Rural entrepreneurs

Speaking about rural entrepreneurship at an event I was recently asked an interesting question: Are rural people more entrepreneurial than city people? Instead of being compelled to justify to my city counterparts that rural entrepreneurs are equally worthy of celebration, I was being asked to judge whether they are, in fact, more entrepreneurial.

Having interviewed hundreds of rural entrepreneurs over the past decade in the quest of promoting our rural towns as great places to live and work, there was the danger that I could answer this question with some bias.

Rural communities include some of the most innovative people I know. Problem solving is second nature. 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.

However, with no desire to inflame the debate of a ‘great divide’ between our rural and city cousins, I gave this question considered thought before answering.

Employment options

There are many drivers that activate entrepreneurs and I only think it fair to start with employment options … or lack of. In a rural town there are fewer employment options and distance is a prohibiter in seeking alternate work. Therefore, it is only natural that those who love living in a rural community are more motivated to start-up their own small business.

As a young mother and farmer’s wife living in Birchip Victoria, Andrea Harrison founded an online business named Kawaii Kids way back in 2007 before the digital world was given much thought in a rural context. Running the business initially from her family home, it became so successful that it progressed to a physical store front in Birchip and later Horsham. Andrea has also started manufacturing her own line of children’s clothing under the Curious Wonderland brand collaborating with select retailers across Australia.

Adversity

Adversity is a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs and there is no shortage of that in rural Australia. On top of all the economic pressures experienced nationally and globally, our rural communities are routinely impacted by fire, flood and drought. As I type these words Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria are battling bushfires; New South Wales is still in drought; and Queensland, along with the whole top end, is dealing with severe flooding.

Cyclone Yasi’s destructive path in 2011 provided an opportunity for Trent Small, an enterprising Queenslander and Townsville businessman, to put his creative thinking and practical skills into action. His subsequent start-up business, Solar Relief, created a portable solar product that could be quickly deployed anywhere in the world at times of natural disaster and crisis.

Problem solving

Entrepreneurs are also very good at turning every-day problems into business opportunities.

Back-up Charlie, a flexible lead-up race system, was the brainchild of sheep farmer, Charlie Webb from Lockhart in New South Wales, who wanted to make life easier for both the sheep and their handlers. The system is now being sold across Australia.

300 kilometres away, in Barham, Lauren Mathers created her business Bundarra Berkshires because she couldn’t source quality local pork products for her catering business. Transitioning into a free-range pork producer presented a multitude of problems that she systematically turned into opportunities. Finding customers prompted her to support the Farmers Market movement and embrace online sales. She ensures the quality of her product by controlling supply at every step of the way, even going to the lengths of installing a commercial kitchen and learning how to dress her own products. After a series of abattoir closures and an increase in road miles impacting on their transport costs, Lauren is once again taking a lead in providing a solution to humanely slaughtering animals from small holdings. Just recently she became the inaugural Chair of Murray Plains Meat Cooperative.

Passionate

And then there are those who are passionate about a rural community or space and simply let loose their inner entrepreneur to build a business opportunity.

Celebrating forty years of publishing Australian Street Rodding Machine Magazine in 2018, Graffiti Publishing’s Larry O’Toole was part of the very first wave of street rodding enthusiasts drawn to Castlemaine in central Victoria in the 1970’s. A resident of the self-proclaimed Street Rodding Capital of Australia, Larry has built a successful publishing business on his passion aided by some good business instincts.

Likewise, in an absolute leap of faith, in 2015 Simon and Kate Tol purchased the historic Mount Mitchell Homestead near Lexton in the north-western district of Victoria. They have dedicated themselves to making it into a viable business with a mix of farming produce, events, and accommodation. The bravery of their plan caught the attention of the local community, and their enthusiasm attracted the attention of Melbourne based Executive Chef, Ian Curley, who wants to stock their product in his restaurants.

Over in Western Australia, Brendan Earl, a young indigenous man is working on a new project to improve water quality, something of value to every rural community.

The list goes on ….

Are any of these examples more entrepreneurial than their city counterparts? Probably not but they certainly are a shining light in a rural community that must create its own opportunities and face adversity on a constant basis.


This article was printed in the Autumn 2019 edition of Inside Small Business.

KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE

Support Rural Towns

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As part of the Creative Innovation 2019 Asia Pacific Conference in Melbourne 1-3 April, Kerry Anderson’s mission was to remind everyone of the importance of our rural towns and share ideas on how we can all give our support regardless of where we live.

Regardless of where we live, Australia's rural towns are important for so many reasons, most notably for supporting the farmers that produce the food we eat every day - 93 percent of it to be exact, plus they export a further 60 percent overseas!

Rural towns provide important services and social hubs for all of our rural industries. They are great places to live and work and are home to some of the most innovative people I know. But so many of these towns are isolated and struggling to adapt in a rapidly changing world. Some are struggling to survive and others are missing out on exciting opportunities.

A strong and diverse business sector is such an important part of every rural town’s long-term future. A very wise man once told me that his greatest contribution to the community was being successful in business. The people he employs enables them to live in his rural town, support other local businesses, and send their kids to the local school. Every single person makes a huge difference to a rural town.

Operation Next Gen works with rural towns, encouraging them to have new conversations with new people in new places. By looking at existing landscapes with fresh eyes they can diversify and embrace new business opportunities in the digital era. We cannot physically work with every town, but with the help of our city friends and using technology, we can make these valuable resources available right across Australia to multiple towns at a time.

We’re looking for partners to help establish a dynamic digital platform – an interactive step-by-step program that will share the collective knowledge of Operation Next Gen and empower local communities to build their own collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems – supported by online mentoring, and innovative support resources such as blogs and podcasts. Through technology we can link a growing network of rural towns to share their experiences and foster collaboration Australia wide.

And, most importantly, we will also be looking for entrepreneurs to share their stories and inspire others.

As highlighted by Lord Adair Turner this week at Ci2019, we cannot afford to ignore regional areas. We need rural towns to prosper.

Rural towns are important to us all. Here are seven ways that individuals, universities, and corporate entities can give their support:

#1 Be a customer

Stop off next time you drive through a rural town or browse online and find a rural based business to support. You will also find some wonderful gifts, many with a unique story attached.

#2 Be an Ambassador

Tell people about your purchases. Support posts on social media. Give a testimonial. Check in.

#3 Award rural scholarships and internships

Travel and accommodation can be expensive. Offer scholarship and discounts to rural people so they can more easily access your events and training programs. Or provide valuable experience through an internship.

#4 Offer your services

Got skills or knowledge that you are willing to share probono with rural businesses and communities? Offer to mentor or speak online through Operation Next Gen or another worthy organisation. Better still, spend some time in a rural town. Best holiday ever!

#5 Include a rural perspective

Be inclusive and invite rural speakers to your next event. Reimburse their time, travel and accommodation.

#6 Recruit remote contractors

In the digital age we can now live and work in a rural location. Recruit contract workers for your next project from a rural location giving valuable support to a rural family and bringing a fresh perspective to your venture.

#7 Establish a rural base

Rural towns are full of the most amazing creative spaces just waiting to be put to a new use, and they are so much cheaper not to mention the clean, green lifestyle! In a rural town every new resident and every new enterprise makes a huge difference to morale and the local economy.

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Contact Kerry Anderson if you want more information, are interested in supporting rural towns through Operation Next Gen, or want to engage an authentic rural speaker
for your next event.

Mob: 0418 553 719 Email: info@kerryanderson.com.au


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change and, in 2019, was fortunate to be selected as one of eight scholarship recipients to present at the Creative Innovation 2019 Asia Pacific conference. READ MORE

Share Shop

As home-based businesses gather traction with their online retailing, another need emerges when customers start to seek access to a physical store front. Solving a problem for one such rural online business has resulted in a great outcome for the small town of Quambatook in the southern Mallee of Victoria.

Only a handful of businesses have survived in Quambatook with its small population of 249 (Census 2016) and surrounding agricultural communities. So it was with great celebration that the Quambatook & Districts Share Shop Inc. officially opened its doors on the 11th January 2019.

Barely a month later, and eleven separate home-based businesses now share a retail space showing and selling their wares. If not for the Share Shop, they would otherwise find it difficult to get exposure in a physical environment for their products.

It is a momentous day when I visit in early February. There is a small but steady stream of customers thanks to the Quamby Silo Cinema screening of The Merger later in the day. The Shop has also got its EFTPOs facilities up and running for the first time using a Square credit card reader. Now, this may not seem like much until you understand where the Share Shop has come from and how far it still has to go. For starters, there is NO power or running water to the building!

President of the Share Shop, Jodie Russ, recalls how she used to walk past the old store, the interior of which was hidden by black plastic across the windows. Previously it had been home to Ellis’s Hardware and Plumbing Supplies and Tom Hogan’s Grocery Store.

‘I moved to Quambatook ten years ago and never knew what lay behind those blacked out windows,’ Jodie admits. ‘It’s always a shame to see old buildings unused.’ So, it was logical when requests came from local and visiting customers to view Jodie’s products from her online retail business, Retro Vintage Period, that she started thinking of accessing a vacant store front.

‘I didn’t really want people coming to my home,’ she explains, ‘but there was no way I could afford to open a store all by myself. I started thinking that perhaps there were others in similar circumstances. Or they had a hobby business that would benefit from more exposure.’

While the Share Shop has only opened very recently, Jodie points out that a lot of research and preparation went on beforehand.

A group of local people expressed their interest in the joint enterprise including the owner of The Quambatook Stores who saw an opportunity to have her wares on sale over the weekend when she was closed for a much-needed rest.

Accessing a physical store front turned out to be the easiest of all their tasks. Owner Graeme Elliott, who had inherited the old building, was only too willing to agree to a peppercorn lease to help the group get on their feet.

‘I knocked on Graeme’s door and he was marvellous,’ Jodie recalls. ‘He is so generous in supporting us for the first year to let us accumulate some funds. The only stipulation was that we had to deal with what was behind the black plastic which turned out to be lots of old engines and car parts.’ A clearance sale was organised by a local auctioneer, and the majority of items were sold clearing the way for the new occupants.

The lack of power and water could be perceived as a barrier by most people I point out.

‘We weren’t going to let that stop us!’ Jodie exclaims. ‘We bring our own tank water in from home in buckets and have a gas ring to make a cuppa. And, on one of the hot days, the building owner hooked a car battery up to an inverter to run a fan for us.’ As backup Jodie also purchased a second-hand Generator from a Facebook Buy Swap Sell Site for $50. ‘Of course, we’d love to have power,’ Jodie admits, ‘but it will cost us $25,000 to get all the wiring upgraded so that is a battle for another day.’

Settling on a legal and financial model for the group required some further research but they realised that there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Assistance from the Gannawarra Shire and a mini bus trip to speak with existing cooperative groups in the nearby towns of Sea Lake and Wycheproof enabled them to make the decision to become an incorporated entity.

‘We have a yearly fee of $260 made up of $5 per week per business paid up front from the 1st of January or pro rata on entry to 31 December,’ explains Jodie moving into business mode. ‘Commission on goods sold is ten percent if you volunteer your time to serve in the shop or twenty percent if you can’t.’

While the overheads are minimal with no utilities connected, there is the peppercorn rent and insurance to be paid. ‘The enterprise is committed to generating funds to enable it to effectively market the shop, pay rent and improve facilities in its second year of operation, and keep it rolling for years to come,’ explains Jodie. For this reason, they have two fundraising coordinators as well as a treasurer to keep on top of their finances. ‘We need to build up our kitty and make this sustainable.’

Chatting with the team on duty, it becomes clear that there are many benefits far beyond the opportunity to generate income for local businesses.

I’m particularly interested in Zoe who is a year 12 student. ‘I’m just a floater,’ she tells me. It turns out that Sue, her mother, is one of the Share Shop members and Zoe is fulfilling the volunteering component. Her current task is to write out the EFTPOS instructions for all the volunteers which I’m sure will be gratefully received.

In fact, their very first EFTPOS sale takes place during our conversation to a couple from Portland in New South Wales who have been staying at the caravan park for the past week in eager anticipation of the silo cinema that evening.

Another of their volunteer members, Fiona Williams, operates the EFTPOs under the guidance of Jodie to complete the sale. ‘This is a wonderful opportunity to develop our technological skills,’ Jodie points out as Fiona nervously watches the transaction go through their newly purchased credit card reader.

By default, the Share Shop has also become an important social hub to this small community and their Secretary, Kathryn Robson, is a classic example.

‘Fiona and I were wondering what we were doing in the early days,’ Jodie admits, ‘then Kathryn just came in and asked how she could help.’ A district nurse by profession, Kathryn is a constant visitor to the store on her days off bringing her own unique enthusiasm, and what suspiciously appears to be a fetish for dressing up in the vintage clothing for their social media posts. During my visit she performs two super-fast clothing changes to model for the photographs.

‘The flow on effect of the Share Shop is immense,’ Jodie says. ‘It is so important for the town to have a drawcard and we can refer them to other businesses and places of interest. We took a gamble and it’s paying off,’ she concludes looking around with a very satisfied smile.

The Quambatook District Share Shop Inc is open
Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 3pm or by appointment at other times
Call Jodie on 0417 306 214.

https://www.facebook.com/quambatookdistrictshareshopinc/

https://www.instagram.com/quambatookdistrictshareshopinc/

And for those of you wondering what is on offer here is a brief outline:

  • Jodie Russ – Retro Vintage Period Homewares & Props For Sale, Various Vintage Homewares, Collectibles  and Clothing

  • Angela Mazur – Bear and the Bees – Local Honey and Beeswax Products, such as Beeswax wraps, lip Balm, Foot Balm

  • Gen Trice – Mincha Munchies, Preserves, Jams, Pickles Relishes

  • Jim Treacy and Jan Gemmel – Natural Soaps, Children’s Clothing, Plants 

  • Fiona Williams – Homewares, Vintage and New, Craft, Handmade items, Succulent Wreaths

  • Zoe and Sue Bremner – Rustic Farm and Garden Wares, Craft, Books, Art, Plants

  • Jo Nalder – Soy Candles and Diffusers

  • Annie Tomlinson – Vintage Homewares

  • Toni- Maree Hoogendorn – Vintage Homewares, Fabric, Wallpaper, Toys, Recycled Handmade Items including Children’s Clothing 

  • Chelle Espagne – Handprinted Mugs, Coasters, Stubbie Holders, Metal Art, Reusable Printed Tote Bags, Cushions


You might also enjoy reading other stories from Quambatook: QUAMBY SILO CINEMA and TOWN CHANGERS

KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE

Town Changers

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Like many rural towns, Quambatook in the Southern Mallee of Victoria is enjoying a reinvigoration of its community thanks to new comers bringing new ideas and extra hands to reinforce businesses and volunteer groups.

Long time Quambatook volunteers, Norma Bennett and Merrill Kelly, have been volunteering in Quambatook for more years than they can remember. Norma is a key driver of the Caravan Park and Merrill is on multiple committees. The Quambatook Tractor Pull has been a big draw card for their agricultural community for over forty years. This is what you do when you live in a rural town.

Despite their best efforts, along with many other long time residents, over the decades the number of businesses and volunteers has dwindled significantly leaving a handful to keep these important services going. Fortunately, there has been an influx of new people moving into town injecting new ideas and energy into the rural town they affectionately call Quamby. Recently I caught up some of these ‘newcomers’ for a chat.

Laura O’Dwyer and her husband, Paul, moved to Quambatook twelve years ago. A small agricultural town with a mere population of 249, ‘Quamby’ couldn’t be more different to their previous abode in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray but Laura says the move was a great decision. They’re still here so it must have been!

‘We were sick of paying Melbourne rent,’ Laura confides when asked what prompted the tree change. ‘We were able to buy a house in Quamby for $70,000 and turn it into our dream home.’

But why Quambatook? It turns out it was quite a strategic decision for Laura who is a cartographer by trade, a skill eagerly sought by shire councils. For Paul, a truck driver who is away a week at a time, the location was equally convenient.

‘We had a friend in the Mallee and had driven through Quamby a few times,’ she explains. ‘When we made the decision to move, this was the place that was central to three shire councils with the bigger towns of Wycheproof, Swan Hill and Kerang.’

All in all, the move has been a huge success. In addition to creating Laura’s dream home for a fraction of city prices, commuting to work is also a pleasure. ‘I used to drive one hour in Melbourne traffic to get to my workplace 12 kilometres away. Now I can get to work in half the time even though it’s a longer distance.’

Through her work in local government, Laura has also become heavily involved in her local community. As President of Quambatook Development Committee, she is helping to spear head initiatives to reinvigorate the town.

In one of the most recent success stories, Laura helps manage the Silo Cinema events that attract hundreds of visitors from the surrounding region to view classic films such as The Castle, Priscilla, and The Dressmaker in a classic rural setting.

Laura’s co-pilot for this project is Chelle Espagne, previously in the Australian Armed Forces and now owner of The Quambatook Stores and Post Office, who provides valuable support to the Silo Cinema.

But, without argument, the most crucial role falls to Laura. ‘I’ve tried but no-one else wants to operate the technology for the screening of the movies. It can be a bit stressful but once everything is up and running, I can relax and it is great to see everyone dressing up in theme and enjoying themselves. For Priscilla I organised for a couple of friends to come up from Melbourne and provide the pre-entertainment in drag. It was a great night that continued on in the Quamby pub afterwards.’

A screening of The Merger on 9 February 2019 resulted in their biggest ever turn up. 447 people effectively doubled Quamby’s population and raised revenue for the community groups that catered, as well as the caravan park, shops, and the pub.

Speaking of The Quamby Hotel, Laura is quick to point out that it has new owners and is currently being refurbished. I dutifully trot across the road to check it out.

Mick Doolan, one of the new publicans, moved to Quamby only eighteen months ago but is already looking very much at home behind the bar.

‘I found it was a perfect fit for me and my son, it’s a great place to raise kids,’ says Mick. ‘We love it. There’s good people, the football, and its affordable for a single parent.’

Ten-year old, Aiden is quick to agree. ‘I love the footy!’

In a joint venture with his parents, Wayne and Sandra, The Quamby Hotel was purchased at the start of December 2018. ‘I did my homework and checked it out by working for the previous owner first,’ Mick explains. The prior experience helped the Doolan’s get through the busy Christmas and New Year period. ‘Mum was determined to have a Christmas lunch to thank everyone for welcoming us into the community.’

Indicating just how much time Mick’s Sunbury based parents are spending in Quamby as publicans, his father Wayne has focussed on the refurbishments and proudly points out the new ceiling and rendered wall. More plans are underway to revamp the seven rooms that provide accommodation. And Mick is particularly excited about plans to bring some big bands to Quamby. ‘I’m using my old night club contacts,’ he confides.

Mick encourages anyone who is looking for a new start to consider a rural town but hastens to add that you have to be prepared to contribute to the community. ‘I joined the footy club and got to know people first. Now they’re my strongest supporters. They really like to give you a go.’

Just around the corner from the pub a delightful old church turned into a residence catches my eye. So does it colourful owner, Kathryn Robson; a district nurse by day and a Quamby volunteer on the weekends.

I bump into Kathryn chatting with visitors at the recently opened Quambatook District Share Shop Inc. It turns out that Kathryn is Secretary of the Share Shop and she asks me to wait a moment before I take a photograph of the organisers. Moments later with a beaming smile she emerges wearing one of the vintage outfits for sale. Later, when I’m distracted chatting, I turn around to find her in yet another outfit, a pink suit, posing elegantly with fine bone china under a circa 1960’s home hair dryer.

‘Kathryn has been such an injection of support and enthusiasm for this project,’ confides one of the Share Shop’s Fundraising Coordinators, Fiona Williams. ‘She enjoys being with people and we’ve become her family. She is such good fun and everybody loves her.’

Six months ago, when her rented home in Boort became unavailable, Kathryn heard about the old church for sale in Quamby and snapped it up. ‘I’d been wandering Australia for thirty years and this is the first time I’ve settled down and owned a property,’ she admits. ‘It’s a good base for my work around the region.’

Share Shop President, Jodie Russ, also moved to Quambatook ten years ago because of its affordability. ‘I was sick of Melbourne rent and purchased my house in Quambatook as a sole parent,’ Jodie says. ‘It had great proximity to nearby towns for employment opportunities if you’re flexible and more so if you’re able to work online from home.’

With a desire to grow her Retro-Vintage online retail business that she started running from home, it was Jodie who spotted the potential of a vacant store in Quamby’s main street.  ‘Quamby needed something open on weekends for visitors and I knew that there would be others like me with home businesses that would welcome access to a physical shop front.’ The Quambatook District Share Shop Inc. opened a month ago in January 2019 with ten share holders and I observed a small but regular stream of visitors over the weekend I was in town. ‘It’s so much less stressful and a much more relaxed lifestyle,’ Jodie tells me.

Everywhere I go I am hearing the positives of new people moving into Quamby, but I have to ask: What are the downsides of living in a small town?

‘The conservative politics can be a bit frustrating,’ Laura confides. Jodie quips ‘You might have to reinvent yourself’ as she did by setting up an online business. Mick comes up with a classic though. ‘Even when the pub is closed people ring me up and ask if I can open up for them to get some takeaway,’ he laughs. ‘They always seem to know when I’m close by or checking up on something, so it isn’t really a problem.’

Like many rural towns Australia wide, the good people of Quambatook work and volunteer tirelessly to make their community strong. While many refer to those who move from the city to the country as Tree Changers, I like to think of them as Town Changers. With a willingness to participate and contribute, there are many benefits to be found from living in a rural town.

READ MORE:

Quambatook Silo Cinemas

Quambatook District Share Shop Inc.

Quambatook General Stores (stay tuned)

FACEBOOK LINKS:

Quambatook Silo Cinema

The Quamby Hotel

Quambatook District Share Shop Inc.

Quambatook Tractor Pull

Quambatook Historic Centre

Quambatook Caravan Park


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE

Quamby Silo Cinema

What a privilege it was to experience Quamby’s Silo Cinema on Saturday 9 February 2019. With 447 guests viewing the iconic Australian film The Merger, they can claim that their town doubled in size overnight. A win-win for their caravan park, pub and stores. Well done to all the volunteers involved. And special thanks to Laura O’Dwyer who allowed me to interview her at a very busy time.

FACEBOOK: @QuambySiloCinema

More stories about Quambatook:

Town Changers

Share Shop


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE