Small Business

Making a regional business a blooming success

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Regional business success often boils down to finding a market niche and making the most of it. To do this, small businesses – especially those in regional areas – should think big.

Nicky and Terry Noonan own and run Australia’s sole network of saffron growers – Tas-Saff in Glaziers Bay in Southern Tasmania. They were the first to bring Crocus Sativus corms to Australia – these corms produce little purple flowers with thin red stigmas and in their dry form, these stigmas are saffron. It’s the first and only network of saffron growers in Australia with around 40 growers in Australia and 10 in New Zealand. In 2009, the harvest produced seven kilograms of the saffron – it takes around 220,000 flows to make just one kilogram.

From metropolitan to regional – making the move

Nicky and Terry made the move to Tasmania from Sydney, where they were working 60 hour weeks, after they saw the Today show being broadcast from the Hobart.

“It just looked beautiful,” says Nicky.

They gave three months’ notice, got married, and travelled down to the Apple Isle.

“But reality then set in,” she says.

Unfortunately, jobs in the areas they had worked in Sydney weren’t available. Nicky took up a role in administration, and Terry in appliance repairs.

“Then the saffron thing came along.”

Terry started to research whether the plant would grow in Australia and Nicky commenced working on the saffron business part-time. This was no easy task – the saffron was brought in from the Northern Hemisphere and their ‘clocks’ had to be turned around to the Southern Hemisphere. Two and a half years later, the first flower blossomed.

The crops were sold to Simon Johnson for the first couple of years, but they then encountered a set back. In 1995, it rained non-stop for 10 months. Ninety per cent of their stock was lost, and the other 10 per cent had to be replanted because it was in the wrong type of soil.

Seek assistance – reaching out in your region

Nicky and Terry realised that if the business was going to succeed, they would need to set up other growers. This was to “spread the risk, so to speak”. With three growers initially, this soon grew to 10 and is still growing today. At this point, Nicky and Terry began to work on the business full-time.

“In the early days in business, all your money you earn has to go back into the business if you’re going to take it from a cottage industry to the commercial stage,” Nicky advises.

With some marketing assistance, they made a funding submission to the Innovations Program, which was promoted by the Tasmanian State Government Department of Economic Development. The submission was successful, and they built the premises at Glaziers Bay. And, after winning the Jaguar Award for Excellence in 1999, the network jumped the Bass Strait into Victoria and New South Wales.

Distribution was one of the initial major hurdles the business had to overcome because they didn’t have marketing experience, so they turned to the experts – Hoyts Food Industries now handles distribution of the saffron. Nicky stresses it’s crucial to get experts in where knowledge is lacking, and to form good business relationships with them. And it’s important to seek advice from professional advisers where necessary.

“When you are supplying to companies such as Woolworths and Coles, you’ve got to be right up there and stay on the ball the whole time,” she says.

No matter your scale, it’s crucial to think beyond your region and to act like big business.

“Even though it’s a small business, you still have to do all those other things that a big business would do,” says Nicky. “It’s just on a smaller scale,”

Tas-Saff is a home-based business with six employees.

“Our staff work with us not for us,” she says. “Praise and reward your staff, ask for their input and suggestions.”

Goals and planning – essential regions of your business

Setting goals is crucial too.

“You’ve got to be strict and manage your time well. Set your goals, just like you were going to the office. When you get into that office, you would have goals there that were set for you by your boss. Here, you’re working for yourself. You’ve got to set yourself goals: short-term and long-term goals; daily, weekly, monthly and annual goals. Otherwise, you will fail.”

The goals, says Nicky, must be realistic and assessed regularly.

Having plans in place is vital too, whether it’s for marketing, business or even exit strategies. Nicky says she works 12 to 24 months in advance with everything they do in the business.

“You need to put down on paper what you want to achieve so you can revisit it in a year’s time and monitor your goals that you set,” she says.

At a glance – three tips for a successful regional operation

  1. Seek advice from experts and professional advisers. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know.
  2. Operate your business like a big business. Set goals and make plans and review them regularly.
  3. Ask for input and suggestions about the business from your staff members.

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.

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Monday, February 07, 2011

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