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For any regional business that wants to get noticed, thinking outside the box is a must. And for Susan Daubney and her husband Matthew, owners of Bannister Downs, doing just that has created an important point of difference.

Their farm is located in the town of Northcliffe in Western Australia, 366 kilometres south of Perth, where 1000 cows are milked daily, stocking the fridges of local supermarkets with their award-winning quality milk products. The Daubneys employ 60 people and the business is also about to embark on its first export venture to Hong Kong.

Daubney said on Peter Switzer's Sky News Business Channel program that as input costs in farming have gone up, a lot of farmers are looking for alternatives for products – “you’ve really had to step into the business world”.

Outside the box

Thinking outside the box is one of the farm’s mottos, Daubney explained; the unique packaging of their milk products is what sets them apart from the rest.

The packaging doesn’t look like your normal milk carton. It’s flexible, made from 65 per cent chalk and is photo-degradable. It comes from Sweden and the man behind it is Hans Rousing, who previously ran Tetra Pak. Daubney said the packaging has environmental as well as health benefits.

So what’s the benefit of making it out of chalk? Daubney explained the concept came from an eggshell, which can hold liquid. There’s 50,000 tonne per capita of calcium carbonate (chalk or limestone) in the world – “so as a resource, it’s very sustainable”.

“As well as that, your product has a really pure taste because it’s not in contact with plastics, so there’s no sort of leeching of plastic flavouring to your product and once you’ve finished with it, it will just break down and go back to earth,” she said.
Make your regional business stand out

Daubney explained that it's a two-edged sword though. While it’s their biggest benefit, it’s also their biggest challenge.

“A customer will pick up one of these products and think it’s imported or it’s UHT because it looks so strange and with a product like milk, people want to buy what they’ve always bought,” she said. “They’re not looking for a special treat. So, that’s certainly had its hurdles, but we’ve had great backing from really significant cafes in Perth and restaurants, and with their endorsement, word of mouth has spread rapidly because the product is so good.” 

She explained that people notice they’re using something different and so want to know more about it – “it’s just spread like wildfire in a way”.

They’re also winning awards in competitions – their mango smoothie won the top flavoured product in Australia for two years in a row. Among their other products, they also have full cream and light milk as well as an iced coffee (with coffee from a Margaret River coffee roaster) and chocolate milk (with cocoa sourced from Holland).

Determined to export

As for exporting products to Hong Kong, Daubney said they are taking “baby steps”.

“We’ve been working on a relationship with a customer there for two years – it’s been a very drawn out process,” she said. “Our Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) approval we received in September ’09. Now we’re just trying to overcome the hurdle of getting the Hong Kong food centre’s approval to get into Hong Kong, but once again that will start very slowly like we did in Perth because we’re growing from a zero market.”

Every customer Bannister Downs has, has gone direct to them.

“It’s very interesting, because somebody asked me the other day who our marketing officer was,” she explained. “And we actually don’t have one. In our first week of production, we won the best milk at the Perth Royal show, and from that a large exclusive retailer got hold of us and really wanted the product and its just grown … – the natural organic growth from that and enquiry has been manageable for us.”

What’s motivates the Daubneys?

Daubney explained that they actually scaled back the business – they were previously milking more than 1000 cows a day and were heading to a very large scale dairy production – “we just couldn’t see a light at the end of that tunnel”. The business was also “fairly well unprofitable” for around three-and-a-half years.

“It hasn’t been plain sailing, but we have a really great fantastic team of people who are on the ride with us and it gets to a point where you actually feel an obligation to keep going for them because of their interest and their commitment, but now it’s at a good place,” she said. 

At a glance – three steps to regional success
  1. Think outside the square and what will attract customers to your product?
  2. If you want to export your product, ensure you do the research and get in experts to assist.
  3. Understand when something in your business isn’t working and move to eliminate the weakness.

So, if you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching

Watch Suzanne Daubney explain her business success on SWITZER on Sky News Business Channel.

Published on: Friday, October 15, 2010

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