Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Frances under the microscope

This is the chance you have all been waiting for... Frances reveals all in an exclusive interview! She goes behind the scenes at Eureco and answers all the questions we have been dying to ask. Like; what's with the bamboo?!

Why did you start Eureco?

Eureco is my second company and evolved out of my first, Moral Fibre Australia, which I began in 2006. The original seed was planted during a casual conversation with a friend. I was complaining about being bored and frustrated in my job and she simply suggested I start my own thing. I had always dreamed of running my own company ‘one day’ but had assumed I needed to be older and more experienced. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that being young meant I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Why not start now? So I did.

Why bamboo towels?

I know. Bamboo towels seem like a strange place to start, but the decision to start with bamboo towels was not a ‘bolt from the blue’. It was the result of about six months spent researching all kinds of possibilities, options and opportunities.

I have always been passionate about textiles. Growing up, I was always involved in textile related activities. Everything from designing and sewing my own clothes, to felting, to cross stitching to just loitering in fabric and haberdashery stores. In fact, I can often still be found loitering in such stores.

At first, I figured I’d probably just start making things myself. Maybe bags or cushions or toys or something and sell them at the markets. But realising that market stalls mean lots of early mornings, it wasn’t long before I abandoned that idea!

Then off the back of another casual conversation, I started researching linen bath towels (friction towels). I had heard they were big in Europe but generally unavailable in Australia at that point. I had samples from manufacturers in Ireland, UK, Lithuania, Poland and Finland sent to me. I wondered whether there was a market for such towels in Australia?

While I was researching the flax towels I came across an article forecasting major European homewares trends. It mentioned that bamboo towels were just emerging into the market and were tipped as the next big thing! I had never heard of bamboo towels and I had certainly never seen any in Australia, so I wanted to know more. I found out that there were none being manufactured in Australia, so I contacted mills from all over the world including Turkey, Japan, China, UK and Belgium requesting samples of their products. I tested the towels and loved them!

After evaluating all of the samples, I decided upon the Belgian collection for a whole range of reasons. The quality of their towels was absolutely outstanding - far superior to any of the other collections I looked at. Their sizing was generous and more appropriate for the Australian market (towels out of Asia are usually somewhat smaller and thinner). The colours were really contemporary, trend driven and I was confident I could put together a great colour story that would suit the unique sensibilities of Australian consumers. The Belgians were easy to deal with and their staff were well trained, working in safe, ethical conditions and paid fair wages. There was less of a language barrier, they were efficient answering my questions and I felt a good relationship could be developed. Finally, they agreed to offer me the exclusive rights to distribute their collections within the Australian and New Zealand markets. What more could I ask for?

So, after a total of almost six months research, I had found a collection and a supplier I was happy with. I brought out a small shipment of towels at first and the rest is history.

Who has helped and inspired you?

There have been so many people, starting with my own parents who ran their own businesses while I was a child. I have had some incredibly inspiring and encouraging bosses and colleagues that I’ve met at various workplaces. I’ve worked almost exclusively for small companies which has given me broad experiences, versatile skills and best of all, great access to other entrepreneurial types! I continue to meet inspiring people every day. Importantly, my retailers inspire me as they are all people running their own businesses too!

What qualifications or experience did you have which helped?

Probably the best experience I had was while working for a medium sized textile company who were distributors and wholesalers of European textile collections. They also designed and manufactured their own collections ‘in house’. I wasn’t always happy there, but it was fabulous experience. I was heavily involved in the ‘nerdy’ technical specifications of the products, so I developed a solid grounding in the nitty-gritty technical aspects of the fabrics.

Just by keeping my eyes and ears open I learned lots about how the textile industry works. From design and manufacture through to importing, warehousing, marketing and wholesaling.

I also studied business at uni and worked in finance which was useful, but honestly, my last four years learning ‘on the job’ has been absolutely invaluable. I’ve learned so much just by getting stuck in and working it out as I go along.

What stops you from throwing in the towel and giving up during those frustrating days of running your business?

Ha-Ha. Throwing in the towel. Nice one!

I remind myself of the alternative - working for someone else! If I’m feeling flat it usually means I need to have another good look at my goals. If I’m bored, I take myself off for a short course in something interesting and vaguely related to get re-motivated. I have done some really great short courses. Learning something new always seems to get me fired up again.

I did a fantastic and nerdy course at the CSIRO in Geelong on technical textile production, which I loved. I’ve studied importing and exporting, social media for business and even learned about manufacturing in China - which was very scary.

How do you keep a work/life balance?

I’m not sure I really do. This is an area I struggle with, and like any person running a small business it can be hard to break away from the job.

  • Creating a distinction in terms of physical space was important for me. So literally moving my office out of home and taking on company premises was a major breakthrough.
  • I try to leave my laptop at the office and not take it home with me. This doesn’t always work. I can still access most things on my mobile and I have been known to escape from social events and return to my office at ridiculous times of night. I’m trying to be better...
  • Working long hours (often alone) can be lonely so I make an effort to catch up with my friends even when things are busy.
  • Organised sport plays an important role in keeping me sane and healthy. I find there is more incentive for me to leave the office and turn up to soccer training if I’m worried about letting the team down. I find playing sport is also a great way to relieve stress.

What was a major obstacle you have faced and how did you deal with it?

Having traded as Moral Fibre for roughly two years, I became aware of another company operating in the same market segment, running a similar operation and also calling themselves Moral Fibre. We even had a number of clients in common! While they didn’t own the Moral Fibre company or business name, they had trademarked the term Moral Fibre, which I had neglected to do. I thought that owning the company and business names was enough to prevent another person trading under the name. Turns out that’s not quite true! There’s my inexperience showing!

I got legal representation and began proceedings to oppose the registration for their trademark. The whole process was extremely stressful (not to mention expensive) and took up huge amounts of my energy. My confidence, enthusiasm and motivation really took a knock and I found it hard to continue working to build a brand which I felt was compromised in the market.

About six months into the process I had a dream where I was staring at my company balance sheet. My expenses had been completely blown out by legal fees (crippling my little company) and I couldn’t stand the look of the figure on the report. The total expense of the opposition proceedings was enough money to launch another collection and I knew that I would rather see that figure sitting on the company balance sheet as an asset.

From there it was easy enough to decide not to continue to oppose the other ‘Moral Fibre’. I’d let them have the name. I’d change my company name and rebrand for a tiny fraction of the expense and I’d launch a brand new collection!

That’s where Eureco Began. Ultimately, it’s been such an opportunity and a blessing. I was forced to stop, re-assess, re-evaluate and really examine the strengths and weaknesses of my operation. I began Eureco applying all the knowledge and learning I’d gained by running Moral Fibre.

Eureco is a stronger, smarter and more profitable entity that I’m really proud I’ve built.

Can you tell me what lessons you’ve learned over the years?

The biggest lesson I learned came out of the trade mark debacle. I wanted to oppose the trade marking of Moral Fibre purely on principle - because I knew I would win. It was about ego and pride and coming out on top. But I learned that sometimes it is smarter to tuck your ego away and make tough decisions that are good for the balance sheet and ultimately, good for the business.

I also developed an understanding of the distinction between Frances the person and Eureco/Moral Fibre the business. Grasping that Frances and ‘company’ are not one and the same - that Frances will survive and prosper even if her business fails or has to close for some reason - enabled me to gain a more objective and secure perspective. This is a better position to be in when making tough business decisions.

Of course there have been so many other lessons too, like “be nice to people” and “make friends with the people at the post office” but those two are the biggies.

How important is the eco side of business?

Very important! I guess I’ve never really been your typical ‘greenie’, but I’ve grown up as part of a generation of people who first learnt about ‘climate change’ and ‘sustainability’ in primary school. I think as a group we are inherently more conscious of our environment and aware of the limited nature of many of our resources. From very early on, we have been educated to think about our choices and the impact they have on our environment. I also think that I’m part of a generation of young people who, (maybe more than any generation before) are really empowered as individuals and understand their ability to have an impact as a collective.

Working in other fields, I had become aware of just how environmentally unfriendly many textile production processes are. I’d also become aware of just how miserable some of the working conditions within the textile industry can be. I was also conscious of how much waste was created and all these things bothered me.

Sustainable design and ethical manufacture were of primary importance to me when I began sourcing my products. Quality and aesthetic appeal are also key considerations. I’m stubborn and I refuse to launch any product that doesn’t meet all of my requirements.

This firm adherence to my values can make things difficult. When looking for new collections, I often come across gorgeous collections with little or no genuine eco-credentials, or conversely, seriously green eco-collections that are not great quality or worst of all, ugly.

But, I just will not compromise. All Eureco collections are sustainably made, ethically manufactured, exceptional quality and gorgeous. Moving forward I hope to find more and more collections which meet all my requirements. Failing that, it is very possible that in future I will move to design and manufacture our own private label collections.

What’s coming up for Eureco?

A new organic cotton collection is on the way, which I’m really excited about. I’m in the process of reorganising the warehouse to make space for the new stock. Then the next thing on the calendar is the Organic Expo in August at the Sydney Convention Centre, where we will be exhibiting, and hopefully making many new friends! Further ahead, we are looking to expand into overseas markets in 2011. Eureco already has the rights to distribute in the New Zealand and American markets so it’s just a matter of capitalising on that opportunity.

What advice would you give another person starting their own business?

Just get out there and do it, start knocking on doors and make it happen. Don’t be afraid of approaching people, as the vast majority of people want to help you and want to see you succeed. Ask them lots of questions, be annoying! Surround yourself with people who are much smarter than you and in business. They can answer your questions and you can benefit from their experience. Find an unofficial mentor – they may not even realise they’re mentoring you! My mum has probably been my biggest mentor.

Typical day in the life

First thing is get a coffee, fortunately there is a great café next to my house. Then check the post box. When I arrive at the office I check emails and respond to anything urgent. As my Belgian suppliers obviously operate during the night, if there is any communication from them I need to respond promptly. The only other consistent part of my day is packing up and sending off orders.

After that is where the typical part ends, as there is no average day in the life - every day is completely different. Some days I will be packing orders, other days I will be formulating media plans with Megan, I can be working on the advertising and marketing one day, then sourcing and looking for new collections the next. What else? I could be pricing collections, talking to my retailers, searching for new retailers, updating the website, going on a business trip to research other regions, keeping on top of the accounts, checking inventory levels, writing blogs... One of the joys of running your own business is that every day is completely different, as you have to wear many different hats.

What are you...

Reading? I’m reading three books at once. In my handbag is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s nerdy it’s all about statistics - I’m in heaven and I love it. The other two books are on my bedside table, they are the Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter.

Eating? Ice cream is my vice.

Buying? Morning coffees, sensible shoes (I very often buy very silly shoes), a winter coat.

Cooking? I’ve recently perfected my vegie stir-fry, its pretty good. Cooking is a great stress reliever.

Conversing about? The trials and tribulations of my soccer team, current affairs.

Watching? The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Weeds, Mad Men, True Blood.

Listening to? Triple J and the 702 Midnight Quiz.

Collecting? Lame dinner party jokes, vintage scrabble boards and a lot of scarves. I suppose one could call that a collection (or just a compulsion).

Passionate about? Nerdy stuff that’s too nerdy to mention.

1 comment:

  1. Great post kiddo - would make a great article base for magazines/newspapers etc.

    Lorraine :) xox