The businesses that launched in 2011 were up against a rapid and continual shift in consumer behaviour, which made life difficult for some.
Small business leaders blame the difficulty in getting credit, growing red tape obligations and the burden of unpaid work for the government such as collecting superannuation payments for adding to the challenges faced by start-ups.
Retailers have suffered the most, facing the toughest trading period in recent history.
The situation for traditional outlets hasn’t been helped by the competition posed by online shopping and the constant sale cycle occurring among retailers, which has conditioned all of us to demand the best deal.
Businesses in tourism and manufacturing have also endured a tough time. Conversely, some of Australia’s leading tech start-ups have found themselves to be in demand in Silicon Valley.
But although the trends are visible, the start-ups of 2011 will all have benefitted from the wisdom of hindsight.
We asked four businesses that began trading last year what they’d do differently if they were to start over again.
CATEGORY: Retail trader
OWNER: Mark Boldstein
LAUNCHED: May, 2011
WHAT I’D CHANGE: Better website search optimisation, more confidence and less compromise.
Melbourne entrepreneur Mark Boldiston spent a year planning the launch of retail store Lord Coconut.
But even his 50-page business plan wasn’t enough to prevent him from having a few regrets just months after the launch.
The business, which specialises in contemporary jewellery for men and also stocks artwork, sculptures, cufflinks, prints and taxidermy, could have benefitted from a website that had better search engine optimisation, Boldiston admits.
“In hindsight I would have got more expertise for the website. I’ve just rebuilt my website to rank better in search engines, which was painful but necessary.”
If he were to start over again, Boldiston would also have more confidence in his original business idea.
“I compromised with my choice of jewellers and artists that I stocked in the early stages, both because I needed stock and because I was keen to support my suppliers,” he says.
“I’ve had to let a couple of jewellers go and looking back I probably knew they wouldn’t be a success in this environment.”
Boldiston is trying to track a trading pattern in what he hopes will enable him to better regulate his peak trading periods.
“These days, I have a far better idea of what people are looking for. I have to be careful to meet demand while also being quite selective.”
The store is located on the fourth floor of Carlow House in Flinders Lane, with the decision to lease space above ground level shaving around $80,000 in rent annually.
“Most of my customers visit the website first, so it doesn’t matter too much if we’re a little hard to find. Those interested in what we offer will find us.”
CATEGORY: New product launch
OWNER: Dayna Warren
LAUNCHED: June, 2011
WHAT I’D CHANGE: Packaging, distribution, market research.
Dayna Warren chose beautiful glass jars to package her home-style baked beans when launching the business last year, but, looking back, she would do things differently.
Within months, Warren ditched the glass in favour of pouches, giving stockists more product for the same price.
The transition has been a huge success, with sales growing 20% in the weeks after the move to pouches.
Warren has four products in the range, which offer a 400g pouch for $12.99.
“Glass jars presented really well but were far more expensive, so I had to revisit packaging options just a few months into launching the business,” Warren says.
“It was a very expensive exercise and a huge learning curve for me, but it’s been worth the effort.”
Hindsight has also taught her the importance of market research. While she spent two days in focus groups testing her product ahead of its launch and six months of research and development prior to that, additional research on potential markets could have been beneficial.
Warren says finding a distributor should have also been a priority early on.
“I now understand what consumers want, but it’s not until you get the product out there that you learn what the market wants.”
Based in Melbourne, she had no knowledge of the food sector, and yet the business is already turning a profit and forecasts 80% growth by June.
Warren had previously worked as a commercial manager for ANZ Bank in Melbourne.