Recently Zoe Gordon, Byron Bay Gift's founder, had the pleasure of being interviewed at local radio station Bay FM on their entrepreneurial-based show 'Byron Business People & Lifestyle'.
Zoe was interviewed by Phil Daly, who works at Pinnacle Business and has his finger on the pulse when it comes to business in Byron Bay.
Tell us about Byron Bay Gifts?
Basically, we are a gift hamper company that package together local products from the Byron Shire, in the Northern Rivers and we send them around Australia.
How long have you been running the business?
About 5 years.
What drove you towards Byron Bay hampers as a business idea?
I visited the Bangalow markets and was currently living in Brisbane. I really wanted an excuse to start a business in Byron Bay and the Bangalow markets were so amazing and I thought 'people around Australia need to see these products'.
And so you thought, I can package them in a hamper.
And so what's the business model? Is it internet driven?
Yes. So, we have a warehouse in the industrial estate. We don't have a retail outlet. We do all our sales through the website.
So, in this day and age it's very possible for you to operate from a warehouse with your showroom being the internet.
Yes, that's right. We literally don't have any people who just walk in to the business and we don't really promote that either. We really do promote the delivery of the gifts around Australia.
It seems like a really simple idea. You come to a place with an abundance of different products being on display here and then you say, let's put it in the form of a hamper and then market it. It's a great idea. What's your background? Do you have an advertising and marketing background?
Yes, I worked in advertising sales for 5 years in Brisbane and I worked at the Yellow Pages, a magazine and The Courier Mail selling advertising into those and I talked to so many small businesses throughout that time, just talking about how they market their own business, just inspired me a lot to start my own business.
It's interesting. A lot of people do go into business and they don't always have a sales, marketing and advertising background... I like the way you said 'Well, in my previous roles I was talking to businesses about sales and advertising'. Do you think that's a really important part of business, being able to sell?
Yes, to me it is. I think that's what's helped drive our business forward. I know a lot of the advertising avenues and how to make them work for us. So, like you say, we don't actually have the retail scope but we have an online business so we have to drive traffic to the website and that's what I do all day. It's time consuming but worth it.
It takes me back around 20 years ago, and I was talking to this business consultant who was helping me transition and he said to me 'You're going to need to be able to sell. If you can't sell, you won't be able to survive as a business consultant'. It still resonates with me now, 20 years later of the importance. Australian's don't really like people who are really over the top with selling. But when, you've got a product, or a service, it's really important that you are selling it. In other words, following a sales process.
And we're meeting a need, so we do a lot of keyword searching, so when people are searching for a certain type of gift, we try to be there when they're making that search. So, we are fulfilling a need for what people are looking for.
Now, in regards to your products, I suppose there's the normal food-based products, do you package your products for particular markets? Do you aim at corporates? Do you aim at women? How did you decide on your target market?
It kind of actually came about. We just started the business and let the business speak to us. It ended up that our demographic is really women, 25-34 years old. So we speak a lot to them. We have a large corporate market as well and the Byron Bay lifestyle really resonates with that corporate market and they love the fact that we've got organic and hand made and natural products in our gift boxes and that's quite different than what other people do.
In regards to the products you put in the gift boxes are the local businesses and producers receptive and what to get involved? I see it as a great way for businesses to market their products right across Australia.
Yes. We love working with the local suppliers and we've definitely had feedback from them that when their products are in our gift boxes, people contact them to buy directly from them, which we're fine with.
So, is there food-based ones and clothes... what do you decide what goes in your hampers?
We're really looking to fulfill the search when people are looking for occasions, so that's any kind of occasion. Weddings, baby gifts, corporate Christmas gifts... Christmas is really our biggest time of year - but then there's things like Mother's Day, birthday gifts are another big one.
I've got my creativity hat on and this place is really well-known for surfing. So, would you put together a hamper with a surfboard, board shorts, wax and that sort of thing?
Not with the surfboard. It's a delivery thing. We have to keep our hampers within a certain size and weight range, to keep within certain cost parameters. But definitely with surfboard wax and hats and stuff like that, that's a great idea.
So you must have a lot of hampers you have to take to Australia Post every day?
We have three couriers pick up off us every day and they pick up off us at the same time every day, so we just have a cut-off at a certain time and we've got all the gifts ready and they all go out.
I suppose delivery for a business like you is really important, so often some people with a particular company like Australia Post seem to have that market, but there's also the courier companies and things like that, is it a price-driven thing? How do you decide on how you're going to deal with the delivery side of things?
With every gift that we receive in, we look at where it's going and we choose out of the three courier companies, but we actually have an express service that we most predominantly use and we can actually send to Perth overnight. Most of our parcels get delivered within 1-3 days.
In regards to coming back to being in business for yourself, having moved out of the corporate environment where you said you worked for Yellow Pages, moving into working for yourself, how have you found that experience? What are the things that you like and what are the things you find challenging?
I find it really excellent. It suits my personality. I'm not so great with a boss. I think that being my own boss is a huge plus for me. I really enjoy it. Challenges... I think it's just the daily business challenges... cashflow, all sorts of things like that. Things that you have to learn. I'm constantly learning. But I really enjoy that so that's fine.
In your business do you have many employees?
There's three of us working at the moment and at Christmas we have about ten people.
So, I suppose certain times of year, as you mentioned... Christmas and Easter are busy times?
Christmas is a really big time for us because our corporate customers send out hundreds of hampers at a time, so that's just one order and they'll be sending out hundreds of gifts. So we have heaps of people just packing and taking orders.
What about branding? Let's say I'm a large corporate, do you do much of that?
We always keep the Byron Bay products and we always keep our own packaging. Our packaging has a little story about Byron Bay in the gift box lid. We've just bought a ribbon printer so we can actually print logos on ribbon.
So that will be a new value-add with your offering.
Yes, that's right. We've only had that for a few weeks so it's been a bit difficult to figure out how to work it but we're getting there.
I suppose when we talk about the various segments and sectors you're dealing with people come to you with all sorts of expectations. What are some of things you've got to deal with, with regards to the consumer who's buying online?
People are looking for an occasion so we have to meet the occasion that they're looking for and I think people expect quite quick delivery off us because we have reviews all over the website and we have quite good reviews about the delivery so people expect us to get their package to them quite quickly.
In regards to your website, that's the cornerstone of your business. In the five years since you've been running the business have you had to regularly go back and upgrade and improve your website?
Yes! We had a major update about two years ago and then we constantly work on it throughout that time but we're updating it again and it will be live in about four weeks. We have to keep doing that just to stay fresh and when our customers keep coming back it's nice and fresh and new.
It's a bit like your front window of your bricks and mortar store, you're constantly refreshing it because customers get used to it otherwise people say 'this is a bit stale'.
And with a website you have to be adding data to it all the time otherwise the Googlebots visit your website and if there's not any new data all the time then you can fall in ranking.
What about from the side of where people are purchasing the product? Was that challenging? Was that something you had to look at when setting up your business?
We've had to work on that constantly as well. We have to improve that all the time. One of the things that we implemented recently was when the corporate's come on, they can put multiple addresses into the checkout now.
That's a good point. If I'm a Sales Manager and I want to send them to various people on the team, you don't want them all going to one address. You'd rather them go direct. It's a minor thing that you sometimes don't think of when you're setting up your site.
In regards to you having come from a corporate background and setting up your own business, what from a business owner's perspective, what are the things you've had to learn and develop in yourself to become a better business owner?
Everything. You know, you really have to learn how to cost the products and how to make everything look good and how is it going to appeal to people. The text that you want to use on the website - is it going to be conversational. I had to learn search engine optimisation, AdWords... you know you have to be everything at all time.
Is that daunting for you?
No. I like that.
So, you've got to have the right attitude to work outside your comfort zone.
I think you've just got to love learning new things. Be inspired by that and I'm quite inspired by that.
It's a great point. I think often when you're working for someone you can stay in your comfort zone and think well I'm just going to do this, but when you go into business you've all of a sudden got to develop a whole range of different skills and that's a really important thing that you're open to doing that.
Yes, I find it really motivating. Knowing that I have to constantly stay on the ball and stay on top of everything. I really like it.
In regards to dealing with the general public, and some people say they're great to deal with and some people say they're a bit trying, how have you found it in your experience.
Actually, if you go on our website there's a little chat feature with my photo in it and I'm generally on chat so I like it. I like the questions people ask us. You learn a lot from what people ask you, like if there's something that people are constantly asking about delivery, I think 'maybe we should have that somewhere on the website' because it's obviously not being conveyed properly.
It's great that people give you feedback because sometimes you do wonder 'where can I find this, where's the search feature?' So going back to your business, what is it that's unique about your business?
It's our story. In our packaging we have a little story on the inside lid and it talks about the Northern Rivers and how we get products from local farmers and that sort of thing. We also in a very Byron Bay-style have a vegan hamper and an organic hamper. People do search for that kind of thing and we've got lots of products there that are organic, natural... and we love finding those kinds of products.
So are you looking for more suppliers? I suppose you're constantly looking for new products, how you can package those new products. Are there any particular things that you're looking for?
The things that we do quite well with on the website are cookies and chocolates and things like that. And the Pamper Hampers are quite popular as well, so the beauty products.
So, if I'm a tour operator I could have gift vouchers that I could have as part of the hampers? Have you looked at that?
I have thought about that... I'm not sure how to implement that at this stage because we send around Australia and tour operators are say, here in Byron Bay... that's the obstacle but if you could do that on a more national level then it would be a great idea.
Looking ahead for the next 12 month, business going five years, what would you like to achieve?
We have got the new website underway, we've got new packaging coming in. So, we're always looking at just making things look different and improving things. Ultimately I'd like to have a really strong brand message, so when people are looking for a gift, they choose us. They think of us and choose us.