A fresh take on a family business

Uncle’s Smallgoods – Brendan D’Amelio and Bert Glinka, Dandenong

Any small business owner will tell you that you must earn your stripes to get started, but Brendan D’Amelio and Bert Glinka mean that literally.

Bert looks after the retail side of the business while Brendan manages production. Hailing from the corporate world, the brothers-in-laws’ love of food led to them starting a small operation selling kranskies at markets and events, where they got a taste for the industry. The kranskies they were selling came from Uncle’s Smallgoods, and when they learned Marian Poprawski was looking to retire, they seized the opportunity.

When the boys approached Marian and asked to buy his traditional Polish deli, he took some convincing.

“Marian didn’t believe these two young blokes were willing to do the hard work to run the business properly, so he had us come in on a Sunday to chop an enormous pile of wood,” says Brendan.

“We thought we’d knock it over in a couple of hours, but it was a very hot day and it got the better of us. Marian saw we had it in us to get our hands dirty so he knew then we were serious.”

The boys would go on to buy the Dandenong deli, where they’re putting that imposing woodpile to use. Uncle’s Smallgoods specialises in traditional wood smoked and handcrafted smallgoods made in small batches on a weekly basis.

More than four years later, the business has grown without losing the traditional processes that make it special.

“Real food is good food. You can’t beat doing it this way. It tastes better and it’s better for you,” says Brendan.

“We reckon when you buy food you should know what you’re buying. If you pick up a packet of bacon at the supermarket, you see pork is only one of many ingredients. Our bacon is pork, brine and wood smoke. That’s it.”

While they were fortunate to inherit a loyal customer base with the deli, Brendan and Bert recognised they were an aging group and their biggest hurdle would be attracting a younger audience without scaring their current customers away.

That’s why they opened Young Uncles, a cafe next door to the deli with an inner city feel tailored at a younger audience.

The menu features dishes showcasing the deli’s produce. Diners can enjoy a ham and cheese baguette or a black brisket burger while sipping on specialty coffee and are then able to go next door to purchase smallgoods to take home.

The model’s proven successful – they’ve recently added Sunny and Thor, a second cafe down the road. To get the expansion off the ground, Uncle’s Smallgoods made use of a small business grant provided by Greater Dandenong City Council.

“We knew right away that if we wanted a successful cafe, we needed to produce a rock solid coffee, so we needed a good machine.”

The grant got them the machine, fuelling an expansion that now sees them employing 20 staff. The business has recently purchased a factory to grow its wholesale business. The facility features a traditional wood fired smoke oven, ensuring the businesses core values and traditional processes remain as the business expands.

The core, according to Brendan, is innovation and flexibility.

For example, last Valentine’s Day, Uncle’s Smallgoods sold a ‘sausage bouquet’ as an alternative to roses. The publicity was a success, garnering mainstream media coverage that didn’t break the bank, and the product is still being bought.

For others getting into the small business game, Brendan says it’s important to go over the numbers.

“Set a budget and ensure it all adds up. Include overheads and staff. Pay yourself a wage from day one, because if you can’t maintain it, you know you’re on a slippery slope.”

A fresh take on a family business

Incarta IT – Marcus and Nicholas Young, Heathmont

Incarta IT is a technology business that does most of its work in the health sector. It manages infrastructure, design and supply devices and, increasingly, manages and analyses clinical data with a focus on intensive care units.

Marcus Young, who founded the business with his brother Nicholas in 1997, was motivated to start Incarta IT and “do some good in the world”.

A formal clinical trial is underway of a new technology that is processing clinical data – primarily pathology data – in real-time to predict the likelihood of an adverse event such as a heart attack. While he stresses their system is embryonic, results to date suggest the system is working and that a high percentage of at-risk patients can be successfully identified 24 hours before such an incident.

“It’s easy to overstate success at this point, but it is real and is incredibly exciting for the future of healthcare,” says Marcus.

Such a system would provide an early warning system for doctors, allowing treatment to start early and could ultimately save lives.

Incarta is currently working to build the system into a cloud application to increase take up by more hospitals. It’s no easy task. The system works by taking in and processing the millions of data points produced by hospitals. However, it’s feasible because it’s an automated process. While the data is complex, it’s existing information that is already circulating through the hospital, such as blood test results.

Incarta’s expertise in the health-data space has led to the development of ALARTA, a software program to manage Intensive Care Units (ICU).

“Intensive care is an incredibly complicated, data-rich environment and there are a number of big, multinational players in the space,” Marcus says.

“It’s not overstating to say that a piece of software to manage 20 ICU beds costs millions of dollars. We want to disrupt that paradigm.”

ALARTA is an ICU record system built from the ground up and delivered via web browsers. Providing doctors with ready access to clinical notes, charts and data.

The system has been in use at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital for two years, and Marcus says it costs a fraction of similar systems, despite a high level of sophistication.

Through use of artificial intelligence and chat functions, the plan is for ALARTA to evolve into a system where doctors can ask a bed for information about the patient sleeping in it and be provided with everything they need to know.

The main challenge facing Incarta is that, as a small innovator, it’s perceived as a riskier bet than its multinational competitors. But Marcus disputes that big business always delivers better.

“Smaller innovators tend to be less encumbered, more agile and more responsive to their customers’ needs; they can also deliver more effectively on their objectives from a time and cost perspective,” Marcus says.

Marcus and Nicholas are passionate about research, development and technology and wanted to use their engineering acumen and creativity in a way that would do some good in the world.

Marcus admits he started out less focused on the business side of things and credits mentoring services provided by Small Business Victoria for giving him the perspective to step back and build his engineering into an enterprise.

“The support programs available through Small Business Victoria have provided invaluable assistance with structuring our business and enabling us to establish a stable commercial footing.

“The seminar programs helped us to identify the necessary steps to convert our research into innovative, commercially viable products. I wish I’d found them a few years earlier to be honest.”

A fresh take on a family business

Your Sold Real Estate – Rachael and Rod Seach, Shepparton

When they moved to Shepparton and bought a house, Rachael and Rod Seach felt like they hadn’t found the real estate agency they were looking for, one with a keen focus on customer service.

So they started it themselves.

The couple started from scratch back then in 2011, and have grown the business from having no listings to now boasting a conversion rate that places them above their competitors.

They’re in a market with approximately 16 other agencies, where they’re one of the few independent operators. They remain a family-owned operation and they’re proud of it, having built out strong sales and property management arms focused predominately on the residential markets.

The commitment to customer service firmly remains at the centre of everything they do, and Rachael says it’s a big reason for Your Sold’s success.

“We have ongoing, sustaining and returning clients, and I believe it is down to our personalised service. No matter who comes through the door, whether they’re a tenant, a landlord, a buyer or a seller, they’re treated equally.”

“It’s a big focus of ours to proactively contact people and get back to them as soon as possible. A consistent theme in the feedback we’ve received is that people appreciate that about us,” Rachael says.

Both Rod and Rachael bring unique and diverse experience to the real estate business. Rod had worked in real estate for 16 years across Victoria, in agencies of various shapes and sizes.

Rachael, meanwhile, is a practising clinical psychologist of 20 years. Understanding psychology and how people tick has served Rachael extremely well as the pair built the business over the years. Rachael still practises, splitting her time between the two businesses.

When they set up shop in Shepparton, they focused on getting their reputation out and establishing themselves within the community.

“In a community of this size, people want to know who you are and a lot about you before they’ll give you their trust. You have to work really hard and market, market, market,” says Rachael.

The effort paid off and Your Sold won the local Chamber of Commerce’s Best New Business Award in 2012.

Over the years, Your Sold has accessed a range of services delivered by the Greater Shepparton Business Centre, including workshops on planning and marketing.

“They’ve been fantastic. We’ve been to many sessions on digital, social and mobile marketing, and I always ensure all out staff head along to networking nights.

“I think what has been most useful is the business planning workshops, particularly in the early days of establishing the business. By providing us with the template and the tools to put our business plan together, which we could take to the bank and get our business started.”

According to Rachael, constantly forward planning is a big part of keeping a small business afloat in the long term.

“You need to be well organised and make sure that you always keep some energy in the tank,” she says.

“You’ll have a lot of that ‘new business’ energy in the first 12 months, but you need to keep yourself ahead of things and not get complacent. Network, get out there and surround yourself with enabling people so you can work on the business instead of just in it.”

It’s advice that Rachael and Rod take to heart. They’re continuing to grow the rental arm of the business, and they’re considering opening a second branch.

It’s not a step they take lightly though, as they don’t want to grow too big. The team prides itself as a small business and never wants to lose its passion for personalised service.

A fresh take on a family business

Sisterworks – Luz Restrepo, Richmond

Starting a business is always a challenge, but it can seem next to impossible for those new to Australia; particularly for those who are still trying to find their footing.

Founder of Sisterworks, Luz Restrepo, understands this problem all too well. When she came to Australia seven years ago from Colombia, as a political asylum seeker, she had no friends here and spoke no English.

“As a political refugee, with my life in tatters, I felt like a nobody: frightened, isolated and disempowered. I soon discovered that I was not alone.”

In 2011, along with a group of 25 women experiencing similar challenges, Luz began to make and sell crafts around Melbourne. The women in this circle understood that to support each other was also to strengthen each other.

“Our thinking was the same: Don’t give us fish. Teach us how to fish and we will fish for our own food in Australia,” says Luz.

In 2013, with the support from a committee of legal, fundraising and marketing volunteers, Luz formalised the business and Sisterworks was born.

Today, the not-for-profit social enterprise supports women with migrant, asylum seeker or refugee backgrounds to become financially independent, while also helping them to become happily settled in Australia.

“When you grow up in Australia, you know how Australia works, and you have friends and family that give you capacity,” Luz says.

“For people who are new here, with few connections and no money, it’s harder. We need business opportunities. If people give us those opportunities to work and build a business, we can learn how to support ourselves.”

Sisterworks provides women with the tools and support they need to start their own micro-businesses, selling handcrafted goods they make themselves out of recycled and ethically produced materials. Goods including jewellery, toys, bowls, candles and cards, are sold at Sisterworks’ Richmond store and online. The majority of profits (50-75 per cent) go to Sisterworks’ ‘entrepreneurs’ with the rest reinvested back into the business.

Sisterworks is about to branch out into foods, adding conserves and pickles to the items being produced.

“Why craft and food? Because they are activities that connect us together with the mainstream community,” says Luz.

“We want everyone to become entrepreneurs, but we also want them to engage and build their networks within the Australian community.”

Sisterworks continues to grow with the assistance of government, trusts and donors, and strives towards sustainability every year.

“City of Yarra has been an amazing, ongoing supporter of ours, giving grants and providing marketing opportunities,” says Luz.

In only four years of operation, more than 88 women have been involved in Sisterworks, the majority of whom had never worked before, and lacked knowledge about Australian business practices like tax. The enterprise has helped these women to reduce their dependence on welfare and become entrepreneurs in their own right.

Today, 37 women from all corners of the globe, from Congo to Syria, Tibet and Pakistan, are proudly creating and selling the products they love to make. They also help each other improve language skills – some even teaching each other how to drive.

It’s evident that Sisterworks is more than just a business.

“We really are one big family, I feel very proud of the things we have achieved together, because it is the result of the work of all of us,” says Luz.

“I love my work. It is my passion. If anything I am working too much.”

Australia, Luz says, is a country of opportunity.

“If you work hard and communicate a good idea, people will support you. I give thanks to the people in this community,” she says.

“You should never start a business just to employ yourself, or as a Plan B while looking for something else. At the same time a business will not always give you the money you expect. But if you’re working on something you’re passionate about with like-minded people, if you work with passion and purpose then you will succeed.”

SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: support@smartcompany.com.au or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.