Case Study: the Organic Market & Café

For this quarter's newsletter, we sat down with ​Grahame Murray from Stirling business, The Organic Market & Café.

Please provide us with some background details about your business.
I bought The Organic Market in December of 1988 with my late wife Caroline and my sister Corrine. The business was established in 1982 by Audrey Wyndram and her family, changed hands in 1986 to Val and Brian Constable, and then to us.

I had come from a working life in theatre, Caroline in music, and Corrine in natural health and wholesome foods! Retail was new to all of us, but our combined interests in organics, good healthy food, and the community (of which we have always been a part of) gave us a firm footing to rebuild the business and strengthen its position in the area of ethical trading.

As the remaining three shops in the original complex became available over the next four years, we consolidated, knocked out the walls, and opened a wholefood café in 1992. An export company 'Organics Australia' was set up in 2000, and an online shopping service 'The Organic Market Online' in 2015. We are a major employer in the Hills; our doors are open 364 days a year.

Bronwyn Griffiths, my life and business partner is very much in control of the business in 2018 - taking it to new heights with her energy and enthusiasm.

What is your greatest business learning?

  • Not having enough coolroom space - our initial wastage was exceptionally high
  • Not having correct POS systems - we were not able to keep up with price rises etc
  • Not having a qualified bookkeeper - I tried foolishly to do it all myself

What is your greatest business success?

It's got to be that we're still in business after 30 years, and that we're in a position to offer employment to so many aspiring young people. Other highlights would include winning the inaugural Organic Federation's National Award for 'The Best Organic Independent Retailer in Australia' in 2001, and being able to work with a designer friend for 20+ years for inspiration and design concepts.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

  • Had more cash in the bank to cover the initial stages
  • Had a bookkeeper from day one
  • Maybe took things a bit slower - I wanted to change everything overnight. I am still learning to wait, question, and listen.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest business information and trends?
I am trade show junkie, always searching for new trends, products and ideas. I'm also an avid reader of business journals; reading about other peoples successes and failures, how and why. I like to observe what has happened in other businesses and compare it to my own. Where did they go wrong what are they doing right compared to us? Can we improve? 

Where have you sought business advice?
In the initial stages I consulted with David Jackson who was with the Small Business Centre. He held SWOT sessions with staff, and did general mentoring with me. This continued on a private basis for many years; his advice was invaluable.

In the last few years the internet and podcasts have become a great resource.

I am part of a few associations and glean bits of advice from time to time. I admint I am not into networking, I'm an observer only! However I am not afraid to ask questions or for help when needed and I bring in experts and specialists for staff and management training. I recently invited a chef from Melbourne to observe and advise us on our systems and menu options in the kitchen, for example.

What financial factors should be considered when wanting to grow a business?

  • Do I have enough money to pay for it?
  • Are there enough customers to support the growth?
  • Is there a need for it?
  • What effect will it have on my work/life balance? My family? Is it worth it?
  • Have I really considered all the costs? Additional staff / wages / overheads in general?
  • What is my motivation? Why do I want to grow it? Is it ego? Profit? Survival? A future sale?

What value do you place in business plans?
I drew up a business plan 30 years ago and the Credit Union thought it was fantastic and used it as part of their training program. I have only looked at it once since...

Maybe I am one of the lucky ones; I have always worked with my gut feeling and my bank balance - it works for me. There have been a few frights where maybe a business plan would have helped save the day, but I guess I try to find a balance between caution and my entrepreneurial side.  That being said, I am currently working on a plan through LivePlan to have in place in case I sell the business one day!

What things should someone consider before starting a business?

  • If you're starting a new business, is there actually a demand for it? How do you know? Have you done your research?
  • If you're buying an established business get the books checked out. Sit outside one day with a counter to see if the sales/customer numbers match the claims of the current owner.
  • Make sure you have enough cash reserves to see you through at least to your first BAS.
  • Have passion for the product, integrity, ethics and interest in the community who will shop with you. With luck you will survive.