Leonie Henzell founded her online hamper business Bockers & Pony in 2004. The business was originally run out of her family home but today the online retailer operates out of a warehouse in Richmond, Melbourne, and employs six full-time staff.
This year, Bockers & Pony expects to turn over $3.5 million. SmartCompany sat down with Henzell to ask how she has grown the business so quickly, despite being in a highly seasonal industry where the majority of sales are made around Christmas time.
I started the business 11 years ago. I studied physiotherapy at uni and practised as a sports and orthopaedic physio for about 10 years.
Even then I knew I wanted to have my own business, I just didn’t know what I was going to do.
I’d have all these crazy ideas and they were just not sound.
Then, through my husband’s work, we moved from Brisbane to Melbourne – it was an opportunity to change the wardrobe a bit.
I got here and thought, I have to send beautiful gifts to my family and friends, what am I going to send people?
The opportunity for me was stark when I looked at what was available, the hamper companies that were trading and the florists that were around.
I thought there was no business offering beautiful, high-quality, luxury products you could order online and have delivered.
There is a bit of a gap between being a physio and starting a business – people often raise their eyebrows.
But it gave me interpersonal skills, communication skills and empathy for other people.
I feel that it enabled me to have a really strong customer service focus. I think that’s one of the critical strengths I have.
Gifting is all about gratitude and happiness. You have to make someone happy.
Why gift hampers? I want people to have an option of really high-quality gifts they can purchase online that can help with the gift-giving process and being happy in their lives.
For the things that I couldn’t figure out, I got help. You don’t have to have a formal education in something.
In fact, when you look at entrepreneurs, it’s just about starting. I’m always trying to learn new things.
Starting a hamper company doesn’t require a lot of capital, which is why a lot of people start hamper companies.
There are thousands of them but not many survive when they realise it is hard work and you have to grow.
I had money saved and we started the business with $30,000. It started from my spare room.
As the business started to grow, you’re having deliveries of stock to your home and that inventory is going down your hallway.
I was packing hampers in our dining room and my husband basically said there is a thing called a warehouse.
I leased a property that was 120 square metres, so it was a very small warehouse.
We now have a warehouse that is 230 square metres. It has pallet racking, we have a forklift and we also have what I like to call a grown-up roller door.
We are almost bursting again from this warehouse and so will be engineering a move soon.
The difficulty in having a hamper company is that it is extremely seasonal. Most of our sales for the year are for the last two months of the year.
When your sales are so concentrated like that, then that is a big challenge.
The challenge is to grow our database of people who purchase from us.
We’re trying to grow that group of customers during the non-seasonal part of the year so that it makes it easier in the other nine, ten months of the year.
I spend a lot of time getting organised for Christmas but it’s easy in a way because it’s like Groundhog Day. You go through one Christmas and write a list of all the things that didn’t go so well and you know you need to fix.
We’re very much about change. If you’re developing something new and then it doesn’t work, we fail quickly and get back up and keep going.
It’s something I really try to instil in my staff – let’s just fail and look at what we’ve learnt. Let’s not be emotional, let’s be really resilient and move on.
We always try to do new things. Sometimes you spend the money and say, that’s a disaster – but you learn from that.
If I was to give advice, it would be really open yourself up to getting help from other people.
It’s about trust. For me, in my early years I was basically a self-confessed control freak.
I probably still have elements of that. However, what I’ve managed to do is let go, trust people and delegate.
You can’t grow unless you have people around you. Surround yourself with a great team.