Cool Clutch

Suzanne Carroll sells Cool Clutch women’s handbags, cool by name and cool by nature!

Suzanne Carroll sells Cool Clutch women’s handbags, cool by name and cool by nature!

Ever dreamed of starting a business? Suzanne Carroll of Gisborne in central Victoria woke up on the morning of 30 October 2015 and told her husband that she was going to start a business called Cool Clutch selling ‘cool by nature and cool by name’ handbags for women. And she did. True story!

One of the fastest growing sectors of entrepreneurs is that of middle-aged women and you can’t go past Suzanne of Cool Clutch for inspiration. Having stepped away from her previous marketing work in the corporate sector for health reasons, Suzanne had been searching for an idea.

‘I was too young to retire and too old to be employable. I wanted to sell something online so I could stay home in my PJ’s’ she laughs.

Nothing could be further from that vision. Instead of languishing at home in her PJ’s she has found herself totally out of her comfort zone, drawing down on her house mortgage to fund the start-up, travelling overseas to negotiate with manufacturers, diving into the alien and expensive world of patents, entering and winning a Pitchfest, and becoming the very visible public face of her unique product.

It has been a steep learning curve since waking up with her Cool Clutch dream and Suzanne understands the benefit of sharing her journey to help others. She attends as many business conferences and networking events as possible. ‘I’m always learning by listening to others,’ she explains, ‘everybody I listen to generates an idea.’

Not one to sit around, Suzanne registered the domain name ‘Cool Clutch’ that very first day. While it may seem impulsive, having previously seen a cooler bag that stored wine on its side instead of in the usual upright position, Suzanne had noted that there wasn’t one available in Australia and this idea had been bubbling away subconsciously for some time. Her idea was to create stylish handbags that could also discretely store and keep cool wine, lunches and even medications that deteriorate in hot temperatures. The patented distinction is a removable pocket that sits within the handbag.

‘I knew what I wanted to do but not how to do it.’

She contacted thirty-two manufacturers via China’s Alibaba website. Those that spoke good English were followed up. Three were short listed before Suzanne met with them in Hong Kong. After selecting one they worked together on the design. Suzanne paid thirty percent upon placing the order, and a further seventy percent when the first 2,500 handbags were ready to be shipped.

It should have been an exciting day when the container arrived in Melbourne, but it turns out that some manufacturers like to cut corners and a great proportion of the initial order were faulty.

With the benefit of hindsight, Suzanne would advise others to do it differently.

‘Yes, good English and being contactable by skype is crucial, but I would personally tour the factory before committing to a contract and would not allow the products to be shipped out of China without first being checked by a quality agent.’

With a sample of what she wanted to achieve and a list of questions to ask, Suzanne returned to China in August 2016 to negotiate with a new manufacturer and personally tour their factory plus engage a quality agent. Thankfully it was a much better outcome this time round.

Another valuable lesson has been to scale back the designs and colour choices.

‘At one point I had 83 different handbag designs and colours,’ Suzanne admits, ‘but I’m scaling back to just three styles with a total of about 25 handbags in total. I’ve learned not to listen to everybody because some ideas just don’t sell.’

Obviously a website is crucial for an online business. It took Suzanne three attempts and over a year to get a site that she is happy with using Wordpress and WooCommerce.

‘Your biggest investment is your shop front. Don’t go with the first “special offer” on a website design you see advertised on social media’ she advises. Once again she learned a valuable lesson and researched who had the skills to do the work to her satisfaction. Once established she was able to look after the website herself.

A Facebook community of 4,500 people has become a useful marketing tool for Cool Clutch’s direct sales. ‘I’m self-taught in social media,’ Suzanne admits but loves the fact that she can drill down into demographics when boosting posts for as little as $20.

She has also learnt the distinctions between different platforms. ‘When I’m on Facebook I talk like I do to my girlfriends, but when on Linked In, it is more business.’ But at the end of the day it is word of mouth that generates the most sales.

‘My biggest marketing is customers talking to their friends.’

Finding wholesalers for Cool Clutch has been another trial and error process. She began by attending the major gift and homeware expos but, having such a unique product, has realised that it is more effective to research the demographics and go into the stores personally.

While Suzanne looks after the sales in Victoria, she also has an agent in New South Wales, and is currently seeking agents for Queensland and South Australia. A recent visit to the Barossa Valley revealed that wineries are a great fit for her products.

Patenting the Cool Clutch concept world-wide is another significant investment that started within weeks of the new business being created. ‘Looking at my initial decisions, they were more about convenience,’ Suzanne reflects. ‘I googled Patent Attorneys and found one in a location that I was familiar with. I liked him but he turned out to be very expensive.’

More recently Suzanne has benefited from working with a business mentor who has helped her to understand her weaknesses and improve her business decision making. ‘Useful tips like learning to allocate a codeword to specific marketing campaigns allows you to monitor the return on investment,’ says Suzanne. Like every seasonal business she is also looking to overseas markets to ‘follow the sun.’

Entering and winning a Bendigo Pitchfest in November 2016 gave Suzanne a great confidence boost, as did being named in the Australian Top 50 People in eCommerce in early 2019. ‘It’s nice to be recognised,’ she admits.

Working from home has probably turned out a little differently than Suzanne initially imagined. Fortunately, with grown-up children who have left home, it has been easier to reallocate rooms to the business. The dining room is now the Board Room, the study is an office for Suzanne and a part time employee, and the garage is now used for picking and packing

‘We don’t have anyone come to dinner anymore,’ she smiles, ‘we go out.’

If Suzanne has one more dream, it is to grow the business up to a level where she can build a new office and warehouse with a child care centre so more women are empowered to work.

Now that’s a cool dream!

Suzanne’s top tips:

  • Engage a quality agent if you are manufacturing overseas

  • Get a business mentor to get you started

  • Network with other business people

www.coolclutch.net


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

Pick Pack Post

Usually it is the children that are encouraged to take on the family business, but in the case of Sunshine Iris Nursery near Lockhart in New South Wales, it was the opposite. What started as a logical step into the business world for agronomist trained Elissa Strong became problematic when she went back to study in 2017 leaving her mother Mandy to pick pack and post.

Much to my son’s delight I’ve been invited to lunch at the home of daredevil X-Games and freestyle motorcycle rider Jackson Strong, but the international superstar is not the purpose of my visit. I am here to catch up with Mandy Strong, Jackson’s quietly spoken mother and co-owner of Sunshine Iris Nursery.

Driving on to the Strong’s 20,000 acre cereal cropping farm near Lockhart in the Riverina district of New South Wales, I immediately spot two distinct differences to every other farming property I’ve visited. First and foremost, there is Jackson’s elaborate training track, adjacent to which there is a fenced paddock of flowering irises of all colours and descriptions. Quite by accident I’ve timed my visit in October, right in the middle of flowering season!

While she has always been a part of the family farming enterprise – and the ‘number two header driver’ until their eldest son Toby was old enough to take over – Mandy’s main profession was teaching. It was in 2013, around the time of her retirement, that her daughter Elissa spotted a nearby iris business for sale. With Elissa’s agronomist training and Mandy’s love of gardening it seemed like a good opportunity. ‘Let’s do this,’ Elissa told her mother. So they did.

‘My husband thought it was a ridiculous idea,’ Mandy admits, ‘but we’ve proven to him that it is a very profitable business.’

It is at this point that I am embarrassed to admit my lack of gardening knowledge so Mandy sets me straight. It turns out that there are over 600 varieties of irises which are drought resistant, disease free and multiply each year. Perfect for Australian gardens which is why Sunshine Irises has sales to every state and territory. Walking through the allotment I see firsthand how many different colours and sizes there are which makes it a collector’s paradise and brings them many repeat customers.

Mandy pulls out her smart phone and opens up the Shopify App that they use in their online business. Even though they advertise that they cannot process orders between September and November during the flowering season, there are already 108 orders logged and awaiting delivery. Each order is clearly identified by a photo of the iris being purchased and each iris in the allotment is carefully labelled making the selections easy.

‘Basically we pick, pack and post,’ Mandy explains. ‘Shopify is perfect for this type of business and prints all the reports we need.’ Prepaid bags are purchased and posted through their local post office in Lockhart.

Extra care needs to be taken with orders to Western Australia and Tasmania that have quarantine laws. ‘We treat them with a special spray and have to do some paperwork. It’s not hard to do once you’re in the system and being an agronomist Elissa did the initial setting up.’

Two years into the business and the daughter-mother duo purchased another iris collection, this time from Yarrawonga, adding significantly to their stock. They also introduced eighty varieties of Daylilies. The business was significantly growing.

While the actual bulb of the irises and lilies are the main product, the blooms are also sold during flowering season at a market in Wagga Wagga.

In 2017, when Elissa returned to study and found it impossible to actively contribute, Mandy took on the business but not without support. She approached her twin sister Margie, who resides in Canberra, and invited her to become the new partner.

‘I do all the physical stuff and Margie does the books, blogs for our website, social media, and behind the scenes stuff,’ says Mandy. They also have an employee – conveniently Mandy’s next-door neighbour – who comes and helps pack every Monday. University students assist with weeding on a seasonal basis.

And sometimes things just go in your favour when you are surrounded by equally motivated business people albeit for very different purposes. Mandy reports that water for the irises is plentiful, as Jackson’s new training track required extra dirt to be excavated from the dam providing it with a far greater storage capacity. An aerial video of the iris allotment for the Facebook page also came courtesy of her son’s drone.

Apart from when the business has the occasional Open Day during the flowering season it is a very solitary business but, well used to rural life, Mandy appears to relish it. The internet has opened up sales well beyond her patch of rural bliss and she remains active in her local community of Lockhart.

Showing a hint of why her son Jackson has become known as an innovator in the sporting world, Mandy believes that anyone can do well in business if they think outside the square and develop something that suits their interests and skills set.

‘I’ve always been a gardener and love growing things,’ she says.

Best of all the business also allows her to make an income independent of the farm, which apparently surprised a few people along the way.

Mandy’s top business tips:

  • Take the time to talk to your customers even those not tech savvy.

  • Take a chance - and work hard when you do!

  • Enjoy what you are doing and it doesn't become a chore.

 https://www.sunshineiris.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/SunshineIrisNursery/


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

Retro Respection

Not many businesses can claim to have been instigated by a triple cake stacking canister, but this happens to be the case when it comes to Retro Respection, a quirky homeware, giftware and vintage lovers’ shop in Collie, Western Australia. Its two equally quirky business partners are an inspiration to all those young mums who may feel trapped at home.

With the newly opened Retro Respection store creating a buzz in Collie, I popped in to catch up with its two enterprising business partners, Storm Todhunter and Joleen Brown. As young mums, it was rare for them to both be present in the store at the same time. Straight away it became evident that both are passionate about their products, in the way they dress and what they stock in the store, sometimes purely for conversational purposes.

It also proved to be my most challenging and fun interview of 2018. Challenging because they tend to bounce off each other like rubber balls when it comes to conversation, and fun because they just are so determined to enjoy life to its fullest.

Yes, it is true that a triple cake stacking cannister caught Storm’s attention at playgroup way back in 2012. ‘A mother asked if anyone wanted one and I said “I’ll have that!”,’ recalls Storm. At the very start of her business journey she started selling vintage items on eBay as a hobby.

Joleen, another local young mother also interested in vintage goods and writing a blog – they laugh as they recall a particularly hideous tea set she had collected - soon caught Storm’s attention.

‘We had kids the same age and just hit it off,’ says Joleen, ‘and I had the blog,’ she adds knowingly.

‘Joleen kept buying stuff at garage sales putting us in direct competition, so it made perfect sense for us to team up,’ explains Storm pointedly ignoring the blog reference. ‘I love the history and do the research.’

‘Whereas I just jump in with random ideas,’ smiles Joleen.

‘Yes, Joleen likes to try new things,’ confirms Storm, ‘whereas I think things through. She relies on me to pull her back in. We make a great team.’

‘We never expected it to be an overnight success,’ admits Joleen.

‘We’re brought up to think that we can do anything but once you have kids the reality is that you don’t leave the house,’ adds Storm. ‘This business has been built all around family. We have set it up so we are always available for our kids.’

In 2012 Storm started selling online from her family home in Collie and took up lots of space for stock. When she joined forces with Joleen in 2014 they came up with the quirky name of Retro Respection. ‘It’s a wicked name,’ Joleen grins.

‘An important learning starting off the business was to leverage our circumstances,’ recalls Storm. ‘As a mum without a paid job, I couldn’t even get a credit card!’ Fortunately, a supportive aunt lent her money to get started and has been one of her biggest fans.

In a conscious choice, Storm and Joleen have worked without wages and poured their earnings directly back into the business which originally focussed on sales through eBay and ultimately their own website.

In September 2018 they took the unusual step of expanding their online business to a physical shop front in their home town of Collie. With a tight budget they asked around and got a six-month trial of a vacant shop at a reduced rent. In a brave step they also decided to open 7 days a week, one of very few businesses to do so in this working town but perhaps a forerunner to positive change.

Their calculated gamble paid off. With increased visibility and their range of stock expanded, sales immediately increased. ‘It’s been good for the locals,’ confirms Storm. ‘Sometimes people just come in for a chat and now there is something for visitors passing through town to browse on weekends.’

‘Our reputation is everything and we’ve been professional right from the beginning,’ says Storm, or maybe it was Joleen? (my head is spinning with these two dynamos!) ‘No shortcuts,’ it was agreed unanimously.

Without a budget for marketing they have relied on organic growth through Facebook and Instagram and paid careful attention to the statistics. ‘Every time we post “SALE” it goes crazy,’ Joleen happily shares.

Getting a point of sale system was a priority with the opening of their shop front. After much trial and error, they settled on neto which provides a basic do-it-yourself website template and, most importantly, synchronises their inventory and sales in the shop, and across the website and eBay platforms. ‘Once you learn a new system you get better each time and more adaptable,’ says Storm.

On the few occasions they are physically together in the same space, this dynamic duo spend time thinking strategically about what new lines to introduce. With a strong following of online collectors, brooches were quite successful when introduced. ‘Consumables such as lollies and dog treats also invite repeat buyers,’ says Storm. ‘And we’d love to get more sustainable products in.’

‘While we haven’t made any serious money yet, at least we enjoy what we’re doing,’ admits Storm. ‘Joleen and I are best buddies and each other’s biggest supporter.’

‘We’re taking it day by day and enjoying ourselves’ Joleen confirms.

At the end of a whirl wind interview, Storm announces that this is only the start of their grand plan. ‘We’re going to bed down this shop and make it a destination; refine the website, expand the shop space, expand the product lines, and maybe open a whole bunch of shops.’

Somehow, I think they just might!

Storm and Joleen have expanded their online business to include a shop front in Collie W.A.

Storm and Joleen have expanded their online business to include a shop front in Collie W.A.

Storm and Joleen’s top tips:

  • Be passionate about your products.

  • Be stubborn.

  • Don’t be afraid to take that leap.

  • Be a nimble bull.

www.retrorespection.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 Change-Makers. READ MORE

Forging Ahead

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There is something about a corrugated iron shed that attracts the eye. Iconic markers on our rural landscape, they serve so many purposes, everything from shearing to hay storage and mechanical works. Regardless of searing heat and bitter cold they are places of shelter and productivity. But what takes place within those spaces is changing as indicated by The Old Workshop Café at Anakie between Geelong and Ballan. When my eyes were drawn to an old shed with a vibrant new look about it, I couldn’t help but stop off to find out more.

Good coffee and a social gathering place are an essential ingredient of any rural town and Anakie (population 690) is no exception. Local businesswoman Debbie Walker has put her accounting skills, chef daughter, and an old engineering shed to good use creating a quality café featuring organic produce for locals and travellers along the Geelong Ballan Road.

That’s the short version. In reality, it has been a much longer journey and, like every small business, fraught with its challenges. But at the end of the day Debbie is justifiably proud of her achievement and the opportunities it has brought to her small community.

For 25 years Debbie and husband Bob operated their engineering works on this site. As more equipment was acquired and they reached full capacity for electricity, it was time for a move. Adjacent land was purchased, new larger premises were purpose built for the engineering works, and suddenly, the old workshop was vacant.

Two years previously Debbie had already established a small café on the opposite side of the road. ‘I’ve always been passionate about producing my own food and cooking,’ explains Debbie. ‘When Krystal, our chef daughter and mother of four, started looking for some part time work it was perfect timing.’

The vacant old workshop promised more floor space, off-road parking and an opportunity to showcase organic vegetable beds and fruit trees as part of the café landscaping. With their existing café experience, Debbie’s planning skills, and Bob’s engineering expertise to fit it out, it should have been a simple transition. Like many small business owners caught in that time warp of investing large amounts of money and keen to get trading as soon as possible, Debbie discovered otherwise.

‘Dealing with council without a doubt,’ Debbie says when asked what their biggest challenge has been. ‘We expected help because we were encouraging employment and attracting tourists,’ says Debbie, ‘but couldn’t get a straight answer when setting up the disabled toilet. It took 12 weeks to find out where a handrail should go.’ She soon discovered that it was quicker to get information from other sources. ‘After two years of fighting and having spent too much time, effort, and money, I just couldn’t back down.’

Debbie’s analytical mind found the Health Department much easier to deal with. Proudly she shows me behind the scenes in their spotless kitchen and cool room. ‘The department has stringent health and safety guidelines which we gladly adhere to. We have one of the cleanest commercial kitchens, a fully trained chef, and all of our staff undertake a food handling course. When things go quiet with customers everyone knows without asking to scrub under the benches and check behind the doors.’

Ten casual staff are employed by the café which opens Friday to Sunday. ‘They (staff members) come from near and far,’ Debbie says. She translates that to ‘some live just up the road while others travel up to 15 kilometres away.’

Working in hospitality is not for everyone she cautions. ‘I have to be careful to maintain relationships in a small town and encourage potential employees to come and talk first.’ For those who do have people skills it is a great training opportunity.

It goes without saying that customer service is paramount in hospitality and Debbie is constantly thinking of ways to make to make customers feel more comfortable in an open shed environment. ‘We get the fire going when it’s cold, and on hot days use lots of ice, cool the glasses in the fridge, and bring out the big fans. People realise that we’re trying to make them as comfortable as possible.’

‘It’s a tough industry,’ she admits. It can go from no customers to ten cars pulling up simultaneously. ‘One day it was so hot and we were absolutely dead business wise but still had to have full staff. We cleaned out the storeroom, tried out some new recipes and made a big batch of beetroot relish. Even though we had few customers we got so much done.’

Being a part of a small community brings many benefits. While the café provides an important space for locals to gather and socialise, it also provides an outlet for local producers of flowers, honey, olive oil, and even handmade glass necklaces. ‘It enhances our business, so we don’t charge them anything to display and sell their goods. My only stipulation is that they have to make it themselves,’ explains Debbie.

With an accounting background and 30 years of experience in the family engineering business, Debbie has no illusions when it comes to investment. ‘You have to spend money to make money,’ she advises, ‘and you can’t expect to retrieve your investment in the first year.’ As is often the case, the best of budgets and time schedules can blow out, but the Walkers keep forging ahead regardless. In one extreme example a sewerage plant was budgeted at $5,000 but cost $28,000. ‘It means that our decking has to wait a bit longer,’ she shrugs philosophically.

As The Old Workshop Cafe enters its second year of trading, Debbie is feeling very satisfied with their achievements. Their customer base has grown requiring an overflow car park to be introduced. ‘Not a bad problem to have,’ she smiles. Likewise, the garden has grown significantly. ‘It’s a great pleasure to give the menu a twist on a regular basis to incorporate the seasonal produce from the garden.’ Recently they have applied for a liquor license and are patiently waiting on council to respond.

‘We always have plans for more to be done but the staff, service and food are exactly where I’m happy with,’ says Debbie. ‘We’re not big business, we are very much part of the community.’

Debbie’s top business tips:

  • Don’t borrow.

  • Be brave. Don’t be scared to make a decision.

  • Enjoy what you do. If you love it, it’s not work.

  • Be a part of your community.

GOOGLE MAPS The Old Workshop, Ballan Road, Anakie (open Friday to Sunday)

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/dashfoodstore/


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 Change-Makers. READ MORE

Quilt Station

As a small rural business, Quilt Station has given Margaret Mew amazing opportunities.

As a small rural business, Quilt Station has given Margaret Mew amazing opportunities.

Margaret Mew can’t remember a time when she hasn’t made ‘fine little things.’ As a teenager she made her own clothes, then she sewed and knitted for her children … as mothers often used to do. Then, in 1992, she went to a patchwork class and her world dramatically changed. Today, thanks to her incredible work captured in her stunning book, Quilts from the Colonies, Margaret and her Elphinstone based business, Quilt Station, are recognised across the world by quilters.

Why patchwork I ask? Margaret barely pauses to answer. ‘I loved that it had unlimited possibilities of pattern, of colour and prints of fabric,’ she explains. And over twenty years later it appears that she is still mesmerised. ‘Fabric to me is the motivation every day. It still excites me sewing two pieces of fabric together and see how they look.’

Like all artisans Margaret has dedicated years to learning her craft and the journey has been an interesting one. With her newfound passion fuelled by continuing patchwork classes and as a founding member of Goldfields Quilters; she started working part-time at a patchwork shop in Castlemaine. ‘Some days I just got paid in fabric,’ she admits with a wry smile. She then started taking inhouse classes at the shop which helped attract more buyers of fabric much to the owner’s delight.

After a ten-year ‘apprenticeship’ in quilting Margaret also started producing her own patterns, with an emphasis on traditional antique American styles that she particularly loves, selling them inhouse and through the shop’s website. In what can be quite a long process, she begins by making the quilt, then works out all the technical instructions and produces it as a physical pattern for other quilters to purchase. ‘In the early days I literally drew the diagrams with handwritten instructions and photocopied them,’ she explains. ‘The early ones looked pretty basic but slowly and surely I’ve gained more computer skills and now I’m using a graphic designer and producing them with a bit more of an edge.’ Her most recent pattern was printed in full colour and retails for $32.

According to Margaret things first got really exciting around 2010 when a quilting shop in the Netherlands started buying her patterns wholesale. Suddenly Margaret’s name started appearing in European quilting circles and, in 2011, she was contacted by France based magazine and book publisher Quiltmania who were visiting Australia for a Sydney event. Carol the publisher, and Guy their photographer, travelled to Elphinstone, artfully ‘threw’ quilts around Margaret’s house, and took beautiful photographs. Over the next few years Quiltmania featured Margaret in articles and published some of her patterns.

It was clearly time for Margaret to capitalise on this world-wide recognition, only enjoyed by a handful of Australian quilters. She left her part time job and purchased a long arm quilt machine business that she could operate from home. Not only did this unique piece of machinery assist her to finish her own quilts, it enabled her to take on work from hobby quilters in the region, providing a small but steady income. Her first task was to write to the previous owner’s customers introducing herself. Quilt Station in the tiny central Victorian township of Elphinstone was born!

2017 was another significant milestone when Quilt Mania published Quilts from the Colonies by Margaret Mew with text in both English and French. Margaret enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to France to attend the launch. ‘I sat and signed books for four days followed by a lovely holiday,’ she smiles. She also travelled to the United States, promoting the book and teaching even more obsessed quilters in what is reputedly a $3.7 billion annual industry according to figures published by the International Quilt Market.

Despite this incredible publicity on the world arena, it has still been up to Margaret to generate her own local marketing and publicity to keep a steady flow of income.  With a creative eye she maintains her own website. ‘I am very particular about how everything looks and am constantly changing my website,’ she admits. She is also an avid blogger and has recently embraced Instagram already enjoying a huge following. An online course has encouraged her to update her profile and better connect with potential customers. ‘I don’t think I could have built my business without social media,’ she admits. ‘All quilters are on Instagram which is so good for creatives because they are so visual.’

With experience Margaret is becoming more strategic in converting followers to customers. ‘You need to let people in, connect with them and build a relationship by offering something for free,’ Margaret explains. ‘By guiding them to my blog where I talk more in-depth, they are then on my website with access to my shopping page.

While the long arm quilting machine was a big part of her initial business, it has recently been surpassed by her more favoured activities; speaking and teaching, both of which help promote sales of her book, patterns and templates. A glance at her online calendar reveals that she is a regular guest speaker at guild events across Victoria and interstate, in addition to her own fortnightly inhouse classes. It is something that Margaret clearly enjoys and helps fund another of her passions, overseas travel!  In October 2018 she is off on another quilting adventure spanning the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.

What surprises me most is that Margaret rarely sells a quilt, instead keeping them for teaching purposes. Quilts are only sold when her cupboards get too full and then, usually to friends and for only a fraction of the cost that it takes to produce them. As an accredited appraiser who volunteers at guild events to enable quilt owners to apply for insurance cover, she clearly understands their value. ‘It’s not unusual for a handmade quilt to be valued at $5,000 or even $8,000,’ she says, ‘but that doesn’t mean that someone will pay that.’

Likewise, Margaret has a large collection of old fabrics that are exceeding storage space and is next year looking at selling them through a booth in the United Kingdom. This is a strategic decision that will help gain new customers for her patterns and teaching classes, not to mention help fund another overseas trip!

One of the biggest challenges of being a home-based business, especially one that grew from a hobby, is friends not understanding that she has work to do. ‘Every day is a work day when you work for yourself,’ acknowledges Margaret who is busy producing new works for patterns and hopefully a second book.

Choosing not to analyse her personal worth and business too in-depth, Margaret is following guild and council standards when she speaks and charges fees that she is comfortable with. She also maintains the books for her husband’s business, Art Station, based in the outbuildings at their home. Although the two businesses are kept separate in an online accounting system, Margaret is grateful that they come under the one partnership requiring only one BAS to be completed for taxation purposes. She is also under no illusion.

‘As a business Quilt Station is not our main source of income,’ Margaret admits, ‘but the bottom line is that I will always make quilts because it’s what I love to do. It also gives me amazing opportunities.’

http://www.quiltstation.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

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

The Dressmaker

More than a skewed small town fable ...

BY KERRY ANDERSON

VIEWING The Dressmaker for the second time last night (on this special occasion under the stars in outback Queensland) I had the opportunity to reflect on what lessons could be learned from this now iconic Australian movie.

Earlier in the day, author, Rosalie Ham, explained to delegates at the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association meeting in Alpha how she joined a literary course at TAFE and was instructed to write a story and go through the motions of publishing it.  Drawing on her somewhat skewed childhood memories of growing up in a town of 800 people with a seamstress mother, Rosalie inserted a murder, a cross dresser, a fiercely fought football game, hate, envy, and the obligatory love story into the story line. The Dressmaker was the end result. Not only did it get published, it was made into a movie!

When I first went to see the film it was for a number of different reasons.  It was Australian and filmed in rural Victoria near where I live, plus it featured a small rural town in the story line, albeit fictional. Most of all, it was because my mother, raised on a farm in Gippsland, was trained as a dressmaker.  We went to the movie together, along with my daughter who has also inherited her grandmother’s skills.

As an advocate for rural Australia I have to say that the depiction of Dungatar as a small town and the grating idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants in The Dressmaker was hardly ideal but of course we can’t be too precious about that. We all understand the need for drama and humour to entertain.

What I clearly saw of value in the movie, however, was a young woman able to be innovative and to create her own income in a rural town as did her mother before her.

Up until we left home as young adults my mother made all of our clothes. Often I was stopped by complete strangers and asked what brand my dress was. Leaving school and starting work in an office I had the snappiest wardrobe you could ever hope to have.  I never thought anything of it at the time other than it was an obvious cost saving for a rural family struggling to raise four children, pay off a mortgage, and establish an earthmoving business.

I felt very smart in my red pantsuit made by my very talented dressmaker mother.

I felt very smart in my red pantsuit made by my very talented dressmaker mother.

Mum’s skills as a dressmaker also enabled her to create a small income to support the family budget.  Many a fitting for a wedding dress took place in our home with mum threatening blue murder if we dared to go near the precious folds of white material.  Like Rosalie we heard all the behind the scenes dramas of the nervous brides.

While I pursued a totally different career path, my daughter demonstrated hands on skills at an early age. For her twelfth birthday we gave her a second hand sewing machine to make saddle blankets for her horses.  After completing secondary college she purchased a small business named Fair Dinkum Dog Coats and began manufacturing oilskin dog coats with industrial sewing machines in her grandmother’s sewing shed.

It really was lovely to see grandmother and grand-daughter working together on orders to go Australia wide and overseas.  Mum has since retired but it won’t be long before the next generation, my daughter’s daughters, may be able to participate.

So, the moral of this story is that, whatever your skill, it can provide you with the capacity to work and live wherever you want including in rural towns. That's what I took away from The Dressmaker.

And, as Rosalie told us in Alpha, rural kids are innovative, progressive and modern. They can do ANYTHING!


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

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK 

Blooming Technology

BY KERRY ANDERSON

When Sarah Sammon helped reinvent her mother’s farm comprising 1,000 rose plants in 2004, no-one in the cut flower industry could have foreseen just how much this new business would change and bloom.

In what was initially perceived as a problem Sarah saw an opportunity.

Spurred on by her inability to get a job with a career focus upon returning to her home town of Swan Hill, Sarah put her science degree and entrepreneurial spirit to good use researching alternatives to a struggling cut flower industry. 

‘At this time traditional confetti started being frowned upon at wedding venues because it caused staining and was not biodegradable,’ explains Sarah. ‘We saw an opportunity and went for it.’

Simply Rose Petals was subsequently launched on an unsuspecting public by this dynamic mother daughter duo. And when I say launched, I mean it in every possible way including confetti cannons that shoot the petals up to 14 feet high and the product being featured on popular Australian television shows such as The Bachelor, X Factor, Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelorette and Big Brother!

Sarah has constantly utilised technology to keep Simply Rose Petals ahead of the many competitors that subsequently scrambled to follow in their footsteps.

Specialised technology allows their rose petals to be freeze-dried, packaged and shipped to 15 countries around the world.   Such has been the demand, that they have expanded their number of rose plants from 1,000 to 6,000.

From her rural office surrounded by roses on the banks of the mighty Murray River, Sarah literally spends thousands of hours online each year researching ideas to keep taking the business forward. Social media has played a major factor. Scholarships and awards have also been useful tools.

In 2006 she received a Churchill Fellowship to travel to eleven countries exploring effective processing, packaging and storage techniques, and the latest mechanisation trends in the flower industry. With harvesting of rose petals the most labour intensive activity, Sarah had hoped to discover a way of mechanising this process during her Fellowship. 

‘Unfortunately I was unable to discover a machine that was capable of removing the petals without damaging or bruising them,’ she admits. She was, however, able to analyse the latest in air-drying versus freeze-drying technology to help make important decisions for their business.

Her quest for more knowledge is ongoing. Through a Nuffield Scholarship in 2014 Sarah explored further uses for rose petals including edible and organic rose petals in a growing ‘foodie’ culture, spurred on by cooking shows such as MasterChef.

‘Despite food certification challenges in Australia, the Nuffield tour convinced me that rose petals can be successfully produced organically and there is plenty of scope for creating specialty foods and nutritional supplements derived from rose petals,’ says Sarah.

With an insatiable curiosity and boundless enthusiasm driving her to continuously improve the business, it is no surprise that Sarah has been recognised as a finalist through the Telstra Businesswomen’s Awards and, in 2015, received the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award for female Australian entrepreneur under 40.

Make no mistake. Constantly exploring opportunities to introduce new products, methods, and technologies, has been an integral part of this enterprising rural businesswoman’s journey.

Sarah’s top business tips:

1.   Every business requires a determination and persistence that can only be fuelled by passion and hard work. Make sure you are in it for the long haul and not the short financial gain.

2.   Innovation is achievable for everyone. It can be as simple as reinventing what's already out there or creating new packaging for your product that makes it easier for your customers to use.

3.   You can't expect your business to be healthy if you don't take care of yourself first. The health, fitness and mental wellbeing of the entrepreneur is crucial.

Simply Rose Petals Website

Churchill Trust Report   

Nuffield Report   


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

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK