Louise Curtis is an amazing business woman who has so much to teach all of us on the journey of life and business.
She has been either a finalist or winner in various categories of the Telstra Business Awards over numerous years and continues to inspire and lead in the Canberra business space.
After being told to 'learn how to type so someone would marry her' Louise discovered a very different path. She commenced a career in the legal industry quickly helping to building a thriving and dynamic practice.
Her journey soon led to other opportunities and challenges which eventually led to her own business Hamperesque and then the successful LollyPotz. In time she took on the challenge of a struggling online party supplies business called Pink Frosting.
In this interview Louise shares so many of the experiences, people and setback that have defined her journey and helps us understand the courage and resilience that we all need to build a thriving and successful business story.
Find Lollypotz here
Find Lollypotz on Facebook here
Find Pink Frosting here
Jonathan: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back once again to the Canberra Business Podcast. I'm your host, Jonathan Doyle. We've got another fantastic guest for you today. Louise Curtis, from Lollypotz, from Hamperesque, and Pink Frosting, has a lot of free time on her hands, an amazing business woman, entrepreneur. We're gonna talk more about ... you will have heard her accolades in the intro, but we'll get more to that as we go.
Jonathan: What I wanted to do, Louise, is start with a really tough question. I think it's probably the most ... I think most business owners listening to this today will find this the most compelling question in their own business life ... the Swans are fourth on the ladder.
Jonathan: At 28 points. How are you feeling?
Louise: I'm very confident actually.
Louise: Yeah, it's pretty good that they're in fourth place. It's far better than last years' performance. Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about the ... I don't know that they'll make the grand final. I'm tipping a West Coast/Richmond grand final. But we'll be there towards the end.
Jonathan: One of the questions that we always ask towards the end of the podcast is, what do you do for fun and how do you have a life outside of business? And in your answers, you're a little bit of a fan of the Sydney Swans.
Louise: Yeah I am, I was really fortunate. I'm from Sydney originally, and my father took me to the ... he was a very good rugby player, and we always supported rugby and we were always supporting different sports on the weekend. And the Swans were moving from Melbourne to Sydney and he said, let's just go and see what this is about.
Louise: And the entire family have remained members since that day.
Jonathan: Really? And you're going up there almost every second week?
Louise: Every fortnight, yeah. I'm pretty passionate about it. My sister lives in Pottsville, which is up near Byron, and she flies down for every game. And I travel with the kids up to Sydney for every game.
Louise: Yeah, we're pretty hard core. It's just one thing in our life that ... I guess it keeps the family together as well. So we all catch up at those games. Nobody lives in Sydney anymore, but everybody comes in. We've had the same seats at the SCG for over 30 years.
Louise: Yeah and so we sort of have a family there, and even people who have sat around us. It's been just something that has been ... you know, you talk about, what do I do for fun, it's certainly been something that has been an escape for me while I've been on my business journey, that I could just switch off and go to the footy and just absolutely love it.
Jonathan: 'Cause your business life is pretty relaxed. There's not much happening, right?
Jonathan: You kind of wake up each morning going, what will I do today?
Louise: Yeah I sort of wake up thinking, can I just get through the day without any big dramas, really.
Jonathan: So, we're gonna get to this but I want to ask you a couple of things first. What's your best memory of going to the Swans so far? What's something you look back on and ... what's a good memory?
Louise: Okay, so there's probably five really great memories of the Swans. But one of my best ones was obviously the 2005 grand final, which we won, but it wasn't actually the beginning of the game, it as when the players ran on ... I'm probably gonna cry as I say this to you, but when the players ran on the field that day in the grand final in 2005, the sense of pride I felt was extraordinary. See I'm tearing up just talking about it.
Louise: The sense of pride was extraordinary and it was something that I will never forget. I actually didn't see the last dying seconds of that game, because I had my head between my knees and I was hyperventilating.
Jonathan: Oh really?
Louise: And my husband was trying to find out from someone how many seconds was left, because of course you didn't know how long was to go. And so I never saw Leo Barry take that mark live. But it was just extraordinary that day. It was probably ... I mean that was so great because it had been such a long time. The next grand final was great. But my favourite player throughout my sort of long history of supporting the club has been, surprisingly, Barry Hall.
Jonathan: Oh really?
Louise: Yeah most people are shocked by that.
Jonathan: Broke a few jaws in his time.
Louise: Yeah I sort of didn't ... you know when he punched a few guys and everyone's in an outrage, I was thinking, oh it's not that bad.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah. He's overly affectionate, that's all.
Louise: Yeah, it's really not that bad. But I'm now heavily involved in the GWS Giants in Canberra, even though they know I'm a Swan. And a couple of years ago they provided the ultimate gesture to me, and that was ... they had Barry Hall in Canberra for something and they allowed me to bring 10 of my closest Swans friends and I got to spend two and a half hours with Barry Hall.
Jonathan: Did you really?
Louise: Yeah, just at the Arboretum, we had a morning tea and he was all mine, and I could ask him anything I wanted to, and we talked footy-
Jonathan: He's a big guy, is he?
Louise: Yeah he is, and he's a real gentle giant.
Louise: I mean he's just ... we just had this two and a half hours of just talking footy and I was sort of saying to him, you know what about this game and what about this? And why did you do that? I'm asking him things about certain parts in games, and it was just such a wonderful moment for me. So that was another highlight.
Jonathan: Well ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Canberra AFL podcast, my name's Jonathan Doyle. But what we're getting to is that the business journey for so many people listening, and for you, is intense. Pat Quade who was on yesterday, and people would've heard this if they've listened to his episode, I woke up two nights ago at 2am, just ... not so much worried but just juggling so much and I hate when I can't sleep. And I was saying to Karen, oh must be something wrong with me, I've got too much on, and I'm getting all serious about it. And then Pat's sitting there and Pat's got you know, 250 staff now, and same thing, 2am just wide awake. So for many of us in business, and for you, it's a pretty intense journey. So this is ... I guess this sport's been a huge part of just managing that?
Louise: Yeah, switching off. You know in my hardest times, were probably around 2012, and again just going to the footy, the release of going to the footy and seeing your team perform, and just having that sort of external-
Jonathan: [crosstalk 00:05:58]
Louise: Yeah but something external that you can just escape in, because-
Jonathan: Is your mind running a million miles an hour with the business, in general? Most of the time?
Louise: Generally. So with Lollypotz ... so my first business was Hamperesque. Hamperesque has now been basically, it's sort of been taken over by Lollypotz if you like. We still have many of our corporate clients but ... and Lollypotz, I stopped franchising because the franchising world was just too hard. It was just-
Jonathan: It's not for the fainthearted.
Louise: Well, I just think the whole franchising system is flawed completely.
Jonathan: Why do you think that? What specifically?
Louise: Well, gosh how long have we got?
Jonathan: Welcome to the first episode in the Louise Curtis podcast series.
Jonathan: This week, we're covering Barry Hall and franchising models. No, what-
Louise: So franchising, I was very lucky with franchising. I had the fastest growing franchise ever, you know within 19 months I think I had ... or within, yeah two years, I had 19 franchises and then within four years I had 45 franchises in three countries.
Louise: But what I didn't understand when I took on franchises, was that they weren't me. Whilst I had a system that worked and whilst I had a system that could make people money, they actually had to work.
Louise: And I probably never really thought about how much of a hard worker I was, that I made my business successful because I actually did it.
Jonathan: Made it happen.
Louise: And so what happened with franchising is that we had, so 45 franchises, and six of them were excelling. Like my business was. That we were all just absolutely killing it.
Jonathan: How do you explain that? People?
Louise: So we all had the tools, we all had the same product, we all had the same marketing, but we didn't all have the same ability or want to work. And within a couple of years of franchising, the cracks started to show, because people just weren't as hard working as what I was. They weren't prepared to, you know do seven days a week if that was required that week. They weren't prepared to put money into extra marketing, they weren't prepared to go out and door knock or find business. They were too lazy. They thought, well I'm gonna just buy into this franchise and they'll generate the work.
Jonathan: And just print the money, yeah.
Louise: And of course that's not what it's like. There's no business on this earth that you can do that. You can't pay 50, 60, 70 grand for a franchise and expect to make 300 grand a year, without working hard. And they just didn't do it.
Louise: So franchising was just, for me, it was an incredible journey. A lot of people say to me, would you do it again? And I say to people, I probably would, because the experiences I've had. But at the end of 2013 I decided that I'd had enough. It was really at the same time as, if you recall all those pizza restaurants in Melbourne, and the 7-11 chains were starting ... all of the media around underpaying of wages-
Jonathan: Underpaying 7-11 guys, yeah I remember that.
Louise: And that was happening in a lot of pizza style franchises as well and fast food outlets, and then there was talk about making the franchisors responsible for the actions of their franchisees in terms of wages. And when that ... when I saw that in black in white, that just made me think, do I really want to risk this? Am I going to risk our livelihood for these franchises-
Jonathan: Things you can't control.
Louise: Things I can't control. And with Lollypotz, there was a lot of people who were employing family and friends, and they probably were paying them under the table.
Louise: So I couldn't control that, and I didn't want to control that, and I didn't want to be responsible for it. So I had to make a decision to move on from franchising, and that's not so easy when you've got 45 franchises.
Jonathan: When you're heavily invested in it, yeah.
Louise: So I remember getting some advice and my lawyer said to me, you can't do it, you're just gonna have to sell the whole franchise. And I said, well I don't really want to, because I've got a really great business in Canberra that I'd like to keep, that's my livelihood, and I don't believe I'd get what it's worth.
Louise: So I made a decision to set the franchises that were good - free. And I said to them, take my IP, take the products, take everything, just call your business a different name.
Louise: Yeah. And just go. And the other 39 I spent the next three years removing from the franchise system.
Jonathan: So why not push into some kind of earn out or buy out, why cut 'em loose? You just needed that psychological space-
Louise: I just needed it. It was just, yeah, it was just this was too much. I wasn't making anything from ... the poor performers were draining all our resources.
Louise: So the money ... I actually felt quite bad for the high performers, because we couldn't support them as well as what we had hoped because we were putting all our resources into these non performers. So it just got to a point where I didn't think I had the, I guess the mental capacity to deal with it anymore.
Jonathan: To hold all that.
Louise: Yeah, and I just, I wanted out.
Jonathan: You're raising so much, and when you talk about that period of time where 7-11 were starting to come on the radar, and then you mention that government's going to make franchisors responsible and it's a question I think about a lot, that the long arm of government ... and this is a private enterprise podcast, 'cause I'm passionate private enterprise, you know you look at that interplay between ... I mean that's a law that's reactionary law, it's like something bad's happening but you can see how there's this constant ... to make great law is hard. Because that's a disincentive right? It makes people like you get out of the game to protect, or as a response to some people doing really bad stuff.
Louise: Correct. And I think, I mean what I guess this has done in terms of franchising, there's a lot of news around franchising and the problems at the moment-
Jonathan: That's right.
Louise: Which, I'm surprised it's taken this long to-
Jonathan: This long to come out.
Louise: Yeah, I mean I remember removing myself from membership from the Franchise Council because I just didn't believe that the systems were working. I mean why I think it's completely flawed is that, in the case of my business where someone was spending less than 100 grand ... so in any franchise where you're buying, I guess a business model for less than 100 grand, and particularly when it can be run from home, it's 100 grand. It's not 3 million dollars.
Louise: And 100 grand to make you work is generally, and sadly, not enough for most people to work hard. If however you're buying a franchise for half a million dollars, so let's say you're buying one of the more well known franchises, and with that franchise you're also tying yourself into a Westfield lease, which is a couple of hundred grand a year.
Jonathan: Sure, hundred, yeah.
Louise: And you're tying yourself into a million dollars worth of wages-
Jonathan: That's skin in the game. Big skin in the game.
Louise: Yeah. It actually ... that is enough to make you get out of bed.
Jonathan: It is-
Louise: And then I think that's the issue with the current franchising system, and you hear about the likes of Donut King and these guys are tied into enormous, enormous expenditure and overheads. And if they give it up, they lose everything. But if people give up a $100,000 franchise, they can rebuild.
Jonathan: They can take the hit and start again.
Louise: They can, yeah.
Jonathan: But we're in such a disruptive, disrupted moment in history. Like you look at when you and I were growing even, Westfield's were ... you'd go to Westfield's, it was all there. But that is so disrupted and I've heard a lot of interesting thinking around how they're redesigning them as kind of civic spaces where people come for experiences. But listen, I wanted to pick up on something really important you were talking about, which is around work. So I have a favourite quote that will make some listeners choke on their cornflakes. It's from Margaret Thatcher, who in one speech she said, "May our children grow tall and some taller than others if they have it in them to do so".
Jonathan: I've always like that, I've always believed that meritocracies are important. I can understand there could be excesses. You talked earlier on about, you had six franchisees operating really well and working, many that didn't, and you talk about your own work ethic. I want to talk about that, I want to talk about where you learned it, I want to talk about was it modeled growing up? Where has work ... how have you ... what happens in your happens in your brain? Do you love work? Do you enjoy it? Where's it come from?
Louise: I do love work. It's actually ... I get asked this a lot, and it's funny because I talk about, when I speak, I often start off talking about having middle child syndrome. You know, I was born between two siblings who are highly intelligent. My sister has five degrees, my brother has a doctorate, I don't have any university degrees-
Jonathan: Well you've got what Tony Robbins used to call, you've got a PhD in results.
Louise: Yeah. In life, in resilience. So it was interesting my children, because my parents always thought I was the dummy. And I remember something that has just stuck with me all my life, is when I was 15 my father sat me down at the dining table and he said, love what you need to do is learn how to type and then someone will marry you.
Jonathan: Oh no.
Louise: And that stuck with me, but I think with the benefit of hindsight, my parents did me a very big favour and what they did was they sent me to this very Catholic, very disciplined secretarial college in Sydney, where if we crossed our legs they tied our legs to the chairs.
Louise: And it was just extraordinary. Nothing like that would exist now. We learnt how to type on old, you know those old manual typewriters. Even when computers ... computers were there, you know I'm not that old. And I learnt how to do shorthand, and that was the best thing my parents could have ever done for me, because those skills I still ... people say to me now, oh my god how can you type so fast? But I remember when I was 18 I won a competition for the youngest, fastest typist in Australia.
Jonathan: Really? So you're like, I've found a way, I am going to keep going.
Louise: So I left business college and I went to work in a number of different law firms and I found that very interesting. And I ended up going and becoming a mature age student at Uni to study law. And I hated it. It was like, I fell asleep in tutorials, it was so bad, it was so boring, I thought-
Jonathan: And was this because you thought you should be a lawyer? Would that make your parents happy, that kind of thing?
Louise: No I just thought I was quite interested in it, because I was working around that environment.
Jonathan: Yeah okay.
Louise: But I ended up giving that away and-
Louise: Oh just bored. It didn't interest me at all. I'm not someone who can sit down in front of a textbook. I just can't do it. I haven't got any desire to do that ever.
Jonathan: Do you read much, apart from, these days?
Louise: No. Oh I do read sort of business books, but I don't read a lot. I don't read novels. People give me novels for ... the kids gave me three novels for Mother's Day and I'm thinking, when am I going to read these?
Jonathan: You can find those novels on eBay now.
Louise: Yeah. Anyway-
Jonathan: So you leave the law school-
Louise: I worked in law firms and then I, at about age 22, I end up working for a guy called Ralph Galilee, and he had just left sort of the corporate ... he was a lawyer but he'd left the corporate environment to start his own practice. And he said to me, you know I really want to grow my business and I really want to make this really successful. And so I started with him, it was just me and him when I was 22, and I left him when I was 30 and we had 85 staff when I left.
Jonathan: Stop it.
Louise: So the thing in that time, was I learnt so much from him. He was like a father figure to me and he believed in me. And I think he just taught me so much. And I learnt so much. You know, going back to what my parents did and the ultimate favour they did for me was sending me to secretarial school, was that I was in a situation where I was exposed to a very busy commercial practice, and I saw all sorts of things from family law to legal disputes, financial business. So I had a huge exposure to that side of society I guess, and I understood it and I got very good business grounding from that. And still today I use those skills and I've got that ... sort of that's been the core or the backbone of my business knowledge I guess.
Jonathan: That experience with Ralph.
Louise: Yeah, and then when I left him, you know you talk about your favourite sayings, I've got a favourite too and that's ... when I left him he was crying, I was crying. He gave me a plaque to put on my wall, it's in my office now and it says, “Don't let the best you have done so far be the standard for the rest of your life”.
Louise: Yeah, and look it just has stuck with me. And so I ended up leaving him to go to a client of the firm actually.
Jonathan: Why'd you leave?
Louise: I just wanted a new challenge and so we had a lot of finance clients and I went to become sort of a general manager of a client, and I ended up in the finance game, and so I started selling mortgages.
Jonathan: So what did you find happening in yourself? You start with Ralph at what, 22?
Jonathan: You've been told that you should type and maybe someone will marry you, you've got successful siblings either side ... when you build that business with Ralph, what do you find's going on for you? What-
Louise: Well it was belief I think. I think from, you know, starting off with him as a secretary to basically being the general manager of his business. And you know-
Jonathan: How did you do that? What did you do specifically?
Louise: Oh I just worked really hard. I put in the hard yards, I understood the business. And he, because he believed in me, I was all of a sudden receiving income that I never thought I would receive. And I loved it. I loved being paid well, and it was something that I never thought ... and I thought, well I can just keep doing this. And that's what I wanted to do. And until the point where I just felt there was nothing else for me there to do, and so that's why I just wanted a change, and so I went to this client and as it turned out, this client then said to me a couple of years down the track, we want to open an office in Canberra. And I said, I'll go. And I came here and I met my husband on the first day I got to Canberra.
Jonathan: Did you really?
Jonathan: How did that happen? Where'd you meet?
Louise: Just downstairs-
Jonathan: Did you really?
Louise: Yeah. Outside what used to be called The Tryst.
Jonathan: Yes. I remember that place.
Louise: And I was having lunch with a friend and my husband worked across in Murray Crescent here, and he was walking across for lunch and he knew my girlfriend, and he stopped to chat.
Jonathan: Oh there you go.
Louise: Yeah. So, there you go.
Jonathan: So what's the interplay here between God, the Universe, directing your steps and your responding to opportunity? And opportunity's your big thing right? Because, yeah.
Louise: It is. That's my favourite word.
Jonathan: I know.
Louise: So, you've done your research.
Jonathan: I have.
Louise: So I sort of look at opportunities and I think, can I make them work? And I've had ... and franchising was one of those for example. Lollypotz was born out of a customer who annoyed me and-
Jonathan: Who will remain nameless on this podcast.
Louise: Oh, she doesn't live here anymore, which is probably good, but she ... this is a fairly big client of mine through Hamperesque, and she rang me one day and she said, look we're not gonna use your services anymore because we don't want to send hampers anymore, we want to send chocolate bouquets and you don't do those, so we won't be dealing with you anymore. And I was eight months pregnant with my second child.
Jonathan: In the kitchen-
Louise: No I was at work.
Jonathan: Yeah okay. No, no that's gonna sound terrible.
Louise: Yeah that's terrible.
Jonathan: No it's because I watched a video before and you talked about in this video, you talked about being kind of eight months pregnant in your kitchen and almost crying building this thing.
Louise: Yeah. And it might have been my first child. But I said to this woman, oh well I make chocolate bouquets. And I didn't even know at the time what a chocolate bouquet was. So as I'm saying this to her, I'm Googling chocolate bouquets thinking, holy hell I need to work out what these are.
Jonathan: Oh my gosh.
Louise: And I said to her, yeah we make them. She said, okay well we need four samples by Monday morning. And this was Friday afternoon. And I just went into absolute panic mode. But I always say, fortune favours the brave, and the next day there I was lying on the lounge reading the Canberra Times and there was a two line ad in the Canberra Times, which said, chocolate bouquet company for sale, $5,000.
Jonathan: Stop it. We had Tim Kirk in here the other day from Clonakilla and he was talking about the birth of Clonakilla began with his father, serving wine under age in Ireland at 14, running the wine cellar. So I said, you know Clonakilla is birthed in this criminal service of under age alcohol, so Lollypotz is kind of born in this moment of panic lying going, yeah we do that, we do that, we can do that.
Jonathan: And Google.
Jonathan: So I want to ask you something about that. Opportunity is so important to you. Now I want you to define for us what opportunity really means to you, what it is. When that moment came, when this person said we don't want you because ... other people in business would go, we're gonna focus on our core, we just gonna do this, we don't do that. What is it about you that goes, oh I want that too, I wanna do that as well? Take us to your ... the way that you experience opportunity, how you perceive it. Why not leave things alone? What happens for you?
Louise: Well in that particular case, it was a significant client. And I wasn't prepared to let them go. It was do or die. You're not leaving me. I am not going to let you take your business elsewhere. And that was it.
Jonathan: Everybody listen to this, just become a client and then just move country.
Louise: Well I'd work very hard on the relationship with the client and they'd been a client for seven or eight years.
Louise: And they spent a significant amount of money with me.
Louise: And I was not gonna let it go. And I was not gonna let it go for the sake of one product. But then what happened, I did end up buying that business, I renamed it Lollypotz and sort of the rest is history. But I think when I see an opportunity, I think well is it viable? Is this something I can do something with?
Jonathan: How do you determine that? Is it a gut feel, are you a numbers person?
Louise: Oh well you know, even when I bought Pink Frosting, I remember-
Jonathan: Because they'd lost 50% of revenue, right? They just fell through the floor.
Louise: Pink Frosting was a dog when I bought it. So I bought it with a business partner. We're no longer business partners. I was approached by the business and someone said to me, can you buy this? I was approached actually four years prior to me buying it, to buy it. And then that was when it was turning over about $12,000,000 I think, so it was a significant party business in little Canberra. But it had dropped off significantly, and then I was approached to buy it and the opportunity was, once I looked at the figures, I could see waste. I could see enormous waste. I could see massive losses, it was losing a significant amount of money. But I could see just huge mistakes in terms of products, where the products were coming from. I already had a relationship in China and none of the products were coming from China, and these were all being made in China. So the previous owner was extremely lazy in terms of dealing with suppliers, and just dealt with wholesalers in the UK and the US, and so was paying basically doubt freight-
Jonathan: Yeah and premium prices.
Louise: Premium prices, and not passing appropriate margins onto the consumer. And it was all about-
Jonathan: And customer service issues too.
Louise: Oh dreadful. And I mean we haven't recovered from that. It's very hard when you buy a business that has been in the very dark depths of poor customer service. You know, I think there was 690 one star reviews when we purchased the business.
Louise: And that's hard to recover from.
Jonathan: It's like a footprint isn't it?
Louise: But it was the numbers. It was the waste that I could see that I could turn around. And that was just on looking on ... that was before I even got in the door. It was just, this can change, this can change and this can change. And all of a sudden you've got a profitable business.
Jonathan: So what is that? I mean, for business owners listening, is it a mix of intuition and just business acumen? You can look at a spreadsheet and go, you know what ... you've got industry knowledge. Is it all of that?
Louise: I think it's a mixture. I think, I mean don't get me wrong, it's come with some pain. So that's nearly three years since I took over Pink Frosting and it has come with some pain, but it's now all blue sky. But you know, of course you take a commercial risk when you buy a business that's in that much trouble.
Jonathan: So I wanna ask you, what drives you? When you see these things, other people would be like, oh just gonna leave that alone, I'm just gonna leave that alone. What drives you to have a go?
Louise: Well the interesting thing about Pink Frosting was that the planets aligned for me, and I already had a relationship with the supplier in China and ... a very strong relationship, someone I could ring up and talk to all the time, we were friends. And he had a business, which I didn't ... Leo his name is, in China ... he had a business that I didn't know much about, but it was a business that he talked about often, he just talked about the other business. And he sort of mentioned the figures that he was making from this other business and how he sold to a major client in the US. So when I was presented with Pink Frosting, the first thing I did was, was email him and say, I want you to look at this business. Tell me, am I gonna have trouble getting these products? And he rang me within 20 seconds-
Jonathan: And said, you're good.
Louise: Well he didn't ... he said something far better than that.
Jonathan: Oh did he? Is it repeatable on air?
Louise: Oh no. It's quite actually extraordinary. He said to me, Louise the products you're selling are my products.
Jonathan: Oh really?
Louise: The products you're buying from that company is my biggest client, it's the ...-
Jonathan: So that's kind of like a double handling here, he's selling it into the US and UK-
Louise: Yes, and that's what the previous owners were doing, and they were buying it.
Jonathan: And then buying it. Wow.
Louise: But the actual products were coming from him.
Louise: So we were buying, Pink Frosting was buying from a company in the US, this company in the US was his major client.
Jonathan: And there's margins getting lost everywhere.
Louise: But the extraordinary thing was, there's 1.4 billion people in China.
Jonathan: I was gonna say, that you happen to have a relationship with the one-
Louise: The one person.
Jonathan: How do you explain that?
Louise: Well, and that was the defining factor for me. I thought, this is freaky Friday stuff. And we started talking about, you know what sort of margins we can achieve, and have been able to. And that was it. For me it was looking at the numbers saying, this is so much waste, so much we can fix, and then looking at the up side of dealing with new suppliers. And like I said, look it's been a hard road, and I wish in a lot of ways I didn't go down that road, but it is blue sky now. But it's been tough.
Jonathan: So I wanna ask you some things. I asked you before in the questions what do you enjoy about your work, and you enjoy quality products and services and getting those to people. Define that. What is a quality product and service for you?
Louise: Well for something like Lollypotz, I never really liked the chocolate bouquet, but people love them. And one of the things that drivers say to me, our drivers always say to me is, I love my job because I walk into people's office and I deliver these.
Jonathan: And they're so happy.
Louise: And people are so happy. And I think that's the thing about, in terms of the Lollypotz business, is that we're delivering nice, good, happy things. And that has a really good feel about it.
Louise: And I like that. And I like that our product is quality, and I like that I have very high standards. And I like that people have tried to copy my business and failed, because they're-
Louise: Oh lots of people, all the time. But I like the quality and service that we provide. In terms of Pink Frosting, it's entirely different, it's an entirely different customer base. So Lollypotz you've got people who are sending gifts to people, there's birthdays, anniversaries, get wells, you know, they're people who are thoughtful, kind, generous. With Pink Frosting-
Jonathan: Prepare yourselves everybody.
Louise: I'm selling cheap party supplies to people who are shopping online-
Jonathan: For the cheapest price.
Louise: For the cheapest price. And I know while they're pressing checkout, putting things in their cart on my website, they're checking six other websites online, which of course the consumer can now do. And so the end result, and I'm generalising and I apologise to those wonderful customers we do have, but the end result is that you get what you pay for. And that sounds terrible. They're getting cheap party supplies, we take seven days to dispatch them because of the systems we have. We deal with a huge amount of unreasonable people who think-
Louise: Well I guess the business landscape has changed so much in the last 10 years, is the expectation is that I've ordered now, it should be dispatched this afternoon.
Jonathan: Yes, why isn't it here tomorrow?
Louise: Yeah, and that's something-
Jonathan: That's a big thing.
Louise: That's really, really hard for us to deal with. So we do a lot of ... we run a full print press and we do a lot of personalised products, so you know people might order personalised jelly beans and personalised chocolate freckles and personalised banners and invitations-
Jonathan: For Jimmy's birthday tomorrow.
Louise: Yeah. And they want them that day and they don't ... there's a real disconnect in terms of their expectations and what we can do.
Jonathan: Yeah, that's such a good point.
Louise: So I found, I've actually ... and Lollypotz is actually all the same day, dispatch same day, because we make to order and it's just a very streamlined, easy business. But Pink Frosting, because we deal with ... when I bought the business there was 47,000 items we sold online.
Jonathan: Dear lord.
Louise: So I've reduced that down to about 26,000.
Jonathan: So the bank end must be-
Louise: Yeah it's enormous. And quite often that will mean that a customer has ordered 12 products from six different suppliers. And some of those suppliers we order in special things and others-
Jonathan: So you've gotta aggregate it where you are.
Louise: And so it's not as easy as what perhaps people think it is. And yeah, expectations are very different. So really bad reviews, very rarely anybody says anything nice.
Louise: But we dispatch, on average we dispatch about 120 parcels a day and I'd say out of those 120, we get 118 right every day. And out of that 120 we probably get two and they're two mistakes or something's missing or ... but because of the volume we deal with, it may seem to consumers that we miss an awful lot. But we do an awful lot right.
Jonathan: I'm feeling so guilty 'cause we're a cycling family and we have a huge number of bikes. I jumped online to buy this bike rack and I found this warehouse company in Melbourne. On the 14th of May I bought it, it arrived yesterday. So it's almost three weeks.
Louise: Yeah, it's not good is it?
Jonathan: Well the couriers lost it, and I would love to be sitting on this microphone going, well I was just patient Louise, I just didn't mind. I understood they were busy. No, I was like, where is it, where ...?
Louise: And that's the thing.
Jonathan: Expectations are shifted.
Louise: And ... totally shifted.
Jonathan: How do you manage that? Is it a case of leveraging technology so that, we've got your order, we're dispatching your order ... 'cause yesterday the courier, they finally sent me a thing and I turn on my phone and you can see the truck in real time moving on a Google map.
Louise: Yes I know, isn't it wonderful. I know, it's fantastic. I love it.
Jonathan: No left, not there, left here.
Louise: Look I find it really stressful, in fact I find it the most stressful part of my job. Today I received an email, this morning, from a bride ... and we're dealing with brides, a lot of brides.
Jonathan: Bridezillas. Yeah.
Louise: Her wedding is on Saturday and her parcel was dispatched a week ago from us to Melbourne, should've been there overnight. And she left it til today to ring us-
Jonathan: Where is it?
Louise: But she didn't ring us to say, where's the parcel? She-
Jonathan: Could've dispatched another one.
Louise: Oh boy, did she ring us. And the abuse and the personal attacking, which I think is hard. And I don't think we used to be like that. I think-
Jonathan: No the expectation's driving a different behaviour.
Louise: I don't, yeah, I don't think consumers used to be like they are now.
Jonathan: I think that's true.
Louise: Even things like reviews. It's so hard because you can't control what people are gonna write. You can't control the exaggeration or anything like that. And you can't make people write good stuff, as much as you ask. You know we send a little packet of jellybeans out with every parcel saying, if you feel like we've done a good job, please give us a positive review. Of course we never get any.
Louise: But I remember we had, on Lollypotz on our Facebook page, the opportunity for people to provide reviews and we had a 4.9 rating. We had about 460 reviews. And one night in, oh this is about two years now, one night a mothers group on Facebook, one woman had got on there and said she'd had a bad experience with us, and they decided amongst this whole mothers group that had like 20,000 members, to just all get on and give us bad reviews.
Louise: And so we ended up getting 60 one star reviews that one night.
Jonathan: From people that had never used the product.
Louise: Never even used the product. And you can't get rid of them. You cannot get rid of them. And so it was devastating. And so your 4.9 star review has suddenly gone to a 1.9 star review and you just ... it's very hard to recover from. So I took reviews off Facebook, and I've done that for both business because-
Jonathan: You have to, I guess yeah.
Louise: You just have to control it. And consumers say to me all the time, you remove the negative comments we make about you on social media. And I'm like, yeah I do, because I don't write negative things on your social media page. So please don't write them on mine. It's really hard to manage and I think dealing with that, dealing with customers' expectations, dealing with the way customers now approach us, is the hardest thing for me to manage, and the most stressful thing for me to manage. It's really tough.
Jonathan: It's worth checking out, I don't know if you've heard of them, there's a company on the Gold Coast called Black Sheep Cycling, they're a new brand, and what they're doing with packaging and that stuff is really interesting. I think they're a company that's, you know there's a lot of energy in the start up phase but they're doing interesting stuff in terms of managing expectations, and their packaging's all quite interesting. At what point do you go, this is the nature of this business, I'm gonna have to accept this ... what part of you wants to go, no I'm gonna find a way to fix this, I'm going to make everybody happy? How do you let go of that?
Louise: Well it's really interesting because I have sort of got there and I, with Lollypotz, perfection is the only thing I'll accept.
Louise: If someone's not happy with their product, they get a new one. They're absolutely ... you know, we will fix any problem. With Pink Frosting I don't have the same approach.
Louise: People are spending more on bread and milk than they are on their party supplies, and we're sending stuff off in packages and I think there needs to be a reality check. I mean I do value our customers, I do want to provide good service, but I don't fall over our customers like I do with Lollypotz.
Jonathan: See Pat was saying that yesterday, you know that really the synergy culture's about his people first, and then the client I think slotted in third on his list of priorities, which is interesting to hear that.
Jonathan: I wanted to ask you, with all this complexity and difficulty, why stay? At what point ... have you ever gone, I could go do something else, I could ... why? What keeps you in the game?
Louise: I think my husband would like me to go and do something else. He probably takes more stress than any of us.
Jonathan: Why do you stay?
Louise: Look, I love Lollypotz. I love that business. I do love it. It's my baby, I created it and I love it.
Jonathan: Can I ask you something about that? One of my favourite questions I try to ask it most times, comes again from Tony Robbins, who famously in his business seminars, he's like ... he's got this mantra where he says, he asks people when he meets them in business context, what business are you in? And then they tell him. And then his next question is always, what business are you really in? And I always thought that was great, and the example he gives is, people say I'm in the restaurant business. And he said, no you're not in the restaurant business, you're in the experience business. Right?
Louise: Mm-hmm. Providing those experiences.
Jonathan: Ambience and stuff, and creating a ... because we can get food anywhere. So what business is Lollypotz? What is the product?
Louise: Well it is, I guess, an experience business. Because it is about people being wowed at work with this product, and they are. And it's so ridiculous that just a box of chocolates, but it's a box of chocolates that looks like a bunch of flowers.
Jonathan: That's done really well.
Louise: People love it. And the brand is so strong in Canberra that everybody knows Lollypotz, and that's something I'm incredibly proud of.
Jonathan: Proud of, yeah.
Louise: And I have no reason to want to give that up. I love that business, it's a profitable business, and I enjoy it and I've got wonderful staff. So there's no reason for me to ... I don't have any issues with that business. The Pink Frosting business has been a journey because I took that risk of buying a business that was going down the toilet.
Louise: And it's taken time to turn it around. But interestingly when we purchased that business, only 4% of its turnover was from the ACT.
Louise: And day one I said, I am gonna make this a great Canberra business.
Louise: And we've just moved into new premises, not by choice, we had a problem at our old premises where we had a storm and the whole place fell apart.
Louise: Yeah, so we had to move unexpectedly. But it had a silver lining, because we're now about to open a shop front. So my key focus now is to provide an experience where people can come and buy quality party supplies, 'cause not only do we have the cheap stuff, but we do actually import a number of quality ranges from the UK, and we wanna give people the opportunity to come and see our print press and design their own party supplies.
Jonathan: That's so good.
Louise: And really build ... and so I moved away from being this great online seller, because it's too competitive.
Louise: You know, I've gotta compete with Amazon now-
Louise: And I'm moving away from this expectation that we talked about before, that people are ordering last night and then the next day they're saying, it's three o'clock the next day, why hasn't it been dispatched.
Jonathan: Look, do you know to listen to what you're saying, what'd be interesting is ... I've got three young kids and so with their parties, my little boy, we've always hired smoke machines. So it started with girls parties, we have a lovely home but it's like cranking this living area so you can't see anything, and then lights and stuff. And just a few months ago my little boy his birthday, and our backyard, Karen went down to the cardboard recycling place and got these massive boxes and built this laser tag maze in our backyard-
Jonathan: We've got ... then we had all the smoke machines ... and I'm going somewhere with this. We had all smoke machines and lights and it was the kids had the best time. The reason I'm mentioning it is because the place where we hired the stuff, I won't name 'em, it was a terrible experience. It was like, you went out there and it was like, you couldn't find it, it wasn't sign posted, there was no shop front, there was no sense of anybody in charge. There were, no disrespect-
Louise: And sadly I know exactly who you're talking about.
Jonathan: And there was guys walking around looking like they'd just come from a Columbian drug cartel, and so everything was like, who's in charge? How do I pay? Where's the front? And then there was this poor lady, I had to reverse a trailer in and trailer reversing is a skill and she hadn't mastered that yet, and it was terrible. And I'm-
Louise: Well I actually hire a lot of stuff from them, and I have the same experience every time.
Jonathan: I'm not sure they're gonna be a podcast guest in the short term. But what I'm getting at, is it'd be interesting to see if you could take the part that you do so well with Lollypotz, which is the experience part of it, and create a Canberra hub where everybody in Canberra knows, hey we're gonna have a great party, we need this and we need it streamlined and we need a positive experience. Like, pay someone who's really good with humans to welcome people. Go, hey what do you need, what are you here for?
Louise: And that's what we need to do. I mean remarkably there's no other major party shop in Canberra.
Jonathan: 100%. You could kill this.
Louise: And so the decision I have made, is to move away ... it's ridiculous even in this climate to say that I'm moving away from online ... I'm not moving away from online, I'm just not gonna put all my energy online. But a lot of our energy is going into making this new space a place where people can come and talk about what they want, speak to our design team, create their own banners, invitations, confectionary. We'll have a candy bar section where people can come and create their own candy bars.
Jonathan: You are gonna nail this.
Louise: So, yeah look it's really exciting and it's probably the thing that's keeping me going at the moment with the business. But I did have to make that decision that ... I guess it was when Amazon came and I thought, is this going to impact us? And it certainly has.
Jonathan: Sure. A 200 pound gorilla in the room isn't it.
Louise: Well. Particularly when your customers ... there's no loyalty. With Lollypotz I have enormous loyalty with customers. With Pink Frosting I have none. There is no loyalty in party supplies. You don't care where you buy your superman plates from. It doesn't matter, you just want the cheapest and want them quick. Nothing else matters. So it's a very different business and I've had to really adjust the way I react to things in the business, because there's I guess no personal connection with the customer like there is with Lollypotz.
Jonathan: And listening to you in this discussion, like your heart is with people and giving people great experiences, and I hope ... I really think you can do this. I mean my wife Karen runs a big conference in Sydney every year, so about three or four hundred women there, and when you were talking then, for her to come into a place with someone like you and talk about banners and this and that.
Louise: Yeah and this is what you can create. Yeah.
Jonathan: Karen would like do that for fun. She would go there and go, right let's build this. So I think, and especially Canberra's got relatively affluent population, so.
Louise: Yeah I think, look I'm confident it's gonna do well and really our suppliers are salivating at the thought of it. You know they're saying, why has this not yet happened? We've got other suppliers in other areas who are just killing it, and we wanna support you to get it done. So that's gonna happen in the next four weeks.
Jonathan: Awesome. Wow.
Louise: And that's pretty exciting.
Jonathan: Yeah that is.
Louise: So I guess you know you ask why do I not just walk away ... I have too much to do.
Jonathan: Yeah, there's interesting stuff to do.
Louise: It's not ... there's lots of positivity in the business. And the hardest thing for me is that I can't wipe the past of the business. I can't wipe the negative reviews from the previous owners. I can't wipe the fact ... you know, the business was on that ABC show The Checkout.
Louise: I mean it's just ... this was all before-
Jonathan: Would you rebrand?
Louise: Well we thought about that when I bought it, but you've just lost ... I mean it has enormous online traffic.
Jonathan: Does it?
Louise: Enormous. And you just can't lose that.
Louise: And to rebrand would've meant we'd go down in our online rankings significantly.
Jonathan: Sure. SCOs are still powerful.
Louise: Yeah. And it wasn't really an option. One of the things that we had to consider, and I still stand by this, is 600,000 customers over 10 years, probably annoyed maybe 10,000 of those.
Louise: Maybe 20,000. There's still a significant amount of people who have followed the business who have not been dissatisfied. So my focus really now is to, like I say, move away from the online space to the extent that I'm not going to be spending tens of thousands of dollars a week on Facebook advertising. I'm going to just really focus on growing a great Canberra business, because Canberra supports Canberra and that's something I've experienced ever since I've been in business.
Jonathan: Your heart's with people, with humans that appreciate what you're doing.
Jonathan: A few more questions. I feel we could go for ages, and my family's gotta remember what I look like. I asked you about the hard stuff and you talked about cash flow and volumes and margins, and that's something all business owners could relate to, but the one that really struck me was, I asked you what was one of the hard things and you said, being female.
Jonathan: Now, I've never been female and I've no immediate plans to change that. Tell me about that. What's that about?
Louise: Oh look I think it's something that a lot of female business owners juggle. I mean I ... derogatory comments from men-
Louise: Oh god yes.
Jonathan: Please excuse my ignorance, 'cause I-
Louise: It's just, particularly in things like banking and finance. You know I remember my bank manager came into the Lollypotz shop one day and there was 50 deliveries ready to go out, and he said to me in front of my staff, do these things actually sell? You know and this is a business that went from ... you know I bought the business for $5,000 and within two years the turnover was over $10,000,000 for Lollypotz.
Jonathan: Dear lord. Well done.
Louise: So that had grown ridiculously. And this is my bank manager saying to me, do these actually sell? And I thought, you jerk. I actually moved my ... well here's the funny story, I moved my business away from that bank and do you know what they did when I moved it away?
Louise: They rang my husband and said, why has she left us? What more do I need to say?
Jonathan: I remember years ago before I was married, I lived with this ... boarded with this beautiful lady, I actually saw her today, she's very old now. She's got a beautiful home in Deakin, and a beautiful home, and they had this massive oak table. Like sat maybe 20 people. And the story she told me was, her husband who died tragically was very high up in the Navy, and they were based in Singapore. And I was asking one day about the table and she said, oh yeah it was very hard to buy. And I said, oh was it expensive or rare. And she goes, it was definitely rare but I went to buy it but they wouldn't take my money. And I said, why? And she said well they utterly refused to believe that a woman could sign a cheque. And she said, come back with your husband to sign the cheque. And I just went, really?
Jonathan: So what else? What else have you experienced that's-
Louise: I've experienced it in terms of male staff. That's been really hard with a lot of male staff that I've employed. I've got a couple of great male staff now. A lot of men who I've employed as drivers or as warehouse staff have had a problem with dealing with a woman.
Jonathan: How does it manifest? Just a disregard for you or?
Louise: Just, yeah complete disrespect. I've had it across, I mean in terms of franchising, I found it really hard. The franchise industry was just full of arrogant men who knew better. There's no ... very few women in franchising. Very few women in franchising that have achieved anything of note really. They just don't exist, it's just too hard. And you're treated with the same disrespect from the entire institution. So I found that hard. I still have people say to me how lucky I am to have a business that I can tie bows in and send little flowers. They've got no concept of what we actually achieve or what we do, but.
Jonathan: Oh wow.
Louise: Yeah I guess it's just the derogatory way people have spoken to me over the years and I tend to not notice it as much as what I used to, but it is certainly different in terms of employing people. I'm a very strong woman, so I speak my mind. If someone has something to say to me, I actually give it back to them tenfold.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah.
Louise: And people don't like that.
Jonathan: Probably like Barry Hall.
Louise: Yeah. People don't like it, but I am who I am and I am very strong willed.
Jonathan: How did you get to that? You just say there, I am who I am, I speak my mind. But this is the same person that was sat down at 15 and said, make sure you can type well so someone will marry you. Where did this change?
Louise: Look I think people are ... I don't know that it ever changed, but I do think there's something sort of intrinsic in people that you either have it or you don't.
Louise: And it took me a long time in terms of franchising to understand that people couldn't be like me, that some could but some just didn't have it in them.
Louise: And that was difficult for me to get my head around, 'cause I was thinking, if you wanna work hard you just work hard. But people just don't always have that. I don't know where it's come from. You know one of the things I often talk about ... I get asked this all the time, you know what changed you, and I do have a memory ... I was working, after I left secretarial college I was working for a law firm and I think I was earning $155 a week-
Louise: I was really well off then. It's hard to believe now isn't it.
Jonathan: Caviar and champagne on the weekends.
Louise: But I remember, this is when I was in Sydney, and I was walking past David Jones and I saw this beautiful blue handbag in the window of David Jones that was $850. And I thought, oh my god I've gotta work for nearly nine weeks or eight weeks or something, it was something ridiculous. I can't even add up ... six weeks or something to pay for that. And I remember saying to myself, you're going to have to do better. I had a conversation with myself that day about that blue handbag. You're gonna have to do better if you're gonna want nice things like that. And that's the thing, I do like nice things.
Louise: So I think, I don't know, I don't know where it comes from. I do think some people have it, and I look at my two children. I know that my younger son, he's got it. My elder son, he probably doesn't have it, he's very conservative, he's probably ... he's more like my husband, very hard working, very good ethically, very strong person but not probably the go-getter. And my younger son is just, he's me. He's just like, yeah. You know he's saying to me last week ... we had an order for 600 chocolate bars we were doing for an event last Friday night, and Wednesday he's saying, Mum when are we getting the chocolates done. Do you think we should start them now? We don't wanna leave this to the last minute, you know.
Louise: Yeah he's 10 years old and he's like ... yeah. 'Cause I said him, 'cause he wants to earn money all the time, so he earns his money and then we have to go straight to Toyworld at Fyshwick to spend it. So he gets it, it goes. And so it's like, okay 600 chocolates, so how long's that going to take me? So do you think I can make $35? Here, I really want this Lego set, and he's got the picture-
Louise: Yeah, so he's doing the figures, working out how long he's gotta work for to get the $35, and then worrying about it. Losing sleep over when he's gonna get the work done. So he was got that, he's got that-
Jonathan: It's just there.
Louise: Yeah. So I just think it is. You meet lots of wonderful people in life and they're not all go-getters.
Jonathan: Yeah you make a good point. I've had to learn that. And the other thing I think you're raising is ... in the other podcast stuff that I do in another space, the whole question of adversity and just how humans deal with it. Like people tend to go to dependents and addictions and blaming, or other people go to, I'm gonna get even, I'm gonna make something of myself. And the switch that triggers that is hard to know really what it is for people.
Louise: Look it is, and I think ... I mean I've talked about a lot of positive things, I haven't really shared all the bad things that have happened, but I've had more than my fair share of bad things happen in business. And it's interesting that I somehow always remain positive, and my husband finds it very difficult, and he's like, you know, there's nothing positive here.
Jonathan: Here throw this vase, here kick this cat.
Louise: There's nothing positive here, what is wrong with you? And I'm like, oh no here's the silver lining.
Louise: Yeah and I always see, okay well this is how we could be, or this is how we could improve things. I've also had to accept that I can't change what other people do.
Louise: So in franchising I had a lot of wayward franchises who I ended up in mediation with, and when I was trying to exit them out of the business it was very difficult. And all I could control was the way I reacted to them, and that's something that I'm acutely aware of, that you can only control what you can control. I've had a business partnership that when very bad. I couldn't control his actions.
Louise: I could control the way I reacted to them. And so I've always sort of said, behave with integrity and rise above it. I believe in karma. I'm a really big believer in karma-
Jonathan: It comes around.
Louise: So I'm really waiting for something good to happen to me. But you know, I'm sure there's other people who believe in karma against me.
Louise: You know, there's probably old franchises out there that-
Jonathan: Just sitting in a dark room, pulling the wings off flies going-
Louise: So yeah I don't carry a grudge but I have a very long memory. So yeah I forget nothing, but I don't let it affect me from day to day. But it has certainly, some of the adversity that I've had to deal with in business has impacted my husband. He's found it really tough 'cause he's not the same person as me.
Louise: You know and that's ... people are different.
Jonathan: Yeah, the architecture's different.
Jonathan: A couple of points in what you said there. A lady that used to work for me as a designer a long time ago, a really good friend still, said ... we had some difficulty in the business, in one of my businesses a few years ago, and she said, oh it's school fees. And I said, I don't understand. And she said, school fees, you know school fees. And I said, like with the kids? And she said, no, school feels are what you pay to learn. And so she was teaching me that mistakes and stuff is me paying school fees, what you pay to learn.
Jonathan: And the other thing in what you were saying is, a very wise woman once said to me, and you probably heard it, that other people's opinion of me is none of my business. So, so many of us can obviously get caught up, especially with all the online stuff, but the ability to go, I have to act with integrity, I have to do the best I can reasonably do and the cards fall where they will. And yeah, that's a mental toughness there right?
Louise: Look it is and I have a great mentor, a lady called Lynne Pezzullo, she's a managing partner at Deloitte, and I could sit with her for days, years-
Louise: Listening to her and the way she's so positive about things. And she instills in me the fact that things could be worse.
Louise: I remember, I don't know how long it was ago, probably 18 months ago, when there was that dreadful accident in ... not accident, but that guy had driven up Bourke Street and run over all those people. And there was a lady from Deloitte who actually died. And here I was in my own world of pain dealing with all of these problems with Pink Frosting and she's like, Louise, perspective.
Louise: Have some perspective. This is ... I'm dealing with an office who've just lost a staff member who's been hit out the front of the building. But she always says to me, that I have the most incredible amount of resilience and that I can keep fighting. And whenever I really need help, I just ring her and have dinner. I just need another counselling session.
Jonathan: Just remind me that I am a fighter, that I-
Louise: But she's probably the most amazing woman I've ever met. And funnily enough, we met through the Telstra Business Awards, we went through the process together in 2008.
Jonathan: What do you most admire about her?
Louise: Ah just ... I mean she's probably the smartest woman I know. She's the hardest working woman I know. She's married to a very high profile person. She keeps her family together, she's got four kids, she's amazing. She's just the most incredible woman I've ever met and I feel very fortunate to call her a friend. But she keeps things into perspective, and that's the most important thing. It's just a business.
Jonathan: Well yesterday I had to take Karen into the oncology ward at National Capital Hospital here for a transfusion. Luckily it's not for cancer, it's for ... she'll die when I say this, but she had to have an iron transfusion, she's coeliac and all that sort of stuff. And so sitting in this room and there's just so many people there, just getting chemo, and I'd never seen that and it was just interesting to ... and to notice that there were people walking out still being positive and still being happy, but you're right, business isn't terminal right? Like we-
Louise: Well it's not and I think anybody in small business ... if anybody sat here and spoke to you in small business and said, oh everything's great, everything's great, I'm making lots of money, all my staff are perfect-
Jonathan: Thanks for your time.
Louise: All my clients are great-
Jonathan: Please write a book, and here's the door.
Louise: Yeah. It just doesn't happen like that. Small business is hard. And I actually, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody, but it's hard and you need to have mental strength, and you need to have the ability to put things into perspective.
Jonathan: So why build? Why not go and work in government sector? Why?
Louise: Well I don't know if I could work for anybody again. That's one problem. Actually my husband said the same thing the other day, he said, can you just go and get a job.
Jonathan: Yeah, couldn't do it.
Louise: And I just can't. I said to him, I just don't think I could work for anybody because, within five minutes I'd be telling them what to do.
Jonathan: Once you've drunk the magical Kool-Aid, you just can't go back.
Louise: Yeah and I see too much opportunity and I see a lot of excitement in the future, and I have wonderful staff at Pink Frosting. When I took over the business I basically had to move every staff member on, it was shocking, but they just weren't ... because they'd been dealing with all these problems, I just needed to clear it out and get a new team in. I did that, we've got wonderful people, so I have every reason to be positive about the future success of the business.
Louise: Yeah so that's pretty good.
Jonathan: I wanted to ask you a couple of final things. Often with these interviews I'm like watching the time, but I just think we'd go for ages. So I asked about the best advice that you'd been given in business, and what you said was a paradox. You said that you expressed this idea of acting with urgency but having immense patience, which is a paradox. How do you do both?
Louise: Well I think it's exactly what I'm doing now.
Jonathan: So you execute fast but you have the big picture.
Louise: Yeah, so my focus now, okay we've just moved. We didn't expect to move, we've moved, it wasn't what we wanted but that's life. So we now have the opportunity to open a shop, how do I get this shop open? And then my projections for the shop are very small to start with, but they're large, you know, three to five years.
Louise: So you can't expect anything to happen overnight. And everybody will tell you that in business. And I think that again was a problem with the franchises, that they expected everything to happen very quickly.
Jonathan: It's like, I bought in, when can I get my yacht?
Jonathan: Where's my yacht? Where's my unicorn?
Louise: Yes. Well and that was a problem. They looked at me and saw, okay here's a woman with two young kids, she's got it together. And they thought, I'll have what she's having, and they just didn't understand that I'd put in 12 years of yard yards before that. People don't realise how hard it is to get a business off the ground.
Jonathan: Overnight success in 20 years.
Louise: Yeah and this is why they fail. I do say that you need to just do stuff, you just need to make stuff happen and then the rest will come. And it's just like you say, it's building and Lollypotz is built, and it still needs to be nurtured, but it's built. And it's a good little business. And that's why, you asked me before, why wouldn't I give it away. Why would I?
Jonathan: Yeah. It's working.
Louise: Why would I? But Pink Frosting is now, okay next thing what do we do? How do we remove ourself from the negative past? How do we get this business to be great? And that was really about going to my suppliers and saying, you need to help me. And they all got on board and it's been wonderful, and I just can't wait to take-
Jonathan: But you must have built those relationships, right?
Louise: Well I did and it was interesting because the relationships were in existence when I took the business over, and the relationships were not great.
Louise: So I had to do a lot of grovelling.
Jonathan: To nurture those.
Louise: Yeah, not really nurture, grovel.
Jonathan: Do you like chocolate bouquets? Do you like yachts?
Louise: So, I've grovelled to many people. And I'm not ashamed of that, and I'm also very open with people. With suppliers I tell them how it is. I've shown some suppliers our financials. I've said, look this is the situation, this is what I need you to do. You want me to build the business, this is where you need to cut for me and this is what I need you to do for me. And I think that vulnerability with people is actually, I think that's probably one of my best skills.
Jonathan: Tell 'em the truth.
Louise: Tell 'em the truth, and say this is where I'm at, I need help. I cannot ... I want, here's our opportunity and we can do this together.
Louise: And now I have probably, in terms of Pink Frosting, six or eight wonderful suppliers who I have brilliant relationships with, and it's a two-way street and it's great. So I just need to build on that.
Jonathan: What else did I want to ask you? We've talked about some of the significant people, obviously your husband has been a bit part of the journey, and for everybody that we've interviewed so far, there is that often sense that the spouse is the one that-
Louise: Takes the heat.
Jonathan: I rang Karen today 'cause I've been doing a bit, and I'm like, can I just have a quiet night, and she's like yeah. So how big a part of this journey has your husband been?
Louise: Oh he's a huge part of it, and he's suffered probably more than I have.
Jonathan: In terms of missing you, 'cause you're working? Or he's a burden-bearer? He takes on your stress?
Louise: He takes on the worry.
Louise: And he's not, you know, he's a very conservative person who believes in me, he believes in me 1000%. But when you sort of have challenge after challenge after challenge, it wears thin. And it's been hard for him to sort of see me be positive all the time when ... it sort of, one morning I'm not so positive and the next morning I'm completely positive. He's trying to manage that. Look I just think it's hard. It's hard being in business. I think if he worked in the business with me, we'd be divorced, because we'd kill each other.
Jonathan: Yeah, Karen and I have very clear delineation.
Louise: Yeah there's no way we could work together. But I just think, you know, I could come home and tell him four stories from today, which are just ridiculous stories, and it's like water off a ducks back to me. And I'm going, now this happened and this stupid thing happened and this stupid staff member, and this and this and this, you know, all of these stupid things ... all painful things, all costly things, and I've told him-
Jonathan: You've debriefed.
Louise: And then I've actually completely moved on, and then he's probably lying in bed awake going-
Jonathan: He's a burden-bearer.
Louise: Yeah. So it's very hard for him.
Jonathan: There's a fair bit of stuff in relational theory on burden-bearers that ... Karen's a bit like that, she'll carry it with her. What's his greatest strength?
Louise: My husband?
Louise: Probably that he's incredibly loyal to me. When things happen and I have to come home and say, oh look I just need another 100 grand, or move the building or-
Jonathan: I need a yacht.
Louise: Yeah. Those conversations are never good.
Louise: With your spouse.
Jonathan: No, you go, do you like surprises?
Jonathan: Here's a bouquet.
Louise: I actually thought about sending him one of our ... we've got a new bouquet, it's got these big chocolate freckles in them, and I thought maybe I should send him one of those yesterday. 'Cause things went ... you know, having to have these conversations are not easy. And it's really not easy when they're not dealing with the day to day running, so they're briefed but they're not fully briefed.
Louise: And that's hard.
Jonathan: Last couple of things. What are you most proud of so far?
Louise: Oh probably my two boys.
Louise: Oh without a doubt.
Jonathan: So tell me about that. How have you navigated all of this intensity? How do you find the time? I always ask people this. How do you balance it? Or do you balance it?
Louise: I do balance it, and you know you say to me, why don't I give it away? I don't give it away because I can do whatever I want, and that's ... you know, I take my boys to school in the morning, I drop them off. They're now old enough to catch the bus home. All of a sudden, you know I had this baby that I thought was never gonna grow up, and now they're in high school, they're teenagers. And it just happened so quickly. But I love who they're turning into. And that's the thing ... yeah you ask me what I'm proud of, this doesn't matter, it's just them.
Louise: Oh absolutely, without a doubt. And the Sydney Swans.
Jonathan: And the Swans. And meeting Barry Hall for two hours.
Jonathan: Alright let me reframe that for a second. What are you most proud of in your business life so far?
Louise: I'm proud of what I did with Lollypotz. I'm proud that I took a small business, you know, on an off chance from a phone call one day.
Jonathan: Yeah, it's a pivot, it's an amazing-
Louise: To buying it, spending five grand on it, and then turning it into an international business. That was great. I was incredibly proud of that. I was incredibly disappointed that franchising didn't work out, but it is what it is. I learnt an enormous amount, I travelled to amazing places, I met amazing people, and I wouldn't change any of that. And that's probably what I'd have to say I'm most proud of. I hope maybe in three years or four years time I can say, I'm most proud of Pink Frosting and what I have done with that business, because it has had to have a complete overhaul. I've had to sit back and say, I can do without 30% of our customers ... you know, all of that, which is not easy. And it is still a, whilst it's a very positive future, it's been a very difficult three years since I bought it. You never know what you're gonna find when you buy a business that's going down the toilet.
Jonathan: It's like buying that old house, going oh look at that, look what's under these floorboards.
Louise: That's exactly like that. I remember one day, a staff member came in to me and she said to me ... you know she could see all the pain I was going through, I think we were only three or four weeks in ... and she said to me, oh did the previous owners tell you about the store credits? I'm like, store credits? What store credits?
Jonathan: Do you like surprises?
Louise: You know, and that $60,000 worth of store credits, but that was a small one. There was lots of those, and so yeah, lots of those terrible things have happened, but like I said, I took a commercial risk but I have waded my way through the murky waters and I'm really positive about where this business will be, so we just have to watch this space I guess. And one of the things I said to someone on the weekend actually, I said if I'm not dealing with other crap, I can achieve anything.
Louise: And I think all the crap's gone from my life now, I don't have any business partners or franchise owners or-
Jonathan: Got some clear ground.
Louise: Buildings falling apart. And yeah so I'm pretty positive about what I can achieve on my own without having any sort of noise around me.
Jonathan: Yeah. Last question for you is, I want you to imagine that you're speaking at an event and you've got 300 young business people in there, men and women, and they're starry-eyed, and they're energetic and they're interested. And you get to give them three pieces of advice.
Louise: Oh gosh.
Jonathan: Just three. And about life and business and the journey they're about to undertake. What three things would you tell them?
Louise: Okay, I would tell them to expect no income for two years; I would tell them not to ever go into a partnership; and I would tell them to be prepared to work harder than they've ever worked before they could ever dream of. And I think that's the thing, you've gotta be able to ... you know, you've gotta have capital in your business and you've gotta be able to survive without ... and even during those tough times in your business, when things might for unexpected reasons not go whatever way you'd like them to go, you need to be able to work out a way of surviving through those periods.
Louise: And just, yeah, be very wary of who you get involved with. That's probably it. And just work hard.
Jonathan: Work really hard.
Louise: Yeah, 'cause if you work really hard ... not many people you know that work really hard, who work really, really hard at what they do, that aren't successful.
Jonathan: I have a friend in Sydney who's an ex McKenzie guy, and he's been incredibly successful and does amazing stuff. Good man, five kids, great marriage, very proud to call him a friend. But I tell people he's a cyborg. I don't know if he's human, his capacity to go and to go and to go. And in my career as a speaker and stuff globally I kind of ... I wouldn't have thought this, but talent, if you can speak and communicate, and I had some of that, but really I've come late to what you're saying, which is you can't fake the work component. You just have to do it and get it done.
Louise: Yeah, there's no one else who's gonna do it for you and that's ... quite often when my staff will say to me, oh you were in on the weekend, and I'm like, well the fairies are not gonna do it. The fairies do not come in and do this work and-
Jonathan: I did a radio interview today and shared this, my favourite quote at the moment, you've probably heard it too, is just, no one can do your pushups for you. I love that one. And the other one is, no one's coming to the rescue. That's been big for me the last six months is, what if no one's gonna show up? What if the perfect client or the perfect circumstance doesn't happen, then what are you gonna bring to the table?
Louise: And that's what I was saying earlier, that you have to be prepared for, what if it doesn't happen? You need to have a plan B and you need to be able to, I know it's a buzz word, but you need to be able to pivot and say, okay well what do I do now? And how do I make this situation work for me? And I think one of the things that I have been particularly good at, is adapting to change.
Jonathan: Yeah the pivot, and the opportunity.
Louise: And just saying, okay well this hasn't worked but I see that this will work.
Jonathan: Yeah, oh look and I wanna wrap on that. I wanna say to people listening, what I've taken from this is around opportunity. Tim Kirk talked about curiosity and risk, and I think you've brought a lot to us today around opportunity and just saying, for all of us, to open our eyes. I think business people are a crucial, cultural resource that build the wealth of the nation, and I think we ... you know, when I read your thing I thought, yeah well do I look for opportunity, where am I looking for it? So thank you for bringing that to us.
Jonathan: And the other thing I want to say is, I think you're very courageous.
Louise: Oh thank you.
Jonathan: I just read your stuff this morning and I was like, there's a fighter here and I think you've been really courageous and you've just stepped up and lived life fully and you're building something really cool-
Louise: Thank you.
Jonathan: And I really hope you win.
Louise: I hope I do too.
Jonathan: I want to send Karen out there to buy all your stuff-
Louise: Yes please, do.
Jonathan: And she'd love to meet you.
Jonathan: So in the show notes, we're gonna put links to everything you're doing-
Louise: Thank you.
Jonathan: And all the listeners, please, if there's someone you love, and there better be, jump on Lollypotz website and grab 'em something awesome, just to show them that you love them and support this great local business. And support Pink Frosting for all your party needs. And all this stuff will be in the show notes, we'll put all that there.
Jonathan: Thank you for the courage. Get home to those two boys and to your patient and supportive husband.
Louise: Long suffering husband.
Jonathan: No, no, long glass of wine. But thank you so much for making time for us today.
Louise: You're welcome.
Jonathan: Really appreciate it.
Louise: Any time. Thanks.
Jonathan: Awesome, thanks Louise.