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Do you dream of building your business into a global brand? If you're looking for inspiration, it's hard to go past Wainuiomata-based snack food company Tom & Luke.
Tom Dorman and Luke Cooper wanted to produce healthy, high protein snacks that weren’t laden with refined sugar. They started Tom & Luke, finding strong local demand for their natural, wholefood products, which they managed to parlay into global growth.
The company now exports to Australia, Japan (where they just won a gold medal in the largest food competition over there), the United States through Amazon and are looking at the South Korean market.
Kiwibank Senior Commercial Manager, Jayden Devonshire, has looked after Tom & Luke since the company joined the bank four years ago. Richard Plimmer is Tom & Luke’s Managing Director. They share their top tips about what it takes to sustainably grow a business.
There is nothing like hard work to achieve success, says Richard. “And the more you do it the better you get. The better you get, the more chance of smashing your competition and leading the market.”
Customers are the backbone of most successful businesses, so it’s important to make them feel valued, says Jayden. “Make customer service a priority and go the extra mile where you can. Your customers will not only remember the great service, they will also be more likely to refer business.”
You may have finished your formal education, but if you’re starting or running a business your learning has just started. “Anyone who thinks they have all the answers before they have even started is dreaming,” says Richard. “In any start-up it takes a good three to five years (especially in New Zealand with our small population) to get any real traction and profits. If you don’t have an open mind, aren’t willing to learn and take criticism and adjust your product or offering, then don’t even get out of bed.” He says one of the most effective ways to learn is to make mistakes. “If you are not making mistakes you are not challenging yourself and your business.”
Gut instinct might be a good starting point when making decisions, but you need to be able to back that up with data and analysis. “You have to understand who your customers are, what they want, if your product or service is filling a gap in the market and whether your marketing activities are working,” says Jayden. “Analysing this kind of data enables you to put more time into the things that lead to the best results and to stop wasting time on things that aren’t paying off.”
“It’s necessary to know WHAT your goals are, WHY have you set them and HOW are you going to achieve them,” says Richard.
Don’t limit your thinking or your ambitions and make sure you’re setting yourself up in a way that you’ll be able to cope with huge growth.
“It’s just as easy to set a goal to achieve $1 million in sales as it to set a goal for $10 million,” says Richard. “However, here’s the thing - when you start thinking bigger, you automatically start thinking of all the things you need to do to get bigger (larger factory, wider product range, more equipment, the right staff, overseas expansion etc). Small thoughts deliver small results.”
A business is only as good as the employees that work in it - a great company can’t exist without great employees. “To be a company that consistently grows and maintains a competitive advantage, move away from telling employees what to do, and get employees to love what they do,” says Richard. “When someone loves what they do, they will want to do more of it, thereby increasing self-worth and productivity.”
Social media can reach thousands of people at once and allows you to talk directly to your customers. You need to be thoughtful about your posts, keep things positive and make customers feel like they are being heard, says Jayden. “Each post has to have a purpose and be done for a reason.”
Don’t be afraid to study your competitors and learn from what they are doing – both good and bad, says Jayden. “Competition can push you to bigger and better results.”
Don’t be too insular. You might be surprised at how much knowledge there is in your existing network that you might be able to tap into – from your customers, former colleagues, mentors and advisors.
Your banker is part of this wider team. Kiwibank’s model means its goes beyond the financials to build ongoing relationships with its customers. “We celebrate successes and really grow with the company,” Jayden says. “It’s about feeling a part of it and being there through thick and thin.”
Growth takes different paths for different businesses, but whatever stage of the growth journey your business is at, take time to think about where you want to go, how you’re going to get there and who can help you along the way.