Factory and Field
BY KERRY ANDERSON
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 building and establish one of her home town’s most successful businesses in recent years.
Visitors to Cohuna in northern Victoria often find it hard to find the much talked about Factory and Field store. Owner, Jenni Finn, is just a little bit embarrassed to admit that she has been too busy to organise signage despite just celebrating their third anniversary. “It’s still on the to do list,” she admits.
Housed in an old Butter Factory building dating back to the 1880’s and used for a multitude of purposes over the years, Factory and Field is tucked away on the back road to Leitchville amidst an industrial estate. It’s not exactly where you’d expect to find a popular home wares and gift store and that is part of its charm.
Jenni’s father purchased the old factory site in 1991 to expand his Cohuna Steel business and, when he retired from business in 2012, Jenni and her husband offered to take it on.
With the artistic eye of a photographer one can understand why Jenni was attracted to the building. There is something compelling about massive concrete walls and a corrugated iron roof framed with steel girders. With a three storey high ceiling and extensive natural lighting from the old factory windows high in the roofline, she essentially had a blank canvas to work with.
But of course it wasn’t that simple. Jenni was too busy supporting her husband with his auto electrical business and raising three children to do more at that point in time.
For a while she used one room of the factory as a part time photographic studio while dreaming of what else it could be. That day finally arrived in 2013. “The kids were older and it was finally time to do something on my own,” says Jenni. Profit was another deciding factor. “The commercial rental rate was extremely low, around $600 per month,” she explains. “I knew I could get a better return than that on our asset.”
With the encouragement of a very supportive and resourceful husband she made the plunge. Factory and Field was born in a bit of a rush; three months to be exact. Jenni made the decision in July, purchased stock at a trade fair in August and opened in September 2013. Her idea on what to sell was simple. “I’d only stock things that I’d have in my own house, and fortunately, what I like suits the building.” A name for the business was also simple. “Factory and Field had a country feel to it.”
What didn’t come so easily, however, was finance. While their 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 minimal stock.
On opening night around 130 curious locals came and devoured her entire stock in a few hours. Jenni was both stunned and relieved. Over the next three days that the store was open she spent her time explaining why they had sold out and people were only too happy to come back the following week when they had restocked.
Three years on and Factory and Field is continuing to grow and evolve. Additional rooms have been opened up to house a café and a Christmas theme section. What started off as an idea of self-serve coffee with an urn grew into a fully serviced café. “As with everything around here it just gets bigger as we talk about it,” Jenni smiles. And she has the space to do it with much more of the four acre site awaiting her vision to be applied. A function room and holiday accommodation units are just two ideas on the drawing board.
And the customers keep coming from even further afield. “Car loads drive from places as far away as Heathcote and Mildura to browse the shop and have lunch in Cohuna before driving home again,” says Jenni. “People will travel for something different and to be entertained.”
Like everything else Jenni has applied to her business, the marketing has been kept simple. Facebook is her number one method of advertising and, best of all, it is free. “I looked at other sites that worked well and used my own photography skills to make the posts interesting.” One of her monthly ‘Like and Share prize’ postings was viewed over 60,000 times which helps explain the geographical spread of her customers. Word of mouth has taken care of the rest and the shop is buzzing from Thursday through to Sunday each week when it is staffed by six employees.
Reflecting on the success of her business Jenni concedes that growing up in a family business made her more aware of the possibilities, however, it has still exceeded her expectations. “I had no time to have an expectation,” she admits.
She is also pragmatic. “Yes we would have liked $50,000 for some fittings and to properly stock the store when we opened but we could only do what we could afford to do at the time. Sometimes your instincts are good and, if you have a space to be used, there is nothing stopping you.”
In between serving customers Jenni is busy reviewing what still needs to be done with her ‘space’ and street signage is still on the list.
Jenni’s top business tips:
Don’t accept the first ‘no.’
Fake it till you make it.
Just run with it.
Learn as you go.
Do what you like to do.
Work with people that enjoy doing the same thing you do.
Employ enthusiastic and friendly staff.
Don't be afraid to make changes in your business when you find something is not working. Not everything needs to be set in stone.
Follow Factory & Field on Facebook (now open for special events only - see update below)
Not content with one business Jenni saw the potential in another vacant building and successfully started up Factory & Field Waffles at 105 King George St, Cohuna. With its more central location and drive by traffic it made perfect sense to combine Factory and Field gift shop with the Waffles cafe. The original Factory and Field building is now only open for special exhibitions and festivals.
KERRY ANDERSON: A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia. She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE
Kerry recently published her first book with 20 practical and inspiring case studies to assist rural communities and business people Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s business