28/11/2012 - 05:32

Great Southern success stories

28/11/2012 - 05:32

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The story of three fascinating enterprises operating in the Great Southern should provide inspiration and encouragement for business owners across the state.

Great Southern success stories
CLEAN BREAK: Aard Brink left his career as a petroleum engineer to start an organic market garden. Photo: Richard Keeler

The story of three fascinating enterprises operating in the Great Southern should provide inspiration and encouragement for business owners across the state.

FOR business adviser Richard Keeler, it was a trip to an art gallery and cafe 30 kilometres east of Esperance that got him thinking.

Amidst the broadacre farms and plantation blue gums, he found a purpose-built gallery, carefully planted lavender gardens, a sunken water garden and tea rooms with a dance-floor verandah.

He was intrigued by the location, but it was the customer experience created by Hellfire Gallery founder Warren Andrews that left an even larger impression.

“The first conclusion was that I’d been dealing with a person totally committed to the enterprise,” Mr Keeler wrote in his book Going the Extra Mile.

“The second was that I’d received some sort of reward. Not just value for money. No, it went deeper I had a feeling that what I’d received was real: authentic and whole.”

Drawing from that experience, Mr Keeler has told the story of three very different businesses in the Great Southern.

It’s an area most people think of as a holiday destination, or possibly a sea-change lifestyle choice.

Two of the subjects in Mr Keeler’s book moved south for that very reason, but they have ended up building successful businesses.

One is Gilgie Organics, an organic market garden that is part of the successful Albany fanners market.

Another is Rickety Gate, a vineyard and winery complex at Denmark that was created from scratch.

“Contemplating these differing experiences together, I began to grasp a connection,” Mr Keeler wrote.

“Like many people, I’ve become conditioned to accepting products and services that fall short of my expectations.

“Mediocre products, delivered in a mediocre fashion by people who have no idea they are supposed to care about the customer, leave me uninspired.

“These enterprises, on the contraiy, are delivering the opposite. Something quite extraordinary, in fact.”

The people behind these businesses come from very different backgrounds.

Before opening the gallery, Mr Andrews had worked on fishing boats and in gold mines before suffering a serious workplace injury, Russell Hubbard of Rickety Gate had a career in sales, including with Cash Converters, while Aard Brink of Gilgie Organics was an engineer in the petroleum industry.

Mr Keeler said they all had the opportunity to choose different, easier paths when faced with the challenges that confronted them.

“The ethos is clear; if you are going to do it, do it well,” he wrote.

“They are neither foolhardy nor obsessive, it’s just their way.”

In Mr Andrews’ case, his business had its genesis when he used a compensation payout to buy six hectares of degraded fannland with a ramshackle shed.

That became home for his young family, and is the place where he and his partner, Tammy, developed their gallery business.

“To witness what now stands on this once banen and desolate place and see the continuing growth and development gives a glimpse of the mettle and energy that Warren and Tammy possess,” Mr Keeler wrote.

Mr Brink’s story is closer to the traditional sea-change experience, leaving the corporate world for life in the countryside.

It was a similar story for Mr Hubbard, who grew disenchanted with the corporate world and sought something different.

None of these people wanted to shy away from hard work; quite the contrary. With their partners, they now run businesses that are physically demanding and require long hours of work.

Mr Keeler found common traits among the three, notably “their ability to dream and their courage and commitment in pursuing those dreams”.

He also remarks on their attention to detail, commitment to quality, and focus on their customers.

The key to this story is that these are not just platitudes.

“They all possess a categorical ‘what you see is what you get’ authenticity,” Mr Keeler wrote, backing up this conclusion with numerous detailed illustrations.

Just one example was a conversation with a worker on the organic farm, who was struck by Aard Brink’s commitment to excellence.

“He makes you feel you want to do the job well, like there isn’t any other way,” the worker told Mr Keeler

Having observed the ‘built-in’ commitment these businesses have to the concept of a triple-bottom line, the really challenging question is whether larger enterprises can emulate these achievements.

• mark.beyer@wabn.com.au

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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