One of the key challenges we faced during the early phases of the business was ourselves. Partying and drinking as much as we were can dull everything else that’s going on around you. We focused on alcohol-free days, giving up smoking, party free weekends – but, to no avail. Looking for help to overcome these addictions was the start of our road to recovery. We did this through meditation retreats and spiritual healing. With time, we realised that addressing the underlying issues, rather than the outcome of the behaviour, was the only way to truly succeed and that led to a lot more clarity in running the business.
The next key challenge we faced was not knowing what we didn’t know. Neither of us had ever purchased a candle in our entire lives before we started Koh Living. We reached out to a mentoring programme through Small Business Victoria and we created an advisory board that we met with monthly. The process of consistently asking for help is a fundamental ingredient in our success in getting to where we are today, and we continue to do this. We are both constantly upskilling through audio books. In the last quarter, we brought in four key expert groups to help us with different areas of the business – we still recognise that we don’t know certain things, but there are plenty of people out there who do.
Another challenge was managing our stock. We made many mistakes in the initial phases. Our first mistake, which is still a cause for laughter, involved our first candle range. In the first few weeks after we opened the business, we sold 80 per cent of our stock. When we put in another order, the supplier suggested that they would make the decision on the styles and quantities for us. We thought this was a brilliant idea because naturally they would send us their best sellers. They didn’t send us their best sellers! They saw it as an opportunity to clear out their rubbish stock. Of course, when the stock arrived, we found it very difficult to sell. We had no other candle ranges at the time; this was it! We had to choose between closing down, having a laugh and moving on to something else, or finding more money to buy more candles and start over again. We chose to buy more stock and to keep going with the markets. In 15 years we never made the same mistake again and never allowed a supplier to provide us with what they thought would be best.
The final challenge in our initial phase was money. We had calculated that in the first six months of wholesaling, we could afford to service and hold enough stock for 10 retail customers. We began hand picking these key customers from around Australia. Then we decided to exhibit at the Reed Gift Fair. During the fair, we not only picked up another 10 customers, but, we also picked up Australian Geographic with 47 stores. Our plan for managing 10 retail stores in the first six months turned into 70 overnight. One of our mentors suggested in our first session that we needed to get funding sorted. As a result, we set up a $20,000 line of credit for “later”. This line of credit was not easy to organise given that we had no savings – a Datsun 120Y and a Bose stereo system were our only two assets. Nevertheless, we got the facility in place and used it almost immediately to purchase the stock required to service our 70 customers.
Tui Cordemans and Nyree Hibberd, Koh Living