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Schoolworks Supplies

Business gets A+ for effort                 

Charlotte King is a fast learner in the world of school books. After working as a London police officer and in banking, she quickly established her own successful small business.

Charlotte purchased Schoolworks Supplies in Bairnsdale in 2013. It provides educational resources to schools and teachers, supplies textbooks and reading material from prep to VCE and stocks back to school stationery.

Books are ordered via the schools, then Charlotte sources the products, places the orders and delivers them. The process involves careful planning and logistics.

The former owner provided guidance and support while Charlotte was finding her feet. But she wanted more help to ensure that she was across all facets of her new operation. The mother of one had helped run a driveway construction business, but was new to school supplies.

Schoolworks Supplies

Charlotte decided to complete the six-month Small Business Institute Women in Business Program. The State Government funded program consisted of six workshops covering topics including:

     • Defining your purpose, business planning, goal setting
     • Finance
     • Offline marketing
     • Online marketing
     • Management
     • Creating a business plan

Each four-hour workshop was followed by a session with an SBMS mentor. Charlotte saw Bruce Hall and had several sessions with Hilda Rhodes.

Bruce is a Small Business Institute director and has been a small business mentor for more than eight years, during which time he has worked with more than 1100 businesses. His specialities include personal development, marketing and e-marketing.

With more than 30 years’ in business management, Hilda helps people create great businesses they enjoy running. She has strong strategic planning, project management, team building and people development skills.

Schoolworks Supplies

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.

Bruce and Hilda ensured that Charlotte was able to implement what she learned in the course and gave her the confidence she needed to make decisions and modify her operation.

They advised Charlotte about her plans to move closer to town from an industrial area and Hilda suggested she negotiate her new lease, which resulted in a small saving.

Being in town has resulted in more sales, new customers and a wider product range. Schoolworks Supplies now has a small café that sells tea, coffee, cold drinks and packaged treats. This helps attract casual sales.

After initially running the business alone, Charlotte has a part time assistant and two casual staff, which allows her to open for an extra two hours each day. She places a heavy emphasis on customer service and is always looking for ways to provide an enhanced customer experience.

She has also:

     • Approached other businesses to sell books on consignment
     • Changed the branding for the business and launched a new website
     • Changed the name of the business from EG Book Supplies to Schoolworks Supplies
     • Established a meeting area within the premises and invited local groups to use it

Bruce says from the outset, Charlotte was an active program participant. “She completed the majority of exercises and importantly, began implementing what she had learned in the business,” he says. “From early on she demonstrated a true entrepreneurial flair and a preparedness to try something new.”

Schoolworks Supplies

Charlotte’s efforts were recognised as a finalist in the retail and new business categories of the East Gippsland Business Awards. “She also won the Child and Family Friendly Category - a remarkable effort,” Bruce says.

Charlotte says the course was fantastic and working with Bruce and Hilda ensured that she got the most from it. Their insights helped give her the confidence to successfully move forward and make changes. “You realise you’re not alone,” Charlotte says.

The little things Charlotte learned during the course also made a difference, such as having an ideas book to ensure nothing was forgotten. Schoolworks Supplies now has an ideas book for all staff.

As well as broadening her business knowledge, the course gave Charlotte a new network. “You meet other people who have got businesses too,” she says. “I’ve got quite a lot of friends now that I met at the course. We support each other.”

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