My word! Did we have some wild business concepts when we were younger?! Come to think of it… we still do. But back then we didn’t know where to begin in our business building.
Today, there is a new generation of young entrepreneurs that are making waves with their excellent ventures, and blazing a trail for others that believe a successful business is built on a great idea and hard work, not the number of years you’ve clocked up.
We hit up three of such inspiring stories: Claire Templeton (Square Mile Meats), Chris Odrowaz (Chai Boy and Main Street Cafe) and Matilda Lappin (The Bee and The Spider) with some interview questions to get their read of the local business pulse.
Claire Templeton, Square Mile Meats
Can you please describe your background? What led you to open Square Mile Meats?
I’m a sixth-generation farmer with a passion for primary production. My parents were dairy farmers for the majority of my primary school years and then moved into beef production when we bought a small pasture seed company, known as Graham’s Seeds. Growing up with two older sisters, the farm was a team effort: from feeding calves, milking time, hay carting, the works.
In 2011, I graduated high school and then moved to Wagga Wagga to study Animal Science. The majority of my studies were focused around production animals and I learnt to really love the finer details of growing high-quality meat: from breeding to handling and welfare, nutrition, and, finally, slaughter and processing.
While studying I worked throughout many areas of Australian agriculture, including both the grain and wool industries of New South Wales. I took a year off during my study and worked on a cattle station in outback Queensland, known as Marion Downs, which opened my eyes to a whole different side of the beef industry.
By the time I finished university, I knew I wanted to come back to Gippsland and ideally back to the farm. As part of my degree I had completed a business plan that centered around a ‘paddock-to-plate’ idea that I thought I might set up once I was all ‘grown-up’! But given my personality, once I have an idea I jump in headfirst and just keep swimming until I get there! So, with the help of my family, we started up Square Mile Meats.
Describe Square Mile Meats.
Square Mile Meats is a boutique paddock-to-plate operation. We sell beautifully packaged, grass-fed, hormone-free, ethically-raised Angus Beef and crossbred lambs direct to the consumer. All of our product is sold fresh and cryovaced. Most of our product is sold online via our website and is delivered monthly to households across Victoria. Each month we attend Bonbeach Farmers Market too.
Our customers enjoy high-quality meat, but equally value knowing where it comes from and that the animals have been treated with respect and kindness.
How did you reach a point where you were confident that Square Mile could be successful?
Square Mile has only just turned one, so I’m not confident that we’re successful yet, but with a fair bit of hard work, hopefully, we should be right! We grew up in and around small, family-owned, agriculturally focused businesses so embarking on the Square Mile journey was not a foreign concept for us.
We produce a premium product. We don’t cut corners and are proud of every box we deliver. People need to know with absolute certainty that what they are paying for, no matter the time of year or season, is exactly what’s in the box. That ultimately comes down to trust. Trust in us as farmers and in us to process, package and deliver the product.
We did plenty of research before we started the business on consumers, and we’re continually evolving to tailor our products and service to target those needs.
What role has the Internet and social media played in building and developing your business?
Most of our sales are online. It has been instrumental to be able to reach a wider audience compared to setting up a butcher shop in the local area. The website allows us to do what we do best — farming.
I use social media to connect with my audience and keep them in the loop about all things Square Mile. Customers are able to follow along on our Instagram about what we are up to on the farm and can trace each cut of meat they have in their fridge straight back to one origin. It allows them to feel involved in the day-to-day running of the farm, which I think has been a huge asset to the business.
Our use of social media also enables my sister, who is not based on the farm, to contribute to the business remotely.
What are some of the advantages of launching a business in Gippsland?
This region is something I took for granted until I left and saw other areas of the country. We are really lucky. Business-wise, the proximity to Melbourne for customers is fantastic. Gippsland is wonderful for the huge amount of support you receive. Other businesses are backing each other up, collaborating on projects, and it makes you feel like you’re all in it together to really showcase this great part of Victoria. With regards to farming, Gippsland has the ideal conditions for us to be producing a premium product!
How do we encourage more young Gippslandians to follow their business dreams?
I am very hesitant to answer this because I really don’t have the answers. My sister would say that I ‘do’ first and ‘think’ after.
I recommend that young Gippslandians follow their business dreams by telling them that it’s okay if it takes time to succeed. Create a plan you’re confident with and stick to it for the time frame.
I would also encourage people by letting them know that there is a fantastic, positive, kind and authentic group of fellow small businesses in our region who you can connect to, lean on and collaborate with. You’re not alone, and if you are real and working hard then they will welcome you in with open arms.
What is your path to becoming involved in Chai Boy and Main Street Café?
I never had any ambitions to work in hospitality, nor had I made any kind of chai tea blend before (I’d probably never even drunk one). I didn’t really have any direction with what I wanted to do when I finished school, so I worked at my parents’ store (Lean & Green, Warragul), travelled in Asia and then moved to Melbourne. I landed a job at a popular café in Richmond and learnt to make coffee.
In 2013, I was invited to enter a competition held by the tea company T2. The competition saw 10 baristas having to make their own original chai tea blend and brew it for a panel of judges. My blend was a caramelised ginger, spiced cacao and orange chai. I was fortunate enough to win first prize, which was a trip to India, where I toured some prime tea country and met some great tea farmers.
When I returned, a friend floated the idea to start a tea business (she’d even come up with the name), which is how Chai Boy came about. I was already working in a busy café and had a supportive boss, so they became my first customer. Chai Boy slowly started to gain some momentum, but it was quite some time before it became a full-time job.
Main Street happened in December 2017. I had been looking for a space that we could produce chai from and, potentially, run a small shop front in. I had wanted to open a café for a while, but hadn’t had much luck finding an affordable space in the city. My parents had just moved their store and mentioned there was a vacant shop adjacent, so I moved back to Warragul and decided to give it a crack.
What type of businesses are you and who are your customers?
Without sounding like a cliché, you could say we are a grassroots café with a strong focus on quality and showcasing great, small batch producers that have some connection to what we are doing. Our melting pot of customers is a reflection of the friendly space we have created.
Juggling the two ventures wasn’t too bad. Chai Boy had been running for a few years before Main Street, and my best mate, Nick, is managing the production side of Chai Boy. He knows the product and the customers as well as I do, having been there with me every step of the way. When the time came to focus more on Main Street, the transition wasn’t too difficult.
How can we encourage more young people, locally, to follow their business dreams?
If you are passionate about your work, have a vision and experience, then go for it! Starting a business is a risky venture, but it’s not going to ruin you. In the beginning, it’s important to put in the hard yards: gain experience and talk to people that are already established in the industry.
What advantages does Gippsland provide when launching a business?
Gippsland is a fast-growing region, which sparks so much opportunity for people with the right vision. Not only is our population growing, but the development of our infrastructure and tourism scene is evolving with it. Launching a business in Gippsland gives business owners the opportunity to grow with it.
Matilda Lappin, The Bee and The Spider in Morwell
How do you come to open The Bee and The Spider?
I’ve always been business-minded and set big goals.
In primary school, I was making friendship bracelets and selling them, or I’d trade 25 five cent pieces for a $1 coin with grown-ups for a 25 cent profit and their convenience of a lighter wallet. I’ve always been making things, and selling what I make. In high school, I bought my MP3 player with the money I’d earned from making bags and selling them to teachers, friends and family.
I’ve always been crafty. Usually, I’d move through things pretty quickly, but in 2016 I got my first roll of macramé rope and fell in love. I started making more macramé than I had room to store, so naturally, I begin selling at local markets and online.
Locally, my brand started to get some recognition when a Leongatha store began selling my products. I was so excited! Then more shops started selling my crafts. Joh Lyons from The VRI contacted me about running macramé workshops, so I started teaching and the classes were selling out within hours.
I began making connections with other local makers, and I wanted to showcase all of the clever people here in Gippsland. The area is so rich with makers, artists and designers, but sometimes these people may need a little hand to be seen. I wanted a place that inspired others in their creativity. I sort of wanted to bring a ‘creative hub’ to Morwell, help others see the beauty in our town.
Tell us, what’s the story behind the great name of your business?
My son actually came up with the name. He wrote a song, ‘Bees & Spiders’, when he was about 18-months old and it caught on as our family anthem. When thinking of a name for the shop, my partner said, “Why not The Bee and The Spider?”. It just seemed perfect! Spiders weave beautiful, intricate webs, and bees work hard making honey and spreading beauty via pollen.
Describe The Bee and The Spider.
It is a creative hub. We have about 45 local handmakers selling their products in the shop, we host a wide variety of creative workshops (from crochet, mosaic, watercolour painting to everything in between) and we also have a small range of artist materials and craft supplies. It’s lovely that people can come in and hangout. It has been the birthplace of many collaborative endeavours from people crossing paths here.
Our customers are creatives or those who appreciate how special handmade items are. We have a lot of workshops over the school holidays for children and adult workshops on weekends.
Why teach people crafts? Why is this important to you?
I think it’s important to stop multitasking every now and then and put your head where your hands are. When you’re making something you become so involved in this beautiful process that you are too busy to check your phone or worry about anything else. The satisfaction you receive from creating something from nothing is like no other. People come out of our workshops feeling relaxed, inspired or even grounded.
Who are the Gippsland artists, designers and craftspeople that we should really know about?
We have about 45 in our shop, so it’s really hard to pick favourites! Kate Billingsley from Boolarra is doing amazing things with her designs. She designs patterns that are printed onto fabric, which she turns into stunning hair wraps, earrings, tea towels and bows. She also uses clay to create unique and wonderful earrings.
Adeii is a social enterprise based in Foster that was founded by a young mum, Amanda. They create sustainable and eco-friendly products. We absolutely love her reusable pads handmade by local mums’ groups!
Cassi of Sugar and Violets began selling her products in our shop and has now quit her job to pursue this full-time. I’m so proud to watch Cassi as her business and confidence bloom. She creates beautiful resin artworks, cheese boards and jewellery.
When were you confident that branching out into your own space could be successful?
I kind of just believed it would work. I saw something Morwell needed and I made it happen.
What role has social media played in building and developing your business?
Social media has been massive for us. Before we had even opened the store we had 700 likes on our Facebook page. The word has spread through social media, and we have people visiting from Melbourne and beyond. A lady from Western Australia was in the area visiting family, but she really wanted to visit my shop after hearing about us on Instagram.
I think the biggest advantage of being a young businessperson is that I’m on Facebook all the time, so I ‘get’ what’s trending and what people are looking for, and I know how to spread the word and advertise for free.
Are there advantages in launching a business in Gippsland?
There is a real appreciation for handmade products in Gippsland. If you’re a small-time maker, there are lots of opportunities to sell at local markets.
The region is small enough that you can really forge beautiful relationships with customers, but big enough to see a wide range of people. Gippslandians, and Morwellians in particular, stick together. They’re resilient. They work hard for what they want and help out their neighbours. I love that I’ve brought this to Morwell and that I am helping to revitalise my town.
Can you describe the challenges you’ve faced in developing The Bee and The Spider?
It was a challenge starting a business from scratch. Making decisions was not one of my strong points, and it quickly had to be. Because I’m so excited by the project, it’s hard to switch off from it. It was a challenge to separate my home life, family and friendships from the shop. I’m so lucky that my partner works as a freelance graphic designer from home, so he can look after our little boy, Wally, and that Wally can come to the shop and visit me at work.
It was a challenge when people didn’t take me and my ideas seriously. I attended a few networking events prior to our opening and it was pretty daunting to see the majority of other businesspeople were men three times my age. I felt like a silly little kid at times. I had to work hard to convince people of my ideas, but it was the best feeling to prove to them what I could do, when given the chance.
How can we encourage more Gippslandians to follow their business dreams?
I’d love to see local government doing more to financially encourage young people to start their own business, whether that is through rent subsidies or grants.
There are lots of business workshops around, but they’re not advertised to younger people enough. I sometimes feel out of place when everyone at networking events is two or three times my age. You imagine a successful businessperson to be a big, faceless, middle-aged man smoking cigars. Maybe if we saw more younger faces in business, it’d be easier for young people to picture themselves that way too.