When brother and sister team Mike Grey and Kirsten Walker went into business together in 2009, neither expected their eco-friendly range of soy wax candles would quickly become hot property in the UK and Europe.
Both Grey and Walker left successful careers to launch Palm Beach Collection (Grey was a carpenter and Walker a fashion buyer), after being inspired by a childhood spent in the idyllic beachside suburbs around Sydney’s Palm Beach.
Demand took off quickly, so the entrepreneurial pair enlisted the help of family to meet it. Their parents now help in the factory two days a week, and Walker’s husband designs all the packaging. The family aspect of the business is something the Palm Beach Collection (PBC) team are especially passionate about – along with the fact they run a wholly Australian owned and made business, all from their home suburb.
Just three short years since launch and 400 outlets around Australia now stock the PBC range and Grey and Walker are now in the exporting game. The pair will next conquer the digital world; with PBC launching an online store just last month. But as Grey tells Dynamic Business in this interview, managing this rapid growth has been a steep learning curve.
What was the hardest part of leaving the security of full time employment to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?
Coming from a trade background, I already had a good idea as to how and why I would want to run my own business. In saying this though, the thought of venturing into a new industry, the world of home fragrance, was very exciting.
The hardest part of leaving a comfortable career was the financial insecurity. Doing so means taking a huge risk and believing that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming the other way! The key is to have the right attitude and practicing using it each day, as is turning every test and challenge into a positive experience.
Also – you should never accept the word “no”.
What do you enjoy most about running your own business?
I love the freedom to express myself though the creation of a business; to bring something to life and watch it grow beyond what you thought you could achieve. I start every day with a sense of excitement and feel fulfilled by the end of it.
In your experience, what’s the best way to manage the rapid growth of a business?
This has been a work in progress and a steep learning curve for us. I think business owners shouldn’t be afraid to be mentored through this period, as it’s so important not to be swept away by success. Find yourself a financial planner who understand the nature of growth in business and listen to what they have to say. It’s also important to stay focused and keep an open mind every step of the way.
Learn how to manage sales projections and use these to help you steer your business, as this will help you to plan ahead. Without planning, you’ll be like a ship without a rudder – and the boat you’re sailing in will start leaking your hard earned money.
You now export your products overseas. Have you got any advice for how to make the transition to becoming an exporter a smooth one?
Approach overseas distribution with the right attitude; that you can do it.
To start, we travelled and made the right contacts. It also helps to attend trade fairs and put yourself out there, as reputable distributers can be found at these shows. Don’t be afraid to send merchandise to gift retailers in the countries you’re targeting – everyone loves getting something for free these days and it will help to spread the word about your product.
Opportunities really do pop up everywhere. Retailers travel the globe sourcing new and interesting ideas, so you never know who will take a shine to your product while they’re travelling. This has happened quite a few times for us – a travelling retailer from OS bought our products and passed them on to a contact or distributer and boom, you we had new opportunities.
What qualities or traits do you think an entrepreneur must have to be successful?
Try to be open-minded and remain positive. You also need to learn how to manage people and remain personable.
A great lesson I learned early on is to let go of control and trust the people around you. Delegating work will free you up to direct your venture in the way you want it to go. You business should always remain a work in progress.
How do you manage to balance your personal relationship as siblings, with your professional one?
Kirsten and I have a close relationship, as we share very similar values and beliefs about life. Where we differ is in our personalities, and this is why we work so well in business together.
We’ve learnt to listen, understand and respect the other’s opinion and not take things personally, as honesty is paramount.
You’ve just launched an online store. Do you think eCommerce is a strategy more small businesses should be embracing? Why/why not?
Yes, it is part of the future for the retail sector, learn to embrace it or risk being left behind!