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Fashioning a top business
While living in the USA, Andrea Zwerling loved classically designed Jarbo clothing. After starting as a purchaser, she worked with the upmarket clothing label for two years.
After 23 years in the US, where she worked in retail and raised a family, the former teacher returned to Melbourne in 2017, bringing Jarbo with her. “I knew that Australia would absolutely love their timeless and sophisticated style,” she says.
Andrea established Indosso to exclusively sell classic Jarbo garments, which have a muted palette that ensures the pieces always go together and never go out of style.
“I am thrilled to provide the ladies of Australia with high-end, sophisticated fashion that is effortless to wear and simple to coordinate,” she says. “Indosso is the only store in Australia carrying the Jarbo label.”
Andrea says the clothing’s elegant and wearable style is a good match with Melbourne’s lifestyle, and particularly attractive to women aged over 40. “They’re also very easy to wear and fit well with Melbourne’s effortless chic,” she says.
Her concept was solid. But Andrea had no experience running a business and had been away for an extended period, so wanted to know if the new systems she hoped to use were on the right track.
Andrea first learned about Business Victoria’s precursor when she was studying at Monash in the 1990s. “So, discovering the SBMS was a natural progression from there,” she explains.
Andrea chose SBMS mentor Guy Ward, who started his career as a software engineer and has been involved in starting and running businesses for 15 years.
Guy has extensive knowledge in a range of areas including company start-ups, business strategy development, business plan review and development, situational analysis, product/service feasibility analysis, funding options, marketing analysis and marketing plan development.
SBMS is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it.
Andrea had seven sessions with Guy over seven months in the lead-up to opening her business. She and her partner, Greg Cullen, were reasonably advanced in its development and had already:
- negotiated a supply arrangement with a US-based clothing designer, manufacturer and retailer
- prepared a draft business plan
- started investigating suitable sites around Melbourne for their shop
- decided on the point of sale, accounting and inventory systems and had engaged a company in New Zealand to help them integrate and set it all up
- looked at options for setting up the online sales platform – the website.
Initially, Guy provided feedback on the business plan and generally acted as a sounding board, including on the suitability of sites and negotiating leases. “Managing the relationship with their supplier Jarbo in the US was also a theme that was discussed,” he says.
Among other things, they also covered:
- managing supply agreements
- importation of goods and customs clearance
- leasing agreements for retail premises
- negotiating with real estate agents and building owners
- business plan review
- accounting systems
- websites and online sales
- social media
- managing inventory
- marketing planning
- planning promotions
- dealing effectively with the media
- engaging legal advice
With Guy’s help, the business launched successfully with encouraging early sales and customer feedback. “They have implemented their business plans and I am very pleased to have played a supporting role in this,” he says.
“I have really enjoyed mentoring over the past seven months as they steadily implemented their business plan, culminating in the opening of their shop in South Yarra and the launch of their website.”
There were challenges, including the discovery of water lapping at the shop’s floorboards. “I have been impressed with their determination to press ahead and not to allow themselves to be daunted by the problems they have faced,” Guy says.
Andrea says Guy has been a consistent and supportive voice during the whole process. She has started implementing some of his marketing ideas. “We have benefited from his ability to pull out the important facts from all the information we give him,” she says. “He is a great sounding board and always seems to ask the right questions.
“He helped keep us focused on all aspects of the business when sometimes we would be sidelined by one particular concern. Guy’s assistance was especially pertinent when we discovered water under the floorboards. His calming influence helped us through this rather daunting experience and helped us keep our heads above water!
“Sometimes you need to step outside the situation and being able to report to Guy what was happening helped us do that.”
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