15 Acres

We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, however the Cohuna-Leitchville district in northern Victoria has taken it a step further. They are nurturing and encouraging young entrepreneurs!

January 14, 2018 was a special day for the Taylor family at Leitchville. Not only was it their pop’s birthday, it was the launch of Cooper (12) and Bailey (15) Taylor’s business, 15 Acres.

Their mother Kellie recalls the day that Cooper came home and announced that he had bought a business. ‘You haven’t,’ was her reply. He had. And, after spending some time with Cooper, it is easy to understand how. This gregarious pre-teen doesn’t lack in confidence and I have no doubt that he could sell ice to the Eskimos if required.

For some time prior Cooper had been earning his own pocket money by selling eggs from the twenty chooks he kept at his family home but it was proving to be problematic. ‘People wanted heaps of eggs and I didn’t have enough.’

Having received lots of advice from a ‘mate’ on a nearby property who also produced eggs but on a much larger scale, Cooper was wildly excited when the mate said that he was selling up. When Cooper was offered 160 chooks, two Maremma guard dogs, and two caravans he had no hesitation in saying yes which brings us back to a sudden announcement to his parents that he’d bought a business. ‘Well I haven’t actually paid him yet,’ admits Cooper. ‘But I will one day. He just wanted someone to love the chooks as much as he did. I don’t like factory farms, that is my pet hate.’

At the same time his older brother, Bailey, had been seeking a part time job, not always easy when you live some distance out of town and don’t have a license. This new business presented an opportunity for both brothers. It was then up to the boys to come to an agreement on what their responsibilities would be in the business.

‘Bailey isn’t a morning person,’ Cooper is quick to share. ‘I do the morning chores and most of the infrastructure stuff.’

The much more quietly spoken sibling, Bailey, explains that his role is to collect the eggs at night and look after the larger chooks and dogs. Cooper has been responsible for growing 200 chickens that are about to graduate to free range in the paddock. A bit of disagreement breaks into the conversation at this point. Cooper wants to dispute who is responsible for what. You know; that normal sibling rivalry stuff.

Quickly moving on, I ask: Why call their business 15 Acres? ‘Well the previous business was called 400 Acres,’ Cooper clarifies successfully distracted. So, no need to ask how big their property is then!

Kept safe by the two Maremma dogs, Falcor and Jane, the chooks free range in the paddock while roosting and laying in the caravans that have been converted for their exclusive use by the boys’ Pa. It seems that a number of additional caravans have been donated by various people around the district. A heat lamp was also provided free of charge and another local businessman has offered to build them a website. ‘People are really nice and willing to help,’ Cooper acknowledges.

Everything he has learnt about caring for chooks and preparing eggs for market has been from his mate and from watching videos on You Tube. ‘I haven’t read any books,’ Cooper admits.

Just coming out of the moulting season with reduced eggs to sell, he says that this is a challenge when supplying their customers that includes six local eateries and the Farmers & Made in Cohuna Market on the fourth Sunday of every month. ‘We’ve been offered another caravan that we hope to use for the markets; we just need time to convert it,’ Cooper says. Pa must be busy is what I'm hearing.

Time is definitely a challenge even for teenagers. ‘I’ve got eight hours at school each day including bus travel, and then I’ve got sport as well.’ Cooper glances at the clock as he is due to leave for a football match playing for Leitchville Gunbower Under 12’s very shortly. Sport is extremely important in a rural community.

Let’s talk money I suggest and ask Bailey if it has been worthwhile. ‘I’m glad that I did get involved,’ he says. ‘It’s going well at the moment and we should do well in the future as the layers pick up.’ Usually on a Sunday the boys convene at the kitchen table to assess their cash flow. The profits are split up while leaving a set amount in kitty to cover change and feed costs.

At this point Cooper cuts in to accuse his mother of helping herself to a bit of petty cash on a few occasions. ‘She treats it as an ATM,’ he claims. This argument suddenly falls flat when I ask how much they pay her to cover the transport expenses of delivering the eggs, going to the markets, and collecting the chook feed supplies. 66 cents per kilometre is the going rate I helpfully point as Kellie chuckles in the background. Cooper is momentarily silent.

With another successful diversion in place I wonder how they established their retail price?  ‘We started at $5 per dozen but put it up to $6 for the market,’ Cooper bounces back. He is clear on what their expenses are. ‘It costs $450 to fill the big container,’ he explains. ‘If we bought 20kg bags it would cost a lot more so we buy in bulk which reduces the cost per kilo.’

Kellie has helped the boys to establish a business page on Facebook and a business card; however, it seems that word of mouth is pretty much doing the job for them.

It would appear that everyone in the district is keen to nurture more young people to experience and develop business skills, and these two enterprising brothers are only too happy to take up the challenge.


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of Operation Next Gen and author ofEntrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

OPERATION NEXT GEN COHUNA:  Read on if you'd like to know more about how you can establish your own collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem.  READ MORE

Just one step

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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The day that 22-year-old Brendan Earl decided that he wanted to take control of his own decision making was the day he decided to go into business for himself.  Fast forward seven years and this savvy young man from Collie in Western Australia is already specialising, expanding his business and has exciting plans for the future. This is just one step in his journey Brendan says.

Like many young men Brendan Earl prefers hands on learning and didn’t particularly like school. Fortunately, being raised in a small business family, he was better prepared for business than others. ‘As soon as I could push a wheelbarrow I was working weekends and school holidays for my father’s construction business,’ he recalls.

After finishing year 10 he took on an apprenticeship with a local firm, All Tech Plumbing. ‘I chose plumbing for the money,’ he admits. ‘At that time in my life I wanted to do a trade and people said that plumbers get paid the best out of all the trades, I really didn’t know any better.’

A talent for football (AFL) saw him playing in Perth for a few years which took him back to the family business. ‘Working with dad gave me the freedom to travel back and forwards from Perth several times a week,’ he explains.  A run of injuries put an end to his football career, so he became more focused and, in many ways, this setback helped to launch his business.

‘The day that I wanted to start taking control of my own decision making was the day that I decided to work for myself “become my own boss”,’ says Brendan. ‘To be honest, at that time in my life I had no real idea about business, so I pretty much winged it at the start and worked hard.’ He also found himself an accountant and a book keeper to set up everything for him. ‘We started with a MYOB accounting system, but I now have great admin support and we use Xero which is more efficient and easier.’

Brendan thought that being a local and having a good reputation would give him a head start in his business journey. He was wrong! He quickly discovered that a personal reputation and a business reputation are two complete different things and had to work hard to prove the value of his new business.  ‘It was always hard to get on to tradespeople in a mining boom, so I was on call 24/7 in the beginning trying to break into the market and not wanting to lose a job. It was a bit tough not knowing when your next job is going to be,’ he admits.

A lot has changed from those early years of being in business. With a drive to improve himself and work smarter in his business, Brendan continually learns from his mentors and attends numerous business and networking events.

‘I understand business a lot better now. I learned by my mistakes and the mistakes of others. It’s a great way to learn as I don’t have to make the same ones.’

Through his observations, and wanting to have a business model that works for him, Brendan noted that clean treated water was becoming more of a commodity. With people becoming a lot more health conscious the need for water filtration was becoming more apparent.  It was at this moment that Calybre Plumbing & Gas was transformed to Keip Filtration.

‘The goal with Keip Filtration was to build an asset and provide a service. For example, on a residential scale anyone can walk into Bunnings or a hardware store and buy a filter then get any plumber or handy man to install it. They don’t necessarily know the quality of the product or installer and end up paying top $ for it then it’s forgotten about,’ he explains, ‘but Keip filtration provides the full service.  We supply only top-quality products at great prices which are then installed and maintained by a specially trained and licensed plumber.’

By specialising Brendan has transformed his business in a number of positive ways. For a start he has expanded his business base across a wider region - providing water treatment for mines, vineyards and hospitals, wheatbelt farmers and a variety of domestic customers. In fact, this service is now going Australia wide.

Work has now dramatically changed for Brendan. He now has a lot more time to work on his business rather than in his business.  ‘When you are plumbing you are on call 24/7 but when you go into filtration you can schedule the work in, it’s not as urgent. This allows me more freedom to build the business exploring different business ideas and opportunities.'

This has also helped his cash flow as he has found that customers pay better. ‘If it’s a breakdown then it’s usually not budgeted for,’ he explains, ‘whereas generally if they decide they want their water treated they plan for it in their budget.’

Scheduling regular filter replacements provides additional customer service. ‘When a filter is installed the customer can forget about it. They automatically go on to an automated maintenance program which is ongoing, and I can schedule to suit both the business and the customer.’ This adds significant value to Brendan’s business. A database has more resale value than goodwill he astutely observes.

With a business partner Brendan is exploring a new water filtration project on a much grander scale, collaborating to bring new technology to Australia in 2019.  After reading an article about high levels of nitrate, uranium and arsenic in water, he is also starting a fund to raise money to treat water for remote aboriginal communities.

As a young indigenous man Brendan has never tapped into financial assistance. ‘I wasn’t aware of any financial assistance for indigenous businesses at the time I started,’ he admits, ‘but like everything else government funded, it’s not just handed to you, you have to jump through lots of hoops. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.’

In fact, Brendan has been lucky enough – albeit through hard work and sacrifice - to self-fund his business right from the beginning not having to take out a loan of any kind. With new business plans he hopes to stick with this trend having business savings and a good revenue stream. Having seven years of a successful business makes all the difference.

Reflecting on his achievements to date Brendan says he is proud to be a young man in business. ‘In the beginning it was tough. My friends were making good money while I was just getting by day to day, but seven years down the track I’m in a good position.’

‘This is just one step in my journey,’ Brendan cautions. ‘Collie is where I love to live but the world is a small place. I’m always looking for the new ideas and big opportunities. I like change and I love a challenge.’

Brendan’s top business tips

  • Do your research.
  • Start
  • Set Goals
  • Give it a go.
  • Work hard
  • Stick at it.
  • Ride the roller coaster.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Fail Fast

www.keipfiltration.com

FOOTNOTE:  We are delighted that Brendan is involved in the Operation Next Gen Collie discussions exploring ways to strengthen his home town into the future. Congratulations Brendan on also being named a finalist in the South West Small Business Awards!


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

Fair Dinkum

At the young age of 19 Elise Brown purchased Fair Dinkum Dog Coats and has adapted the business to suit her lifestyle as she's become a mother to two daughters.

At the young age of 19 Elise Brown purchased Fair Dinkum Dog Coats and has adapted the business to suit her lifestyle as she's become a mother to two daughters.

With ‘Shop Local’ campaigns becoming popular, it is important to be reminded that many online businesses also successfully operate from rural towns. Whether a shop front or online business, Elise Brown of Fair Dinkum Dog Coats in Central Victoria is just one great example of why we need to articulate the story of our business, so customers can understand who they are supporting.

Labelled a ‘social butterfly’ by her parents and teachers, Elise Brown cruised through her school years without any accolades.  However, when her family looks back on her childhood, the signs of an entrepreneur in the making were clearly evident.  Always curious, Elise asked lots of questions, and was quick to recognise an opportunity. As a teenager with a strong self-belief she proved herself more than capable of creating her own income.  She trained young and difficult horses and sold them on to good homes for a healthy profit.

Every day is an opportunity to learn according to Elise, and significantly her best learning has been outside the education system.  While her friends went on to university, she started working in the equine industry, learning on the job, and continuing to ask lots of questions of everyone she met along the way.

Aged nineteen she was supported by her family to purchase a small part time business, Fair Dinkum Dog Coats, to complement her part time work.  Within six months Elise was so busy she had to leave her paid job. A year later, she was once again supported by her family to purchase a second business, Midland Stock & Poultry Store in Castlemaine, as a local retail outlet for her dog coats.

Over a five-year period as a retailer, Elise learnt many valuable skills including employing staff and balancing stock with cash flow.  She also learnt to handle the occasional difficult customer who tried to bully a young person for their own benefit.

Life got a bit more complex when a husband entered the scene and their first child was on the way.

‘Fair Dinkum Dog Coats started off as a nice part time business supplying wholesale customers, primarily pet shops, right across Australia,’ Elise explains. ‘But no matter how hard I worked in advance I couldn’t avoid the winter rush and found myself working long hours. It wasn’t fun any more,’ she admits.  Selling the retail store helped alleviated the problem but she still had to find a way to manage the workload for manufacturing the coats.

It was at that point that Elise had a light-bulb moment demonstrating a confidence in her own problem-solving abilities.

‘Despite everyone telling me I was crazy, I wrote to my wholesale customers and told them I was no longer supplying them. I decided to take my business totally online and sell direct to customers.’

Cutting off a stable source of income, investing in website development, and learning to manage new technology was a brave move that has fortunately paid off for Elise. By constantly sharing the story of her business and products via social media she has also effectively engaged with customers and avoided costly advertising.

‘Selling direct to the public online has been the best decision I’ve made, for me and my customers,’ Elise says. ‘Instead of having to produce large orders all at once, I now have a much steadier flow of individual orders that I can make to each dog’s unique measurements instead of off-the-rack generic sizes.’

Recognising a growing number of greyhounds and whippets becoming domestic pets, she has also designed a new range to suit their unique shape and this has become a significant proportion of her sales.

Remarkably, despite working less hours and selling less coats, Elise has tripled her income with the profits coming direct to her instead of being shared with wholesalers.  And, most importantly as a young mother, Elise has also been able to dedicate herself to her two daughters aged three and five.

With the business ticking along nicely in the background, Elise is now preparing for when both girls are at school.  This year she is excited to be building a new work space ready to ramp up the business to a new level by tapping more into the international market and year-round sales.

Balancing work with family is important to Elise, as is maintaining Fair Dinkum’s brand and reputation. At the urging of industry advisers, she has explored outsourcing production and exporting options, but keeps coming back to what is important to her; supplying a quality product to her customers.

With many customers happy to share testimonials Elise says it is also important for the wider community to be educated.

‘When people talk about how bad shopping on the internet is, I’d like to remind them that many rural businesses like mine are benefiting from being online,’ Elise says. ‘Because of the internet I am able to live and work where I love.’

Elise understands the value of explaining who she is and what she stands for. Being nominated for and winning a Rural Community & Achievement Award in 2010 also gave her a platform to talk about the importance of young people being encouraged to become business owners.

Much to Elise’s amazement, she was invited to meet with Queen Elizabeth at Government House in Melbourne during her 2011 visit.  A girlfriend provided a quick makeover, but the ever practical Elise drew the line at changing her rubber soled work boots which were perfect for walking from Southern Cross Station to Government House.

By sharing Fair Dinkum stories, Elise’s customers know exactly who is making their dog coat when they place an order, and chances are that it will be posted by two small and very willing helpers who have the privilege of a rural lifestyle thanks to their enterprising mother.

http://www.fairdinkumdogs.com.au/

Elise’s top business tips:

  • Create a business that supports your family and lifestyle but understand that it’s only worth keeping if its profitable.
  • Invest in yourself to keep improving your business.
  • Utilise the power of social media to avoid costly advertising.

DISCLOSURE:  As many of you may already know, Elise is my daughter. I’m rather amazed that it has taken me this long to feature her in my 85th blog!


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

Better than any classroom

The next generation of our family getting involved in small business.

The next generation of our family getting involved in small business.

BY KERRY ANDERSON

GROWING up in a small business family is a valuable learning experience that arguably puts young people ahead in life compared to those not connected to business.  Children with parents in business learn how to handle money and develop a range of valuable skills not taught in any school classroom.  Most of all, they learn how to be good citizens.

Here are five valuable lessons I learnt along the way.

#1 You get out what you put in

As children in a small business, my siblings and I understood the concept of billable hours and why in summer, at the peak time of his earth moving business, we rarely sighted our father.  He was gone before daybreak and home long after dark.  Paperwork was done after dinner.  Quite simply, if he didn’t go to work there would be no revenue generated.  Later, when the business became more established, the hours were less punishing but he still had to organise work for employees so they could be productive.  This is the same for every small business.  If the shop isn’t opened, the clients don’t receive a service, or if the crop isn’t sown, there is no return.

#2 You can’t spend more than you earn

Listening to adult conversations around them children instinctively develop an understanding of cash flows and budgets.  There is an awareness of how the food on the table and the luxuries in life are connected with how well the business is performing.  A good week in the shop, payment by a major client, or a wool cheque in the mail will be celebrated with smiles all round, but always with the understanding that most of that profit will go to paying the suppliers and investing back into the business.

#3 Honour your debts

Children learn to understand the ramifications of customers who, with no conscience whatsoever, continually avoid paying their account.  They also observe how hard their parents work to ensure that their own suppliers are paid promptly, or at least have the courtesy to make a phone call to explain when circumstances are beyond their control.

#4 Support your local community

Goodwill is an incredibly important for any business.  Businesses understand the importance of supporting each other as a customer, as well as sponsoring local sporting clubs and charities.  While we couldn't support everything, I was always incredibly proud that our family business did their bit for our community and have done the same in my business.

#5 Confidence

In the early days of the business our mother was very hands-on so we also took on a number of chores.   Answering the phone politely and taking messages was an accepted way of life as was fuelling the work vehicles each evening.  We learned to safely handle equipment and vehicles at an early age.  Getting our driver’s licence was accomplished with ease compared to our city counterparts who had never sat behind a wheel.

Despite the tough times we always thought we were lucky, and we were.  Growing up in a small business led to a confidence in our own abilities.  We also learnt to be good citizens.

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

Call to action for all women

BY KERRY ANDERSON

As I watch the next generation of females in our family grow I have been reflecting on how much has changed since I grew up in a male dominated world and equally, how much still hasn’t.  Sadly we need to keep spelling it out. 

Here is my call to action for all women.

Don’t stereo type 

Encourage your daughters and grand-daughters to be brave, be creative, to explore, to dream and to question. 

Pull those barbie dolls apart and see how they’re made.  Better still get out in the workshop and tinker with those machines.  

Talk up the arts plus science and technology when it comes to career paths. Skills are for everyone to practice and learn according to their interest, not their gender. 

Keep an open mind 

With 70% of future jobs not yet invented, I for one don’t want to be a career adviser. 

What has happened in the past is not necessarily the way of the future with modern technology.  Just look at the mobile phone as an example. Who would have thought that it would also become a camera, calculator, GPS and essentially a mini computer? 

What surprised me most in a 2013 survey of 1,000 secondary school students in rural Victoria was the lack of understanding of how technology is changing geographic barriers. 

Yes we still want to encourage young people to travel and experience the city as a student but we also need to understand that technology is opening up new careers in rural areas as well.

Encourage entrepreneurs  

With youth unemployment a worldwide issue, why aren’t we flagging self-employment as an option? 

Schools need to be inviting business leaders into the class room to share their stories.  Teachers need to embrace technology to better engage students in business studies. 

Most important of all - Get over this tall poppy syndrome!  Accept the failures as part of the learning process and celebrate the successes.  Business is good for us all. We need business to grow and prosper or how can we support the wonderful education, health and welfare services that we currently enjoy?

While there is no doubt in my mind that future generations are going to be facing a tougher economy, adversity has also proven to be a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs.

Rural women are great problem solvers and great disruptors because we have to be. With so many new technologies available to us, there is no limit to what we can achieve. 

As I always say:  If you can't spell Entrepreneur then be one and hire someone that can!

Two little girls delighted to be helping their self employed mother deliver parcels from  Fair Dinkum Dog Coats  to the post office.

Two little girls delighted to be helping their self employed mother deliver parcels from Fair Dinkum Dog Coats to the post office.


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

MORE about Kerry Anderson

READ Kerry's full presentation paper on this topic for the 2015 International Rural Women's Conference.

Young Business Profile: Dale Hansford

BY KERRY ANDERSON

“BEING a boss and not having to answer to anyone but yourself is the best thing about being in business.”

This is how 24 year old Dale Hansford responded when I put the question to him at Maine Fitness in Castlemaine, of which he is co-owner.

“It’s also about pride and the satisfaction you’ve created something,” he adds.

A passion for sport influenced Dale to undertake a Bachelor Degree in Exercise Science at the University of Ballarat.  Upon graduation in 2013 he immediately set up business as a personal trainer in Melbourne.  By early 2015 he was lured back to his home town to start up a new business, Maine Fitness, with co-owner and childhood friend, Edward Coulthard.  

Simultaneously, Dale relocated his initial business from Melbourne setting up a complimentary part-time business in Castlemaine, Maine Soft Tissue Treatment. 

“I treat muscular skeletal problems,” Dale clarifies in response to my puzzled look. “Better than a physio and similar to a chiropractor.”

It suddenly becomes clear why he invests so much money each year in continued professional development that he believes is essential to remain at the top of your chosen industry.

I am both impressed and intrigued.  Documented research has suggested that young people who have a business person in their family or close circle of friends are more likely to go into business.

Dale makes no mention of whether his mother owning a retail business has been an influence or not.  With a Degree to his name, Dale says it was generally accepted that most graduates in this particular industry become sole traders and he was more than happy to follow this path.

Despite this knowledge, Dale elected not to participate in any business units during his time at Secondary College or University and has instead learnt the required business skills along the way.

“It’s worked well for me simply copying what other really successful businesses in this industry have done.  Learning more about the legal side of business would have been useful though,” he admits.

One thing he does value from his school days is maths.  “I use fractions in my work all the time. It’s great to be able to work out figures easily and quickly.”

The transition from sole trader to co-owner of a start-up new company with employees required a lot more planning and capital.

Their first challenge was to prepare a proposal to convince their future landlord that they were worthy of taking over the proposed gymnasium in the building that was already being fitted out for this purpose.

“We took educated guesses on what would happen as a start-up,” explains Dale.  “It was still playing the odds but we were as conservative as we could be.”

Planning took the form of informal discussions over a meal in each other’s homes.  Even one year after the business has opened and employing three staff, the two partners still tend to chat informally when the need arises.  “I hate formal meetings,” Dale grimaces.

By working hard and diligently saving, Dale and Edward had already managed to accumulate a modest capital base to meet the start-up requirements.

“As much as I wish we had the money to purchase everything outright, we kept our costs to a minimum by leasing the building and the equipment.”

 With sufficient capital in hand and a supportive landlord who thought their business proposal was well presented, it was all hands to deck to put their plans into action.

Marketing expenses were kept to a minimum with the power of social media harnessed to their benefit.  A Facebook page drummed up interest in the opening and secured them over 20 memberships in advance providing some much needed cash flow.  Now that they are open word of mouth recommendations continue to generate further referrals. 

Having just celebrated its first anniversary Maine Fitness has now grown to 220 members and Dale is very happy with what they’ve achieved.  While they are still both working long hours he looks forward to a time when they can step away from the business more.

“We’re definitely on track.”

READ more about Maine Fitness "Young Start-Ups: It never hurts to ask!"

SHARE YOUR STORY:  Have you or someone you know got a rural start-up or business acquisition story to share?  CLICK HERE to email me through the contacts page.

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

Young Start-Ups: It never hurts to ask!

BY KERRY ANDERSON

CELEBRATING the first year anniversary of a new business has been a major milestone for 23 year old Edward Coulthard and 24 year old Dale Hansford, co-owners of Maine Fitness located in a newly refurbished industrial shed in Castlemaine, Central Victoria.

Looking around, the spacious facility has a professional feel and, even to my uneducated eye, the equipment looks of quality standard.  It’s no surprise when Dale describes the business as “a high class, professional gymnasium for all ages 16 years plus.”

While one of their 220 current members is doing impressive chin pull ups on a bar across the room, my brain is doing mental gymnastics and I’m bursting to ask the question.  How on earth were these two young men able to afford the start-up investment in a quality venue and equipment not to mention marketing to grow a membership?

Specialising in an industry they are passionate about, it appears that this enterprising pair has invested significant time but minimal capital into approaching and building the business in a smart way to make it affordable and successful.

Back in late 2014, the concept of Maine Fitness moved into overdrive when the local newspaper featured an article on local businessman and property owner, Glenn Guest.  Glenn was publicly announcing his intention to refurbish one of his properties, an industrial shed, for the purpose of a new modern gymnasium. 

Edward was devastated as this was also his vision and he had been working hard and saving for this very purpose.  He and Dale had only just started to scope out another potential site for a gymnasium.  With both young men previously growing up and playing sport together in Castlemaine, and both having worked in Melbourne in the personal training industry, it was a logical decision to pool their expertise and capital to enable them to live and work in their home town as business partners.

However; after reading the article, it seemed like their plans needed to be revised.

“I knew that it would be difficult to compete with a gym of this size,” says Edward.

That was until a game changing conversation took place.  Edward’s football coach approached Glenn on their behalf and it turned out that he was open to proposals.

As Glenn explains, “After being leased short term, our building was in danger of sitting empty and I was simply looking for a long term financial return. Castlemaine lacked a quality gymnasium and it was the ideal opportunity for this space so I made the commitment to refurbish it for this purpose. It was never my intention to be there full time because of my other business interests.”

With the opportunity to fast track their business idea, Edward and Dale quickly put a proposal together.

“Looking at what other successful businesses in the industry were doing was our starting point,” explains Dale.  “Then we took educated guesses as to how the business would progress, being as conservative as we could be but still playing the odds.”

"It could have been leased to any number of people but it seemed right to give these two young guys the opportunity." Glenn Guest

“Edward and Dale had some good ideas and the experience to run a gymnasium to the standard I wanted,” Glenn recalls.  “We’d invested a lot of money in fitting out the building and wanted it to be inviting for all ages.  It could have been leased it to any number of people but it seemed right to give these two young guys the opportunity.”

Maine Fitness was suddenly in take-off mode!

Having secured the perfect venue, the next challenge was to fit it out with quality gymnasium equipment.

“Once again, leasing was the best option for us,” says Dale.

With a tight three month schedule until the proposed opening date the two new business partners and their landlord threw themselves into ensuring the facility was ready for opening day.  Family and friends happily helped out assembling the equipment in the final few weeks.

“It was crazy,” Edwards grins.

With opening day approaching and funds flowing out of their limited bank account, they came up with another great idea.

“One really smart thing we did,” Dale says, “is that we sold memberships before the gym opened.  Sharing photos of the facilities with details of our qualifications, and offering a discounted membership got us over 20 members and created some cash flow in advance.”

Facebook has proven to be the most cost effective promotion of the business.  Now that they are operational, word of mouth recommendations are equally powerful and their membership has grown to 220 in just twelve months.

In early 2016 the Victorian Drug Free Power Lifting Association conducted a novice event at Maine Fitness citing it as one of the most successful they had held with 20 participants and over 100 spectators.

“Following this success the Central Victorian Power Lifting Championships are going to be held here on 4 June,” Edward says. “It’s going to be huge.”  Already they have secured sponsorship from another local business, Centre State Drilling, to support a local lifting team to participate.

Open seven days a week, Edward and Dale work full-time in the business sharing the duties with three employees.  With high energy levels that I can only vaguely recall from my youth, both are working long hours.  They also invest heavily in continually updating their skills attending courses all over Australia.

While feeling very satisfied with the results so far, Dale admits that he is looking forward to growing the business to the next level when they can step back a bit more. 

Reflecting on how this model business has evolved so quickly and successfully under the leadership of two young men, I can’t help but be amazed.  It certainly didn’t hurt to ask when a huge obstacle was presented to them.  A simple conversation has produced a wonderful and mutually beneficial outcome. 

If I could do a backflip or even a chin up in celebration, I would!

READ MORE about Dale Hansford's reflections as a young person in business

SHARE YOUR STORY:  Have you or your community assisted a business to start up in your town?  I'd love to share your story in my forthcoming book,  Entrepreneurship: It's Everybody's Business. 
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KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

www.kerryanderson.com.au