In each issue, TNP, a magazine that is popular for its emphasis on “ intelligent living, connection parenting and health and well-being”, profiles New Zealand business owners to learn about their experiences in the business world. It offers readers an overview of selected companies and their products.
The passion: What inspired you to set up your business?
Our family has lived in Karamea for more than 20 years now. My husband, Hamish, had been a teacher and then a district councillor for 12 years so I decided it was time for me to find a way to generate an income from our 3.7 hectare coastal property. It’s a beautifully wild area with almost no employment opportunities apart from the dairy industry. So you could say ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
The Launch: How did you start out in the beginning?
I had been involved in Biodynamics and organics for 30 years but had not grown anything on a commercial scale. I researched crops that could cope with our high rainfall, didn’t need a lot of money to set up and would have low impact sustainable methods of cultivating and harvesting. The answer was – Australian Tea Tree or Melaleuca alternifolia. I applied successfully for a small business development grant that helped with expenses until we had confirmation that our essential oil passed the international standard for quality and purity. Over that period we worked on getting our property certified by BioGro. By 1996 our oil passed the test and our property was fully certified organic. The rest is history, as they say.
The innovation: What was the biggest breakthrough for you with your business?
The business developed slowly but steadily as we gained confidence in our processes and equipment and in the effectiveness of our oil. It took more than ten years to get our brand recognised but the biggest breakthrough was our appearance on Country Calendar. This exposure spread the word to the organic dairy farmers that here was an approved alternative treatment for mastitis in their cows. Now, instead of my customer base being mainly the organic shops and aromatherapists, I had imagined, half our annual production started going to farmers for use in a very successful teat spray.
Yin and Yang: How do you balance work and family?
All the major decisions Hamish and I have made over the last 30 years have been made with this balance in mind. Lifestyle versus income, time spent with the children more important than acquisitions. When we started on the Tea Tree our children were old enough to help with planting and were able to look after themselves. We have 500 feijoa trees to harvest over the winter and we both have other interests including our grandchildren in Christchurch. We never expected this business would be full time and now that I am a superannuitant I have a regular weekly income for the first time since we left Christchurch many years ago.
The Drive: What challenges have you overcome?
The first challenge was to find information about how to produce Tea Tree essential oil and adapt that, by trial and error, to our climate and soil conditions. Then we had to learn about distilling and firing a low pressure boiler. On the business side I had to learn to use a computer after living for seven years without mains electricity. I had to do all the promotion of our oil and later make decisions about how to develop some value added products. The greatest challenge continues to be maintaining effective business systems and marketing and promotion. I have recently decided I will never be all things to all people and have a graphic designer on board to help with branding our products and working on website development.
For better or worse: What are the pros and cons of running your own business?
Definitely the independence and freedom to be my own boss would be the major attraction. It is very satisfying to make all the significant decisions and take that responsibility. Developing and running a small business means learning many new skills including managing money, customers, suppliers, writing advertising copy and public speaking. I get great satisfaction from knowing that our products are helping a significant number of people, with a variety of health issues, avoid having to use antibiotics and other powerful synthetic substances.
Hopes and dreams: What next?
I am always on the lookout for a new idea for a new product that uses the medicinal, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties of Tea Tree oil but our current range covers most needs. I would be open to exporting if approached but this is not something I will chase after. At the moment, none of our children has an interest in living here or running the business so it is important to consider how we can set this up so that we can continue to live on the property but share the work.