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Spice grower’s award a domino for growth

For three small businesses in Tasmania’s Huon Valley, Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest and Western Australia’s Margaret River region, entering the Telstra Business Awards was a stepping stone to growth and acclaim for their business nous.

Tas-Saff, Australia’s first commercial saffron grower, was launched 20 years ago at Glaziers Bay, an hour south of Hobart, by Terry and Nicky Noonan, sea-changers from Sydney.

Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, is derived from the dried stigma of the crocus flower. It’s incredibly labour-intensive – to extract one kilogram of saffron requires almost a quarter of a million flowers to be hand-picked.

Nicky Noonan said being named 2003 Telstra Tasmanian Business of the Year was “… like a domino effect for us. We had an incredible amount of publicity and it had a huge impact on our marketing, development and growth. A research project with the University of Tasmania, looking at the value-add of extracting oil from the saffron flower petals, was suddenly given approval directly after our Award.”

Tas-Saff’s distribution expanded from 40 to 800 retail outlets, it recruited a network of more than 50 saffron growers in Australia and New Zealand to meet demand and it now exports its high quality products. In 2011 a research project into possible use of saffron to reverse macular degeneration is on the cards.

For Ron and Pam Birkett, owners of the Daintree Discovery Centre north of Cairns, the first ten years of their business, started in 1989, was a struggle.

Ron Birkett admitted their original model was wrong, too similar in style to State-run parks and wildlife services, which meant visitors expected their privately-run centre in the World Heritage area to be free.

“We recognised that 99 per cent of visitors to the Daintree were on holiday – they wanted to be entertained not educated – so we introduced infotainment by audio, video and static displays. We layered the information and it stimulated interest about the rainforest,” he said.

“Our 23-metre high canopy tower allowing visitors access to different levels of the rainforest added the gee whiz factor and was the single biggest thing that turned the business around.”

The Daintree Discovery Centre won the 2005 Telstra Queensland Business of the Year Award and has taken pride of place in the trophy cabinet.

“We’ve probably won 23 awards in 21 years but the Telstra Awards is the one that I value most of all because it was a business award not a tourism award,” Ron Birkett said.

The credibility of the Daintree business, which attracts 85,000 visitors a year, was further cemented in 2009 when it won an international ecotourism award against entrants from 48 countries and Ron Birkett said his best bit of business advice is “Reinvent your product or perish.”

Coffee entrepreneur Alex Kok’s Yahava KoffeeWorks was well established in the Margaret River as a roasting, wholesale distribution and retail business when it won the MYOB Small Business Award and the 2009 Telstra Western Australian Business of the Year.

Alex Kok, who grew up in the café culture of Amsterdam, opened another retail business last year in the Swan Valley and early in 2011 he is fitting out a building for a new wholesale business south of Maroochydore in Queensland.

The Award boosted Yahava’s credibility with suppliers and this year Alex is importing coffee beans from new sources in Thailand and Aceh in Indonesia.

He says the detailed entry process was very beneficial. “We thought we were doing all the right things but we had veered off the straight and narrow in a couple of areas of communicating with staff and marketing to our customers,” he said. “We made changes, introduced quarterly newsletters for customers and more regular meetings with staff, and we’ve seen some good results.”

Awards winners and finalists become part of an alumni which can share insights and experience through the Telstra Business Awards Network, a website created in 2010.

To nominate and enter the 2011 Telstra Business Awards, go to telstrabusinessawards.com or call the Telstra Business Awards Team on 1800 262 323 between 9am and 7pm AEST Monday to Friday. Entries open on 14 February 2011 and close at 5pm AEST on Monday 4 April 2011.

Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake is a staff writer for <i>Dynamic Business</i> magazine. Fascinated with the power of media, she's previously worked for Sky News and <i>The Jakarta Globe</i>. In her time off, she's likely cooking up a storm, haunting vintage stores on King St, Newtown or trawling design blogs for things she can't afford.

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