This week we talk to Kate Moore, co-founder – alongside her friend Kirsten Watts – of Melbourne corporate gifting business Soda Grey. in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Over the past couple of years Kate and Kirsten to found themselves an excellent supplier of items they design themselves, crafted from recycled timber from Diamond Creek.
ISB: What was the inspiration behind you and Kirsten founding Soda Grey, and could you briefly explain what the business is fundamentally?
KM: If we have learned one thing from this pandemic it is that flexibility is the key to life – particularly when running a business, as well as a busy household. We wanted to grow a business model that not only allowed our creativity to shine, but it also gave us the ability to work our own hours around our families’ needs.
Soda Grey is a corporate gifting business. We have a laser engraver so we carry out all of the product personalisation in-house. This is a huge time saver which sets us apart from other similar businesses. We create luxurious yet affordable gift boxes for the corporate and real estate industries. We specialise in settlement and vendor gifts as well as staff and supplier gifts.
ISB: What was the biggest challenge in getting the enterprise off the ground, and how did you overcome it?
KM: Building a solid return customer base is always a massive challenge for any small business so we have learned a lot along the way about running a corporate gifting business, how to market it efficiently by balancing the advertising spend against potential profit margins. This was a new industry for both of us, Kirsten has a background in laser eye surgery and I was working in the architectural field so there was a lot to learn.
We overcame this challenge through persistence, talking to lots of other business owners, and also incorporating what we saw as our clients’ needs into our range so that we had a point of difference. We were determined not to simply offer a bottle of bubbly and some nibblies – if a client has a particular yearning for a certain product, we are happy to look into it and find the right supplier. This can take additional time but customer retention is super important to us. Word of mouth advertising is incredibly powerful so we want to give our clients every opportunity to sing our praises!
ISB: Please tell us about the collaboration that involves you designing your products and then having them made locally.
KM: We are very conscious of buying locally made Australian products, and while we have explored other options over the years, our favourite products are those that we have designed and sourced ourselves, such as our timber board range. We found ourselves a talented craftsman who lovingly makes our boards to order out of recycled timber here in Melbourne. They are just beautiful. We also source the majority of our ceramic pieces from Robert Gordon Ceramics in Pakenham – an amazing family-run business.
ISB: I understand sustainability is at the core of the enterprise – how does this manifest itself in your production and distribution processes?
KM: Our timber boards are all made from recycled offcuts, sourced from commercial projects. Saving this timber from landfill helps us feel that we are doing our bit for the environment which in turn, helps our clients to feel the same.
Purchasing items online and having them shipped to us naturally involves the use of a lot of packaging materials. We cringe sometimes to see just how much packaging is used to transport items! We like to reuse this packaging wherever possible and then we recycle cardboard as well as hard and soft plastics. Local customers are welcome to return their packaging when they receive their next order.
ISB: What is your vision for the growth and development of Soda Grey in the next couple of years.
KM: While the world continues to deal with, and recover from, the unprecedented impact that this pandemic has left in its wake we have been developing new ideas for products and packaging so that our customers are always seeing new material in our socials. We also continue to learn how to make social media and related marketing tools work hard for us so that we can spend more time doing what we initially set out to do…see our friends and families!
ISB: And, finally, what is the #1 piece of advice you’d give to other aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
KM: You will never be 100 per cent ready to start your own business. Do your research, analyse your target market and competition, then jump in and have a go, it is worth it!