Briefly tell us about your business and how you got started.
Started in 1988 – just playing with an idea AND we developed a comprehensive business plan which we followed. We started Corban & Blair as a creative exercise not really knowing where we would end up.
While both Amanda Blair and myself were serious and committed to design, excellence and best business practice, we never envisaged the stimulating, creative enterprise of wonderful employees, associates, suppliers and customers we continue to work with.
We opened a niche market in designer Australian stationery for many to follow- we were inspired by others and in turn inspired other new creative businesses.
We know this because we talk to them, share information, contacts and ideas.
Twenty years later our approach is still hands on and fashion orientated combining style and fashion with environmental considerations of utility, durability and recycling.
What have been your major achievements?
Staying in business for 20 years and still being passionate about it. Having smart, loyal and committed staff and suppliers.
What have been your major challenges?
Staying relevant and inspired, financial management in the early days, leadership – how to do this well for yourself and others so that it attracts good people and ideas. Avoiding the silo mentality (internal group think), migrating product manufacture beyond Australia when our brand is seen as an Australian icon. Preparing for the future that I see will be very different. We have a type of old fashioned (although beautiful) product so we continue to expand our products, services and partnerships, keeping on creating things that are desirable and of interest to others. Leading, learning and growing our company through these changes over the next few years.
Who has been your greatest mentor?
When we started, all the other small business people (mainly men) who we worked with. My brother, based in NZ, who is also our frame manufacturer. Friends, other business people we come in contact with- I have always read lots of books, magazines and now on-line information. Our financial advisor who is also a great strategist has been a long-term mentor, and of course the odd bit of therapy!
How do you stand out from your competitors?
Having new and different products, ideas and concepts, changing all the time-leading not following, excellent personalised customer service. Providing an overall authentic experience, being involved in the community, beyond ourselves and what we do.
Where would you like to see your business in five years from now?
A creative business that has exciting products and services. A far broader set of collaborators to work with both here and overseas. We seek sustainability- do not have to grow hugely but need to be profitable, have a learning environment that is stimulating for all. A place where everyone is engaged, loyal and full of ideas.
What are your Top Five Strategies for Success?
Having a strategic and challenging plan that guides you, being in touch with and understanding your customers, working with people (customers, suppliers and staff) you trust. Being open and flexible to new possibilities. Being passionate about what you do – owning and running a business takes a lot of time and energy so it is essential you enjoy it.
How do you maintain sales in a tough economy?
We REALLY REALLY try to understand our customers and work with them as partners where we can. Having a product people want is essential and customer service is crucial. Communicating who you are and what you have to offer in an easy friendly manner helps.
What role do you feel the businessowner should play with relation to sales?
Need to provide vision, leadership, ideas, energy, contacts, tips, be ready to be used and assist where appropriate. All sales strategies need to fit with the overall business plan, company philosophy and selling style.