and had to be sent back.  Where possible they now go and help draft the camels when they are mustered. 

Another constant challenge is, with a fourteen-month gestation, trying to guess at what stage of the pregnancy a camel is at.  Now that they have their own bulls and breeding program this is becoming a little easier.  Feed issues were overcome by finding a ‘fantastic nutritionist who helped us formulate their diet.’

The fact that the majority of camels are wild or semi wild is a significant challenge that also requires dedicated and skilled staff.  When the couple first advertised for an experienced camel milker it caused much laughter, but social media and word of mouth got results.

‘In any business its hard to find good staff but doing something niche like we do, they first have to have an absolute love of camels and some skills from being around camels,’ explains Megan. ‘It’s easy to train people who already have a passion.’  

As a result, they have a very multicultural workforce with the majority of their seven staff members having either lived or travelled in countries that have camels.  When it is time for them to move on, they are often able to recommend someone else to take their place helping out with the recruitment process.

Meeting stringent Australian food production and handling regulations is a necessary evil for any dairy business that Chris and Megan willingly undertook including installation of a pasteuriser plant and cool room.

Both have an Advanced Diploma in Agriculture which has helped them along the way but doing their own research and connecting with the right people in the industry has been crucial to their business success.  Attending trade fairs has been a productive investment.

Finding an independent niche distributor took some time and was aided by the many connections formed at a Naturally Good Expo in Sydney.  ‘We did it ourselves at first,’ says Chris. ‘Started with a Wayco in the back of the car then upgraded to a refrigerated vehicle.’  Thankfully, they now enjoy a friendly twice a week pick up by Melbourne based Metro Milk that simultaneously provides a service many other small producers in rural Victoria.

Once the business expanded into an international market, it became evident that their customers like a range, not just one product.  In addition to fresh camel’s milk, they now also sell soaps, lip balms, body butters, liquid soaps and powdered milk.  Research and development continues with a current focus on introducing camel cheese and chocolate products, no mean feat with up to six months required to get to point of sale.

‘We have a lot of money tied up in this that we can only hope to get back,’ Chris admits.

‘Yes, it’s a bit of a gamble,’ Megan agrees, ‘particularly ensuring that we have enough milk to meet demand. We have to meet all the regulations, produce samples, test the market, get customer feedback, and design packaging before we can even start selling.’

Outsourcing some aspects of the business was a wise decision made early on.  A professional is contracted to look after their website and the non-fresh products are packaged offsite.

Despite all the challenges of setting up and continuing to grow Camel Milk Australia Co., Chris and Megan have no doubt that they are on the right track.

‘It’s very exciting being our own bosses and doing something different,’ admits Megan.

‘We’re constantly learning,’ agrees Chris, ‘and we’re making a living from something we’ve made from scratch. There’s money in everything if you do it properly.’

Putting back into the community is something else that they enjoy. ‘Employing people and bringing them to live in Kyabram probably gives the pub a lot of business,’ Chris smiles. ‘We also bring visitors to town, give tours of the farm and point out other nearby attractions’ Megan adds.  A recent feature on the ABC’s Landline program is giving them and the district added exposure.

‘We all need to understand the ramifications of what happens to rural towns when local agriculture isn’t supported,’ says Megan.

Being able to have their boys, aged 5, 4 and 2 ½, close at hand has always been a priority. While a nanny comes in daily to allow them both to work in the business, the boys often join them when feeding out the camels and every day they have meals together.

‘We want them to grow up and have opportunities. Already they are learning lots of skills as a normal part of their life,’ says Chris.  No doubt their eldest son, will be able to tell his prep class about the ‘Year of the Camel’ as he starts school February!

Chris and Megan’s top business tips:

  • Do your research.
  • Be passionate about what you are doing.
  • Educate yourself on what you are going to do.
  • Don’t doubt yourself.
  • Be a problem solver.

VISIT THE CAMEL MILK CO AUSTRALIA WEBSITE


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Celebrating Rural Women

(L-R) Jenni Finn from Factory and Field in Cohuna, Lauren Mathers from Bundarra Berkshires in Barham, and Andrea Harrison from Kawaii Kids in Birchip, engaged in conversation with Kerry Anderson to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October, 2017.

(L-R) Jenni Finn from Factory and Field in Cohuna, Lauren Mathers from Bundarra Berkshires in Barham, and Andrea Harrison from Kawaii Kids in Birchip, engaged in conversation with Kerry Anderson to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October, 2017.

On 15 October, to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women, Kerry Anderson invited three female entrepreneurs to share their inspirational stories of starting a rural business.

What a pleasure and privilege to have these three dynamic and extremely busy women together in a room sharing their passion for starting a rural based business.  Their introductions alone were inspirational.

Jenni Finn: Factory and Field, Cohuna 

LINK TO FACEBOOK PAGE

When Cohuna teenager Jenni Finn got a casual job in an orange juice factory in the 1980’s she had no idea that one day she would own that historic building – originally a butter factory - and establish one of her home town’s most successful businesses in recent years.  Tucked away on a back road in an industrial estate, Factory and Field is not exactly where you’d expect to find a popular home wares and gift store and that is part of its charm.  Opened in somewhat of a rush in September 2013, Jenni’s vision is rushing ahead in leaps and bounds as she continues to bring her ideas into reality across the four acre industrial site.

Andrea Harrison: Kawaii Kids, Birchip 

LINK TO WEBSITE

What do you do when you live in an isolated rural community and can’t buy shoes for your toddler?  Well, if you’re Andrea Harrison from the agricultural town of Birchip, you start up your own online business, Kawaii Kids, importing children’s shoes and clothing.  Operating from the family home; clothes were stored in industrial containers in the back yard and a laptop on a small desk in the hallway acted as a business hub.  Fast forward a decade, Andrea has opened a retail store in Horsham and collaborated with retailers Australia wide to manufacture a specialist baby range. 

Lauren Mathers: Bundarra Berkshires, Barham 

LINK TO WEBSITE

In 2009 a lone Berkshire sow ‘Doris’ was the beginning of what Lauren Mathers envisioned as a whole herd of free roaming black heritage pigs rooting about improving the soil.  “Bundarra” is Lauren’s family free range Bio-dynamic farm on the Murray River just outside the small township of Barham in Southern NSW. The farm itself was dormant land that she and husband Lachlan saw potential in and, after years of patience, the farm was finally theirs.  Not content with just breeding, Lauren learned the skills of butchery and in 2013 started processing all meat onsite.

How did they gain the confidence to start a new business venture?

Research has shown than over 30 percent of people are more likely to go into business if they know someone in business, most often a family member or close friend.  In Jenni and Lauren’s case this happened to be their grandmothers who had also started businesses.

‘Nanna comes into Factory and Field and likes to remind me that it is all because of her,’ Jenni confided with a laugh.

Confidence is a huge impediment to anyone starting out in business especially for rural women with no formal business skills. 

A classic attribute of an entrepreneur is a quiet self-belief in themselves.  Rather than blindly take a leap of faith they avidly research to the point where they are both excited and confident that they have a great business idea.

All three women alluded to this as they spoke about their vision and the determination to bring their new businesses into reality.

‘You have to have an appetite to take a risk,’ Lauren admitted.

Andrea, who lays awake at night dreaming of all the things she would like to do, believes that you have to be passionate about what you do otherwise you wouldn’t do it.

Overcoming financial barriers.

One of the biggest hurdles in establishing a business is accessing finance, and right from the start it became evident for each of the women that a business loan from a bank is not the answer.

Jenni’s advice is ‘don’t accept the first no.’  Factory and Field was born in a bit of a rush; three months to be exact.  She made the decision in July, purchased stock at a trade fair in August and opened in September.  While the bank had been happy to support the purchase of the building, it wasn’t prepared to finance the business.  Undeterred Jenni gave the building a bit of a tidy up and used her personal credit card to purchase stock.  Thankfully she sold out on opening night and had the cash to stock up for the next influx.

Andrea and Lauren also found alternate ways of funding their business activities.

Andrea managed to self-fund the start of her business but recalls how a bank wouldn’t loan her money to expand despite the impressive cash flow figures she presented. Having no credit history was a bitter lesson.

Financial pressure can be felt every time there is a major investment in stock or improvement to the business.  Cashflow is crucial.  At times Andrea admitted to anxiously waiting for the EFTPOS sales to be deposited into her account just to cover her expenses.  While determined to keep the business separate from the family assets, at one point the family car was sold but thankfully it was a short term solution.

In 2014, a commercial kitchen was required when Lauren wanted to take her business a step further making traditionally cured pork products to sell online and at Farmers Markets. Cashing in on the great goodwill there is for free-range products, she used a crowd funding platform, Pozible, to successfully raise $18,000 ($3,000 more than required) for the project.

The panel agreed that it was worth looking at other short-term options such as a personal loan or through an online lender such as Prospa.  While the rates are higher, they are far more accessible.

Balancing business and family life.

With Lauren a mother of three, and Andrea a mother of four, they clearly rely on a lot of passion and drive to nurture a young family and business at the same time.  It’s not always easy but business does have some advantages over a 9 to 5 job.

‘I work every spare minute that I have,’ Lauren admitted. In addition to a little bit of child care relief, she often works into the night as and when the need arises. ‘It gets me ahead and puts me in a better place.’

Child care is also a lifeline for Andrea especially when she heads to the retail store in Horsham. Her time is much more flexible at home dealing with the online side of the business. 

‘I couldn’t do this without the support of Daniel my husband,’ she is quick to acknowledge. ‘And when he is busy with cropping on the farm I have to hold back on my business so he can concentrate on what he needs to do.’

Like many children of working parents their children grow up thinking it is normal to be in a work environment.  Their mothers are role models demonstrating that it is possible to control your own destiny in a rural town.

Jenni’s children were teenagers when she started her business giving her much more freedom to put in the long hours although she does admit that perhaps they were a little ignored. ‘I don’t think they really cared at that age,’ she smiles.

Already her 16-year-old daughter is working part time in the business and has developed valuable skills.  ‘My daughter is capable of running the business and has already done so when I can’t be here.’  There will be no shortage of opportunities as Jenni prepares to open another business, Factory and Field Waffles in the main street of Cohuna.

Despite the hard work and frequent frustrations, Jenni, Andrea and Lauren clearly love being in business.

‘The best thing about being in business for me is the satisfaction I get from people picking up my garments in store and loving them, without knowing that they were once only an idea in my head,’ explained Andrea.

It was of significance that this celebration was held at Factory and Field.  Four years ago, as part of an Operation Next Gen conversation, I brought a group of local leaders to this vacant building and challenged them to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes.  Jenni did exactly that and, within six months, this old butter factory was experiencing another exciting chapter in its long history.  

With the vision, passion and determination of an entrepreneur anything is possible, especially with a supportive local community.

 

Kerry Anderson, author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business, works with rural towns all over Australia.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

Australia Day

Kerry Anderson was delighted to celebrate Australia Day 2018 with the community of Tarnagulla in the Loddon Shire and reflect on why living in a rural town is so great.

Every day is a good day to celebrate living in Australia, especially if you live in a rural town like Tarnagulla. 

Each of us have different reasons why we love living in a rural town. For some it might be a sense of belonging and knowing your neighbours.  For others it could be the quietness and being able to walk your dogs in the bush.  Maybe it is the short commute to work?  And, if you still need convincing, just try driving through Melbourne peak hour some time!

Sometimes we get caught up in the negatives of living in a rural town.  And there are two negatives I hear over and over.

The first is that traditional industries are closing down or becoming more automated which means less jobs.  It’s inevitable so why dwell on the past.  Who wants to work as a manual labourer when a machine can do it for us? 

And the second is that our young people are moving away.  Far from trying to lock our young people up, we need to encourage them to go to university, travel, and experience the big cities. But we also need to let them know that they also have a future here when they are ready to return, usually about the time that they want to raise a family in a nice clean country environment.  This is what the statistics are showing.

As Melbourne chokes and gags, there are great opportunities for rural communities to grow and prosper. There are those who have lived in a city all their life and want to escape.  Think about what skills and capital they can bring to our rural communities.  There’s a place for everyone if you want to make them feel welcome.

I’m part way through reading Footprints across the Loddon Plains by Paul Haw and Margaret Munro.  What a wonderful record it is of our indigenous culture that is only now being recognised and celebrated.

When my children were younger we used to camp on the Loddon River and drive our horses and jinkers into Tarnagulla where we rested them in the reserve over lunch.  I imagine that the Dja Dja Wurrung people may have also rested in this space as they moved around hunting or on their way to meet with neighbouring tribes. 

I get the sense from this book that they were quite nomadic, and I love the reference in the title to footprints.  It reminds me that we are all brief custodians on this land and we are always moving forward. Time does not stand still.

But what are we leaving behind us?  What is our legacy to the next generation?

HONOUR THE PAST

Change is inevitable, but it’s important to honour the past.  Those people who have been before us - the Dja Dja Wurring people and, following European settlement, the pastoralists.  And then came many more people because of gold including the Chinese, Greeks and Italians who made a big impact on new settlements like Tarnagulla.  Imagine the excitement of discovering Poverty Reef and the Poseidon Nugget. It’s difficult to imagine a nugget weighing over 26 kilos!

My home town of Castlemaine was built on gold as were the key buildings still standing today in Tarnagulla.  What a commitment it would have been to invest in building a town from scratch.  And then the gold ran out, as it does.  Those that stayed on invested in agriculture and other micro businesses.  Every rural town is constantly recreating itself to survive.

PRESENT:  What is our contribution to this constantly changing landscape?

As some of you will know, I come from a small business background.  And like many business people I’ve always volunteered for community groups, sponsored events and donated goods and equipment.

I always used to think of business and community as being very separate.  That is, until I took a group of young farmers to visit Tom Smith at Yarrawalla in 2010.  For those of you who don’t know him, Tom is a very successful pig grower who has also been very involved in his local community.

I was trying to encourage the young farmers to think about how they could be innovative in their businesses and also contribute to their community and industry as leaders.  So, after touring the piggery, I asked Tom what he considered to be his greatest contribution to the community. 

What he said changed my thinking entirely.  Tom says that his greatest contribution to the community is to be successful in business.  By employing people they are then able to live in that community, send their kids to the local schools, and spend their money in the local shops.

What a great answer it was.  So, now when I talk about business, I simultaneously talk about community.  One can’t do without the other.  It is also why I called my book Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve been working exclusively with rural towns and I am always intrigued by what makes some towns more vibrant than others.  As usual, it comes down to us, the people who live in that town.  Not the council, not the state government, and not the federal government.  It is us.

I’d love to share with you three stories that I think best demonstrate the power of community and how resourceful rural people are.

1.       2011 Gannawarra Shire Floods

2.       Bakery on Broadway, Wycheproof

3.       Girgaree – (blog soon to be posted)

These three stories demonstrate the power of collaboration, of people working together for the common good, just like those people being recognised in Australia Day Awards today.  Led by the community for the community.  None of it happens overnight but it can happen.

FUTURE:  How can we look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes?

In a rapidly changing world with an ageing population, we can’t keep on doing the same old.  We have to look to the future and to do this we need to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes.

If anyone watched the Pine Creek episode of Back Roads on the ABC last week you might have noticed when a father and daughter had totally different ideas of what was needed to reinvigorate their town after mining had ceased.  The father said more mining while his daughter suggested environmental tourism. Whose future is it going to be?

As part of the Operation Next Gen program my challenge to rural towns is to create new conversations with new people in new places.  Not the existing leaders who are already busy doing what they do.  Give some new and younger people permission to think creatively and you might be surprised at what crazy ideas might actually become a reality.

While traditional retail shops are closing what else can we use those spaces for?  How can we encourage existing businesses to diversify and new businesses to start up? 

The future of work is changing and this is a great opportunity for rural towns. Instead of employing staff, the big corporates are sub-contracting their work which means that people can live in a rural town and, with the benefit of digital technology, work with clients all over the world.

Over in the United States, there is a new trend suddenly emerging.  San Fransisco has become too expensive for Silicon Valley.  All those big tech companies are looking to the regions for new work locations.

There are so many opportunities for rural communities who can showcase themselves as a great place to live and work.

Our job, as existing community leaders, is to encourage and support a new generation of community leaders to step up and take control of their own destiny. Don’t expect them to come to your community planning sessions or attend traditional meetings.  Take them to abandoned spaces and challenge them to think about what it could become in the future. Let them take the lead.

And finally I want to leave you with one last thought.

We’re very good at pulling together in a crisis. Why can’t we do the same when it is to build a stronger future for our rural town? 

We have the power to collectively make positive change.  It’s up to us.

Kerry Anderson
26 January, 2018

5 Thought Starters

2018.jpg

Before our year gets too busy, it's a great time to think about how we want to make a positive difference in 2018. Here are five thought starters.

#1 Changing the narrative on 'small'

While some 'experts' try and tell us that density of population is required to succeed, there is growing evidence that quality not quantity is the real measure. With plenty of case studies to support this theory, let's start by changing the narrative for small business and communities.

What are shrink smart communities?

Are rural people more entrepreneurial?

#2 The future is already here!

We can't afford to be complacent in a fast changing world. There are so many opportunities but are we recognising them and taking advantage of them?

The 4 kinds of leaders who create the future

How future proof is your business and community?

#3 Equipping young people for a changing world

Learning essential skills and changing the conversation from job seeking to job creation is essential for our young people to succeed.

How education should build the future

Why are so many college graduates unemployed?

#4 Preparing rural towns for opportunity and growth

As our cities get more expensive and crowded there are many opportunities for rural and regional growth but how do you manage it?

Are you ready for a rural and regional influx?

Preparing for rural community growth

#5 Change doesn't happen overnight

Last year I was privileged to assist with a research project on the collective impact of grants distributed by the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) over a sixteen year period.  Measuring outcomes over the long rather than short term is so much more meaningful and something that we should all be building into the programs and projects we contribute to. The following story is a case in point.

What a great outcome that tourism has been significantly boosted over the past four years in Cohuna. It is far from coincidence that Operation Next Gen was launched four years ago and great recognition of the local community that, with strong support from the Gannawarra Shire, took control of its own destiny and created the #GetYourBacksideCreekside campaign.  WIN TV story via Facebook

I'm looking forward to collaborating with you in 2018 to see how we can create positive change for your rural community.

How future proof is your business and community?

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BY KERRY ANDERSON

If we don’t even bother to ask that question, there is potential for looming disaster.

Sitting in a predominantly young audience at a Pivot Summit held recently in Geelong, it suddenly occurred to me that this generation has no conception of a world pre-computers and the internet.

We were listening to Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak’s reminiscences of building a computer from scratch because it was the equivalent to the cost of a house to buy in the 1970’s.  Who would have thought that today we would have access to a mini computer courtesy of our smart phone! In fact, who would have thought we’d be carrying our own personal phone not connected by wire to a wall?

Times are changing so rapidly in this digital and technological age.  Every decade sees major innovation.  Not only new products being invented but the way we work and do everyday tasks is changing.

With the acceleration of driverless cars on to the market, there is a strong chance that the toddlers in our families will never need a driver’s license.  Instead there will be a market for recreational driving tracks, similar to riding schools for horses.  And cars will be fitted out with beds and luxury screens as customers book an overnight ride from Melbourne to Sydney.  Concert tickets may include a pick-up service.  The list is endless for discerning business people.

Which brings me to the question. How future proof is your business and community?

If we don’t even bother to ask that question, there is potential for looming disaster.  I see it time and time again. A disgruntled business owner closing their doors because they have kept doing the same old thing and wondering why their customers were disappearing. 

In my experience there are three good reasons for innovating your business: Growing profits, increasing safety and efficiency, and staying relevant.  If you don’t offer that new experience, product or service to your customers, someone else will.

It makes good sense to keep an eye on new trends and to give yourself the space to think creatively.  For some this comes naturally, for others it is a foreign language.  How can we get ourselves into this head space?

The gurus tell us that we should be reading a new book each week.  Hmmm. Well at least follow some interesting blogs on social media that you can skip through over a coffee.

As painful as it may be to take time out of the business, it is important to sign up for at least one interesting business-related event each year.  Choose something different. Even an online webinar with an obscure title!

For some a personal business coach may be the answer but it will depend on the quality of that coach as to what results you will get.

Some of the greatest insights come from everyday conversations and observations.  The idea for a McDonald’s drive through came from a bank installing a drive through night safe for its business customers.

My advice is to tear yourself away from your usual peer group.  Always be curious and make new conversations. 

And, from a community perspective the same applies. There are three reasons why rural communities need to pay attention.

#1  Traditional industries are struggling to be competitive in a global market

#2 The way we work is changing with technologies

#3 An ageing population is placing stress on our services

The trick is to anticipate change and explore alternatives well before that major industry your community relies on closes its doors and young people move away to places where new and exciting ideas are the norm.

It's your choice!


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Rejuvenating this Christmas

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If anyone deserves to put their feet up on Christmas Day it is our small business people.  Naturally our customers would agree. Or would they?

As Christmas approaches, our business people are starting to look decidedly tired.  If they’re in agriculture, chances are they are busy with harvest.  If they’re in retail then it is potentially their biggest earning period of the year.  And, if they’re in the service sector then it is a rush to complete those big urgent jobs before Christmas and the dreaded ‘shut down’!

If anyone deserves to put their feet up on Christmas Day it is our small business people.  Naturally our customers would agree.  Or would they?

One downside of being in business today is that there is a huge assumption by customers that businesses will be open 24 hours and seven days a week.  If I run out of milk, surely a shop is open?  If my toilet is blocked, it has to be fixed now!

While we love to encourage our city cousins to spend their dollars out in the region, their expectations are sometimes hard to meet.  They are genuinely puzzled as they drive into a rural town to find most of the businesses closed after midday on a normal Saturday let alone on Christmas and Boxing Day.

What they fail to understand is that predominantly small businesses in rural towns are family owned and run.  In order to spend quality time together as a family they need to shut their business from time to time.  This is important for their personal health and relationships.  Anyone who has hired staff will understand that penalty rates are prohibitive for many small businesses that simply provide a living for the owners and little profit to spare.

My advice to small business owners is not to feel guilty.  Simply plan well ahead and communicate with regular customers your intention to close for the holiday period. Place a sign on your door and website explaining that you appreciate their understanding.

And, if you are a customer, please plan ahead for your needs as much as possible. And, when faced with a closed sign on a business door, be happy that this small business family is taking care of itself.

When we are rested, we will be back to serve you with a smile on our face.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas. Relax. Business can wait!


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Blinded by the Stars

WORDS by Kerry Anderson, PHOTOGRAPHS by Shayne Mostyn

In what many would term an unusual career pathway, Shayne Mostyn has been preparing to be self-employed for most of his adulthood. From the army to technology; from the Gold Coast to the dairy town of Cohuna, every step and new skill has prepared Shayne to create his own destiny in a rural town where he was blinded by the stars.

Like most teenagers, school was just something you do every day according to Shayne. ‘Nothing inspired me at school,’ he admits without apology. ‘I just wanted to go into the army.’

Six years in the army taught him one of his greatest skills.  ‘Tolerance,’ Shayne says. ‘I cope with day to day stresses much better than most people. When I am out at 2.00am doing a night photography course with a storm raging around me,’ he explains, ‘I weather the storm a lot better.

Exiting the army, he then became a technician for Xerox in Sydney followed by a stint working at the Olympic Games.  Technology is another expertise he has accumulated.

‘I worked my way up through Xerox becoming a team leader and then operations manager.  You get a name for yourself and then get head hunted to put out fires.’

Working for Xerox and IBM taught Shayne about processes, another important element that has prepared him for business.  ‘Flying by the seat of your pants is definitely not the way to manage a business,’ Shayne says.

As is often the case with tree changers, Shayne first discovered Cohuna in northern Victoria when he and wife Sarah were visiting her sister over the Easter holiday five years ago.  Arriving in the small agricultural town of just over 2,000 population they discovered that there was no reception for their mobile phones via Vodaphone.

‘Without my usual 140 emails per day, eighty percent of which would require action, I suddenly had bliss,’ Shayne recalls.  ‘We loved Cohuna and driving back to Melbourne I said to Sarah that I could live there.’

As fate would have it, by the time they arrived back in Melbourne he had received a job offer of driving an excavator.  ‘I’d driven tanks in the army,’ Shayne explains. ‘Other than a gun there is not much difference.’

Two weeks later Sarah was offered a job with an accounting firm in nearby Echuca getting offered more money than she was receiving on the Gold Coast.  Their fate was sealed!

Owning a farm was a dream of Shayne and Sarah but it soon became evident that a traditional dairy was beyond their means. ‘With a $2.5 million buy-in required we decided to go with a different business model,’ Shayne explains.

An episode of Master Chef featuring goats cheese gave them the idea to convert an old dairy farm to breed and milk goats, a much more affordable solution.

‘I enjoy the farming side of things and did relief milking to gain experience,’ says Shayne. ‘We’re doing something different and I would challenge anyone in the district to say they are bringing in more money per acre.’ 

Hmm in light of the recent dairy crisis, he is probably right!

With Sarah driving the product development and marketing their boutique soaps made from goat’s milk at Windella Farm, Shayne has been free to pursue other interests.  It soon becomes clear that he is not one to sit around and lounge at home.

That very first weekend in Cohuna he saw the stars and took his first astro shot.  Actually, that was the big selling point when it came to relocating there.

‘You can’t see stars like that on the Gold Coast,’ he says. ‘I started studying online watching You Tube clips.  I took a night photo of an old Massey Ferguson tractor in a paddock and put it up on Facebook where it got a lot of attention.’

That was the catalyst to establishing Shayne Mostyn photography which is now one of his favourite past times and an increasing source of revenue as he studies what is the best business model in this field.

‘Everyone has a camera these days and, even if they want professional photos, many aren’t prepared to pay for it,’ he says. As far as photography is concerned, Shayne believes there are three sources of revenue. 1. Selling artwork through a website; 2. Paid photography for special family events and commercial work; and 3. Teaching photography through workshops.

The latter is what Shayne is finding most successful.

Collaborating with Matt Krumins, a Melbourne based photographer, Shayne is offering city photographers something they can’t find in Melbourne – the stars.  Weekend workshops are bringing city folk to the country.  They start with the theory, photograph at night, and then edit and reflect by day.

‘We were thinking of doing it closer to Melbourne but because of the dairy crisis and fear in the local community I decided to bring the workshops to Cohuna.  It’s only eight people each month but it is eight people that weren’t coming before,’ Shayne says.  ‘They come and use the local accommodation and spend their money in town.’

Becoming part of a rural community has had a huge impact on Shayne and Sarah.

‘On the Gold Coast we lived closed to people but didn’t know anyone. Here we have got to know people. What should take 30 minutes to do often takes over an hour in Cohuna because we are always stopping to talk to people.’

And local connections leads to more work as Shayne has discovered. Drawing on his technical skills and love of a challenge, he has his finger in many pies.  25 local businesses now entrust their websites to Shayne for regular updates and he is also trained to do specialist hoof trimming through a local vet for local dairy farmers which involved training in the United States.

When I ask what Shayne thinks about living in a rural town he pauses for a moment.

‘There is an element of satisfaction and achievement that I’ve never had before,’ he admits. ‘I’m more creative.  I look at an opportunity and see what I can do with it.’

On the downside there is limited customer reach in a rural town requiring travel. ‘You’re also competing with the locals who are already well known.’ On a positive note, he adds, ‘the strength of a small town is word of mouth testimonials. Do a good job and they become your biggest advocate.’

Five years living in a rural town and Shayne’s goal is not to be working for anyone else. That means doing something different in Cohuna hence the Astra workshops and a new idea to combine them with a tour of the Murray River.

‘There are plenty of people doing this type of thing but I can do it differently. I’m looking for the wow factor,’ Shayne says.  Some would say he has stars in his eyes!

Check out Shayne Mostyn Photography

Shayne’s Top Business Tips

  • Diversify. Don’t do what everyone else does.
  • Follow up with everything you do. ‘Must have’ photo list for a wedding essential.
  • Be honest about what you can do.

KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Is your rural community ready to establish an entrepreneurial ecosystem?  How can we create a collaborative culture where entrepreneurs are valued, nurtured and supported? Sonia Wright from Operation Next Gen Cohuna joins the conversation.


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE http://www.kerryanderson.com.au/about/

Collaboration & Cooperatives

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

 

Collaboration and Cooperatives: Why is collaboration essential in a rural town?  How can a group of people collaborate to make a business a reality?  Join a partner of the award winning Bakery on Broadway to discuss how they did it.


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

FARMING TOGETHER PROGRAM - Coop Builder Tool

Capitalising on the Digital Era

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Can your rural business afford not to be on the internet?  Elise Brown from Fair Dinkum Dog Coats will explain how she transformed her wholesale business into an online retail platform.


FAIR DINKUM DOG COATS

KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Buying a Business

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Buying a Business:  Start Ups are a great way to get into business but they aren’t the only way according to Michael Kerr from Kerr Capital. Why not buy a small to medium sized business?  And your dream business may not be listed for sale but very available. Find out why as Michael takes us through five steps to consider when buying a business.


Michael Kerr

Founder of Kerr Capital which started in 2002, Michael champions small business ownership and works with both sellers and buyers at all of the different stages of the small business ownership life cycle.  He provides advice and services covering business sales, business valuation, business exit planning, business improvement, and buying businesses.

Michael has a B.Comm, University of Melbourne (1985) and a MBA, Melbourne Business School (1999). He is a member of the Australian Institute of Business Brokers and a Registered Business Valuer.

http://www.kerrcapital.com.au/

KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Shop Rural this Christmas

BY KERRY ANDERSON

Cohuna's popular Factory & Field has introduced a Christmas section.

Cohuna's popular Factory & Field has introduced a Christmas section.

Every dollar we spend has a multiplier effect in a rural community.

Dare I say it?  Yes, it’s almost that time of the year again and the start of the annual Christmas shopping frenzy.

Well-meaning people are circulating messages about how we all should ‘Shop Local’ and avoid the internet.  Of course, shopping local is great but it’s not quite that simple as everyone who lives in a small rural community knows.  The reality is that our options are quite limited.

But there is still much we can do as rural residents with buying power.  Here are three tips.

#1 Support our local businesses

First and foremost we can support those few local businesses that we do have in town. Make sure you give plenty of notice of what you’re seeking and they might just be able to order it in.  And a gift doesn’t have to be a product; it can also be a voucher for a service, anything from gardening to computer maintenance which my parents always appreciate.

Christmas Shopping nights are a great way to raise funds for a local charity with participating businesses opening after hours and offering discounts on a designated night in late November or early December.

#2 Support other rural towns

Secondly, we can support other rural towns. My work takes me all over rural Australia so I’ve already started my Christmas shopping by purchasing the odd gift or two as I browse the shops.  You would be amazed at what I found in the most unexpected places.  Rural businesses tend to diversify so you can find unusual gifts in newsagents, post offices, and cafes.  Recently I discovered that the Pyrenees Butcher in Avoca also stocks local beer and wines.  Instead of heading to the city why not plan a pleasant day cruising around the wider district and visit other rural towns.

#3  Research online suppliers

And thirdly, in the midst of a digital technological revolution, it is ridiculous to demonise on-line shopping especially when some of those online businesses are rural based and gaining benefit from a wider geographic audience.  Check out the ‘about’ or ‘contact’ section to see where they are located.  You may well find that you are supporting a young person in a rural community such as my own daughter whose business, Fair Dinkum Dog Coats, is totally online.

Every dollar we spend in a rural town has a multiplier effect in a rural community.  It helps keep small businesses alive and retains jobs for local people.


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Start Up Barriers

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Overcoming start up barriers:  Got a great business idea but the challenges seem overwhelming?  Maybe its not as hard as you think?

As we discussed it is really hard to get a business loan from a bank without having assets to put as security against that loan.  But there are alternate sources and this blog by Fleur Anderson (no relative!) provides some good examples.  READ


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Valuing our entrepreneurs

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Valuing our entrepreneurs: What are the attributes of an entrepreneur?  Am I one or is someone I know? It could even be a student in my class? Why are they so important?


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE http://www.kerryanderson.com.au/about/

Are rural people more entrepreneurial?

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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During an entrepreneurship workshop I was recently facilitating for a dairy community in north-central Victoria, I was asked this interesting question.  Are rural people more entrepreneurial than in the city?

It was a great question and one that I have pondered many times over the past six years I’ve been exploring rural entrepreneurship here and overseas.  Instead of being compelled to argue with my city counterparts that rural entrepreneurs are also worthy of celebrating, I was being asked to judge whether they are, in fact, more entrepreneurial.

Here is what I think and I welcome your thoughts as well.

In a rural town there are fewer employment options hence I think that it is natural there is a higher interest in small business ownership and creation.

It is also no secret that adversity is a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs.  On top of all the economic downturns experienced by our city counterparts, rural Australian communities are routinely impacted by fire, flood and drought.

No matter where you live, as businesses close or staff levels are reduced due to automation, it is often a trigger for people with creative minds to ponder what opportunities they can create for themselves, often creating employment for others in the process.

Rural communities include some of the most innovative people I know.  Problem solving is a common attribute. Hours away from a spare parts depot, rural people are adept at banging up their own solution in the workshop. Some wonderful inventions have come out of rural industries and they continue to innovate all the time to remain competitive in a global market.

Through density of population there are clearly more job choices in cities and arguably customers.  However; for three reasons, I would argue that small business creation is more popular in the bush. 

1.       The cost of purchasing real estate and living in a rural town is far cheaper not to mention the benefit of enjoying a clean, green lifestyle.

2.       In what is being referred to as the digital age, there is an increasing mix of opportunities not to mention a global market, for online and remote businesses. 

3.       Rural communities value small business and are incredibly supportive as customers, mentors and investors.

While genuine entrepreneurs are few and far between, and they can be found in any city or rural town; my feeling is that through adversity entrepreneurs are compelled to act on their ideas more in rural areas.

What are your thoughts?


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

No Business is an Island

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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When I was judging a regional business awards some years ago, a business owner said something during an interview that has stuck with me.  He said: ‘No business is an island; we all have to work together.’

In a highly competitive world it was refreshing to hear this perspective and I totally agree.

In this instance the owner of the restaurant recognised that it was to their benefit for the whole street of this rural town to prosper as it draws in more customers.  You could be the best restaurant in Australia but if the surrounding shops are closed or shabby it reflects badly and customers are likely to keep driving on to the next best destination.

But what about if another restaurant opens up right next door?  Bring it on I say!

For a start, competition is healthy. It keeps you on your toes thinking about how to do things better.  It also gives you the opportunity to create points of differences so you can cater for a wide range of tastes.  And, when you’re booked out, you can refer on!

In another rural Victorian town the proprietor of an antique and collectibles store was absolutely delighted when two more identical businesses opened up right next door.

‘It gives customers more of a reason to visit,’ she explained. ‘Knowing that there are a number of antique and collective shops to browse, we become a drive to destination.’

This is equally true of my home town that has built up an impressive specialist automotive industry over a thirty year period.  What started as a hobby for a group of street rodding enthusiasts is now a cluster of complementary businesses that each cater for a different need. 

From restoration to auto electrics and panel beating, you will find everything you need; our rural town has effectively become a one-stop shop.  As a result, hundreds of people visit each week, as customers and tourists.  When an event is held this rises into the thousands benefitting just about every business in town.

Every community needs a mix of businesses to ensure that customers are catered for locally and don’t go elsewhere. It can be tough to get started and to stay in business which is where we, as business owners, can help each other.  An encouraging word, some friendly advice, and participation in collaborative marketing opportunities can help our businesses grow together.

As the award winning business owner said: ‘No business is an island.’


Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry Anderson, works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Rural Towns Fighting Back: Lamoni, Iowa

BY KERRY ANDERSON

WHEN the statistics paint a glum picture it’s hard to be a glass half full type of community. How can you turn around a declining rural county that is the poorest per capita and has the lowest land value in Iowa? Sometimes it takes fresh eyes and enthusiasm to help find the answers.  Chatting with Dr William (Bill) Morain, Secretary and Past-President of the Decatur County Development Corporation, it becomes evident that retirees can be a great resource when they return to their roots.

Lamoni in Iowa may have missed out on the rich soils nourished by the prehistoric Wisconsin Glacier but it does have some pleasant hill country suited to raising cattle and hunting and fishing.  It also has a university!

Established in 1895, the privately owned Graceland University is a key player in Lamoni’s success story.   Of Lamoni’s current 2,354 population, 950 are students.  The college owns substantial land and assets; and the alumni have a strong connection with this otherwise agricultural town.

In fact, this is how Bill and his partner Sherry came to retire in Lamoni. ‘We were sweethearts at Graceland in the 1960’s but went our separate ways,’ says Bill explaining the connection. ‘I went on to become a plastic surgeon and Sherry a social worker. We found each other again in the 1990s and returned to Lamoni in 1995 as remarried retirees.’

What they saw on their return was a very different perspective from when they were young students focussed on their future careers.

‘Inertia was a real problem’ says Bill. ‘It wears everyone down when you are a declining rural county that is the poorest per capita and has the lowest land values in Iowa.’

A psychological turning point.

As a retiree helping to reinvigorate an existing volunteer base, the first project Bill worked on proved to be a psychological turning point.

‘With volunteer crews of up to 30 people some days, we built six miles of bike trail along an old railway line,’ explains Bill. ‘I wrote the grant applications and sourced funds. We did our own paving in three sections four years apart. I think we must have had the highest number of PhD’s on a cement crew,’ he quips. ‘The time delay between the projects helped us to forget how hard the work was!’

But turning a community around needs more than ad-hoc community projects and requires regional support.

Take a regional approach.

Renowned for its agricultural industries, Iowa notably consists of many small rural communities.  ‘You can’t get along as a single town, you need to approach it as a regional economy and be prepared to share your resources,’ says Bill who became President of the reformed Decatur County Development Corporation that provides support to towns across the county.

‘We’ve developed some good friends through a regional network,’ says Bill. ‘The Iowa Area Development Group brought us a manufacturing business and, with it, around eight jobs.’

"It gave us a road map."

A master plan gave Lamoni the mechanism to approach the city council and Decatur County Development Corporation for grants and support to major projects. ‘It gave us a road map and cemented our networks with outside sources that came to our aid,’ Bill reflects.

‘$50,000 to fund a master plan was a major undertaking but we approached a number of civic partners and private contributors to get what we needed.’

A big fan of Richard Longworth’s published research, ‘Caught in the Middle,’ Bill says that there are three elements that can positively influence a rural community’s future: an interstate highway, a college, or a lake.

Lamoni was fortunate to tick two of those boxes with Graceland University and nearby Interstate 35.  Not content with two out of three they also investigated building a lake but Bill sadly reports that it wouldn’t have been big enough to be profitable.

Despite a previous lack of venture capital, a $50,000 investment in the master plan and regional partnerships fostered are already showing impressive results for Lamoni.

‘So much is happening all at once,’ exclaims Bill.

The master plan identified that a quality up-scale hotel would greatly benefit the town.  Following a successful feasibility study and agreement of the Graceland President’s family to provide a suitable piece of land, the community set about raising $900,000 with the support of a sympathetic agricultural bank.  Graceland alumni from across the country provided one third of this amount demonstrating strong emotional ties from their student college days spent in Lamoni no matter how far away they now live.  Building commenced in 2016, and on 15 September 2017, a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the opening of the brand new Lamoni Cobblestone Inn and Suites comprising 33 guest rooms.

As a member of the local investment group, Bill had the honour of opening the ceremony and is quoted as saying: ‘We have a special thanks to some very creative people from the middle of Wisconsin, who got the crazy idea a few a years ago that you could put an upscale hotel in a small town and have it do well. It represents the best kind of risk-taking and creativity to make this happen.’

Simultaneously another working group, led by a local crop dusting contractor, put a plan into motion to extend the airport runway from 2,900 to 3,400 feet opening up access for twin engine planes.  In September 2017 Lamoni celebrated their second grand opening within a month including six bays rented out in the new hangar.

Maximising traffic from Interstate 35 has taken a little more thought.  To attract visitors into town simple strategies to beautify the highway and change the signage from ‘two miles’ to ‘just off the highway’ were recommended.  The signage proved simple however the beautification hit a few snags along the way.

‘Essentially we wanted to build a commercial bridge by cleaning up those two miles between the interstate and town,’ says Bill. ‘Repainting a company owned rusty tank was relatively easy but then we had a number of businesses and private properties littered with junk cars that were an eye sore.’ 

Introducing a regulation requiring property owners to erect six foot fencing along the highway met with severe resistance.  An alternative was found and now everyone is smiling. 

Bill is looking forward to next spring as $100,000 of funding has been approved by the Department of Transportation to plant 300 trees, shrubs and wild flowers between the town and interstate.  ‘Where needed we will intensify the plantings and create a green barrier instead of a fence to beautify our town entry,’ Bill smiles.

It has been almost twenty years since the reformation of the County Development Corporation and Bill is philosophic.  In addition to these significant projects, a number of local businesses have also received financial support to expand.  Another good indicator is that the local population has risen by 30 since the 2010 Census.

"You have to have people who are willing to take a risk."

‘You have to have people who are willing to take a risk. Yes, some ideas have gone south but many others have been successful.’

Freedom Racing, a Lamoni e-tail niche business that employs 16 people, is a great example of what has been a success.  While the business originated ten years ago in the owner's house, it has progressively grown to become the largest business in its particular niche in the world, shipping specialised auto parts and tools internationally.  In 2016, recognising the importance of this business to the region, the Lamoni Development Corporation built new premises for Freedom Racing on a lease-to-buy basis with the owner.

Typical of most rural towns, there are still many challenges ahead for Lamoni including keeping their local high school and expanding their tax base to support more development but the community now has a far more positive outlook having put some credible scores on the board.

And Bill’s final word of advice to other rural towns wanting to fight back?

‘I’m a volunteer but every committee needs a full time paid person. When all communities pitched in to form a county-wide development group, we had sufficient funds to hire that person.  No town could have done this alone. It’s absolutely essential to have someone to drive projects and give assistance to entrepreneurs.’ 


This article is the second in a series looking at how rural towns are fighting back here in Australia and overseas.

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Manning, Iowa


Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry Anderson works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Rural Towns Fighting Back: Manning, Iowa

By Kerry Anderson

WHEN the tiny agricultural town of Manning in Iowa, United States, maintained its population of 1,500 in the 2010 Census – it actually rose by three people -  there was a collective sigh of relief.  Avoiding the path of many other rural towns with declining populations Manning’s community is determined to fight back.

Chatting with Ron Reischl, Chair of Main Street Manning Business Improvement Committee, I gain some insight into how Manning is approaching its epic battle.  There is much to commend in the way of initiatives but Ron pays tribute to two key factors; a high rate of volunteerism and no ‘turf wars.’

‘There is a sense of volunteerism and willingness in Manning that is generations long,’ says Ron who returned to his home town as a retiree and now volunteers his own expertise and time to local boards.

By way of example he explains how Manning obtained a much-needed hotel for the community two years ago. 

‘In typical Manning style five individuals put together their own informal committee to work out how to go about it. They invested $5,000 in a market analysis report, presented it to three hotel companies and got one to agree to build a new hotel at a cost of $2.2 million. Not only that, they helped to raise the $790,000 local investment required,’ says Ron. ‘They made it happen.’

When it comes to demonstrating the collaborative nature of the community Ron points to Manning being awarded the inaugural Small Business Community of the Year award in 2015.

'There are no turf boundaries.'

‘The City is very involved in economic development, as are the Main Street Manning Board, Chamber of Commerce, and Manning Betterment Foundation. There are no turf boundaries,’ he stresses.

A prime example given of this was when Jaime England, a physical therapist, was looking to return to her home town of Manning. She wanted to open up a new business and identified a vacant building owned by the Foundation which was subsequently offered to her at a purchase price too good to refuse.  The Main Street Board secured a grant and the City’s Economic Development Agency provided a loan with very low interest to help renovate the building to working order.

‘We all work well together,’ Ron says with pride.

Like many rural communities, Manning is very aware of the pattern for young people to leave town for college and careers. It is when they marry that they think about returning home so that their children can also enjoy a clean, green rural life.

When asked what would be the community’s greatest achievements to date, without hesitation Ron lists the main street revitalisation, enlargement of the childcare centre, and the building of a new hospital and hotel.

‘As part of a main street revitalisation in 2015 we renovated 17 store fronts and changed the look of our entire central business district which is three blocks long.’ $800,000 was attracted for this purpose via federal and Manning City grants and private investment. Ron observed that this then spurred additional investment by the owners to fix up the interior of their stores.

With child and health care hot topics in rural Australia I am impressed that such a small community as Manning has both.

‘With 75 to 100 job openings in the district we knew that child care was a major roadblock to growth,’ says Ron.  Not only did the Betterment Foundation build the original childcare centre in 2002, it was expanded in 2016 to provide a total of 84 places.

Built three years ago, their new $22 million hospital, is one of the three major employers in town whose employees use those child care facilities.

Agriculture related industry is the top source of jobs followed by the hospital and school.  The community is working hard to attract more people to return or relocate to Manning to fill these vacancies.

Being a Certified Connected Community by the State of Iowa is a major step forward in this regard. Manning was the first town under 5,000 population to be awarded this status in 2015.  Several Wi-Fi hotspots have been placed throughout the town and high-speed internet connected to major industry, the school and hospital, all of which are considered essential for young people to stay, or return to Manning.

‘It helps that the City owns all the utilities,’ Ron admits, ‘but we still have to do more.’

One gets the sense that resourcefulness is alive and well in this community. They not only partner locally but with larger regional organisations.

'Students bring in new ideas.'

Manning regularly attracts College of Design students from Iowa State University for specific projects. Students helped design new signage as part of the main street revitalisation project.

‘Students bring in new ideas and, if it meets the curriculum, it gives them something meaningful to work on,’ Ron explains.

During another college related project a student photographing the old railroad trestle commented that it was a great place for a park.  A community meeting confirmed this observation and, in typical Manning fashion, it is happening.

‘We decided on an adult orientated park because we already have one for children but of course whole families will still use it.  Instead of swings where children need supervision there will be rocks and logs to climb over within view of their parents who will be making use of the barbeque, sand volleyball and bag games facilities.’

Encouraging young leadership is another key factor in their community moving forward.

‘We aggressively recruit the younger generation to participate in leadership positions,’ Ron admits. On the Main Street Manning Board, there are five men and five women. Seven of the board members are under the age of 40.

Currently another ad-hoc volunteer committee is shaping a social media campaign targeted at the three closest cities. ‘We will be inviting young people to experience the town for a weekend which will help increase revenue and hopefully get them to consider the advantages of our laid-back lifestyle,’ says Ron. ‘Our branding is Manning It’s Refreshing’ and our social media tags will be #ExperienceManning for a day, a week or a lifetime. #ManningItsRefreshing’

Funding of these initiatives is supported by multiple sources.  In this instance the $5,000 marketing campaign, comprising a coordinator and paid advertising, is being funded by the taxes on overnight stays generated by the hotel.  The Main Street Manning Board is certified as part of a Federal program that allows it to access grants, and local taxes are raised through the city specifically for economic development.  A Revolving Loans Fund is also administered by the City providing low cost funds to individual businesses, and the Manning Betterment Foundation is well placed to respond to local needs including economic initiatives.

Volunteers are driving Manning's initiatives.

Despite all this access to funding support, the fact remains that resourcefulness is just as important as resources.  Volunteers are clearly driving Manning’s initiatives. 

The question remains, do they feel as if they are making a difference?

‘It’s hard to quantify but we know that our alumni are moving back,’ says Ron. ‘Housing is another issue with our last new home built in 2014, but currently we have seven new houses being built,’ he adds with a hint of optimism.

Ron and fellow residents are also very aware of the importance of supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs.

‘Even just one successful entrepreneur, supported by a collaborative culture, can reverse population decline and enable a small town to not only survive but thrive,’ says Ron. ‘Puck Custom Enterprises grew from one farmer to a service and manufacturing company that now employs more than sixty people in Manning.  Many young people work here because of this one business.’

Business and community clearly go hand in hand. The efforts of the volunteers contribute to the liveability of the town for business owners and their employees.

As the next United States Census fast approaches in 2020, signs are that there may be a healthy population growth to support all of Manning’s collective volunteerism.


You can follow Manning's progress via Main Street Manning Facebook page and www.manningia.com/


This is the first in a series of articles on rural towns fighting back.

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Lamoni, Iowa


Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry Anderson works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Lucky Escape

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BY KERRY ANDERSON

Sebastian Parsegian has had two lucky escapes in his lifetime. The first was 40 years ago as an 11 year old Armenian refugee fleeing war torn Ethiopia. The second was when he and wife Rebecca left their jobs in Melbourne and moved to Swan Hill in country Victoria to become award winning business owners.

If leaving his job selling used cars in Melbourne was a concern at the time, it certainly isn’t now. With multiple trophies lining his office, including the prestigious 2016 Toyota Australian Dealer of the Year, Seb looks very comfortable as both a business owner and resident of a country town.

‘We’re out of the rat race,’ explains Seb. ‘In Melbourne you don’t even know who your neighbour is. We have a sense of belonging here and I have an extra 70 hours a month up my sleeve. No travel and friendlier work hours.’

Having wisely invested their hard-earned wages into property Seb and Rebecca were in the fortunate position of being able to buy into an existing business in Swan Hill in 2007. It was a great time to move to the country with their son aged ten at the time.

‘We turned up at the football one Sunday at Lake Boga, where we had bought a house, and were welcomed with open arms.  Through children and sport you automatically get to connect with people.’

Business wise, Swan Hill Toyota had already enjoyed some success and they were able to invest just as it relocated to new purpose-built premises on the Murray Valley Highway leading into Swan Hill. 

That success has now doubled.  Since taking over, the business has increased its number of employees from 14 up to 34.  The sales figures reflect why. When Seb and Rebecca took over 27 vehicles were sold a month which quickly went to 50 and now 70.

A new location will have helped contribute to this success but more so the culture.  So what makes this rural based business so competitive at a national level?

Quietly spoken Seb believes that sharing his 25 years experience of selling cars with staff helped to increase sales straight way.  Rebecca also brought with her the experience of working in the car industry and has since become the principal dealer of Swan Hill KIA located conveniently across the road.

They continue to invest in staff through the Toyota franchise’s extensive training program.

‘We support each other to exceed targets,’ says Seb.  Everyone gets a KPI bonus regardless of which department they work in, encouraging team work and innovation.  ‘Customers are our guests. The relationship is definitely more important than the sale. It’s all about the experience.’

When announced as the 2016 Toyota Australian Dealer of the Year over all the metropolitan based franchises, Seb and Rebecca were delighted.  Previously on four occasions they had won Rural Dealer of the Year and now they had received acknowledgement at the highest level.

‘We were so pleased for our staff and customers,’ recalls Seb reliving the announcement made at a gala dinner in Melbourne. ‘It was a massive achievement for Swan Hill.’

‘Swan Hill punches well above its weight,’ adds Rebecca. ‘A number of businesses are operating at a national level.’   

Yes, Seb and Rebecca wholeheartedly agree. It was a lucky escape when they came to Swan Hill.

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Seb’s Top Business Tips:

  • Don’t take things personally
  • Say thank you - to staff and guests
  • Don’t major in minors
  • Stand guard at the door of your mind
  • Focus on who and what you can become from being in business rather than what can the business do for you.
  • Have dreams and goals – set your goals in concrete and your plans in sand
  • A big shot is a little shot that kept on shooting

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KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE