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Colour and design drive sales success

FIVE years ago, Perth designer Anna Chandler was working in the back shed of her home. How things have changed.

Last week, Ms Chandler celebrated the shipment of her company’s first container load of gift and homewares to the US.

Anna Chandler Design now operates from a factory in O’Connor, employing 20 staff. Its products are made from either plaster or concrete, set in silicon moulds and then hand painted. They are even made into dinner sets, placemats, doormats and the like, under licence.

Customers can design their own products by mixing and matching designs and colours to suit their home’s décor on the company’s website.

Ms Chandler said the business was the culmination of her life’s experiences.

“I came from Tasmania to Perth to study graphic design at Curtin University. Then I travelled through the Mediterranean and that’s reflected a lot in my designs,” she said.

“ I did some jewellery design, which is where I learnt mould.”

Ms Chandler even did paint finishes for up-market restaurants, nightclubs and exclusive homes in the 1980s.

“Since I started in this business I’ve been ripped off by just about every other giftware maker – especially in China,” Ms Chandler said.

“I’ve employed some very good copyright lawyers but even they can’t really control what happens in places like China.”

She manages to stay ahead of imitators by changing the company’s product offerings three times a year.

The large US order – worth about $40,000 – came as something of a surprise to the business. The distributor had arranged a showcase for important US buyers in September.

“Then out of the blue we received this huge order from her,” Ms Chandler said.

Besides the US, the company sells to around 800 Australian outlets and has a large New Zealand market. It also sells small orders to Europe.

Ms Chandler said the key to export for her business lay in finding good distributors.

“This is such an obscure line of product, so finding the right distributor is like finding a needle in a haystack. It needs to be someone who loves the product and knows the right stores to put us in,” she said.

The business came about largely after much prompting by her husband, Mick McElhinney.

“He asked me what would be the ultimate for me and I said it would be to have people making my designs,” Ms Chandler said.

“Now I handle the designs, Mick handles the business side and the staff handle the production.

“Colour is my big thing. I think it came from my grand-father giving me a set of 72 Derwent colour pencils when I was a child so I got to experiment with a lot of different shades.”

Ms Chandler said she was not really involved with the day-to-day running of the business, preferring to leave that up to her husband.

“Every artist needs a partner like that,” she said.

“And having my brother, Tim, on board to run the factory has lifted a lot of pressure off Mick and given him more time to spend concentrating on the future of the business.”

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