Mary Dowrick Debere
From Recruiter to Retailer
‘My business skill set is fully transferable; I can and have been able to adapt my skills from other industries to this one.’
Mary came across the Tasman to manage a Recruitment business in Sydney, but it was a tree change to regional New South Wales where her, and her husband, found their true passion. Millthorpe is a small country town, with a population of only 700, but nestled in the heart of this village is the thriving clothing, accessories and homewares store – Millthorpe Blue.
Many years on, my husband and I decided on a move to Orange New South Wales, and eventually we found our own piece of paradise just outside Millthorpe Village. As they say….the rest is history.
For the past two and a half years, we have owned Millthorpe Blue - a clothing, accessories and homewares store, and more recently renovated the cottage behind our shop and created a short term holiday rental called Pym23.
What drove you to start up your business?
This is the fourth start up I’ve done, although it’s my first in the retail sector. I needed something to do and I haven’t worked for anyone for so long that I’m not sure I’d know how.
An opportunity came up and I grabbed it. It’s been a steep learning curve although a very enjoyable one.
What’s been your proudest moment in business?
In this business, its been buying the building we are currently in - owning a little bit of history and securing the business for the long term. There is something very secure and grounding about being a part of this special village on both a business and personal level.
What mistake have you learned most from?
This is a new industry to me, so it’s been very difficult to get any real benchmarks to set our business against. Because of this, in the past, I’ve relied heavily on agents and suppliers to fill in my learning gaps to enable us to establish our own benchmarks. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that sometimes those people aren’t always on your side. Choose your business advisers carefully.
What have you learned about yourself?
My business skill set is fully transferable; I can and have been able to adapt my skills from other industries to this one.
What has been your biggest sacrifice for the business?
Weekends, our busiest days are Saturday and Sunday.
What would you say is the recipe for success in your sector?
For me, it’s been relationship building with our customers, reading when someone wants an opinion, a chat or to be left alone. You achieve repeat business and referral from trust, people don’t want to be sold to but when they ask, they do want an honest answer.
What do you see as the key differences between setting up business in a city and a small country town? Is there a different recipe for success?
We have found few differences in opening a business in small town Australia. Like anywhere, we have highly educated, sophisticated people.
We are lucky enough to be situated between Bathurst and Orange, so all services you would expect in the city are available to us. We have been able to establish a great group of talented support, from web developers to graphic designers. With cloud based accounting systems, and more recently the NBN, we run all the systems a small business requires.
Establishing small business in a village of 700 people does mean you need to be aware of your local customers - honesty and transparency are important. You have to treat all customers with the respect they deserve.
We feel privileged to be part of a very special community.
Being in a small country town, where do you get your sales from?
All over Australia through our web site. In store the market is 50% local (including Orange, Bathurst and Cowra) and 50% tourists and visitors, mostly Sydney and Canberra.
Given what you know now, what would you do differently?
I would have moved into this industry many years ago – I love it.
Who would you most like to employ in your business – famous or otherwise?
Someone – I haven’t met them yet – that really knows how to unlock online sales and social media, it’s an evolving industry that needs day to day learning.
A lot of people purport to be experts in the field but I’m yet to find one who really knows how to transfer their knowledge to your individual business for a profitable solution.
Best piece of advice to other business owners?
Follow your instinct when employing staff and always do thorough referencing.