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Five minutes with... Tui Cordemans, Koh Living

Tui Cordemans, co-founder of Koh Living

“Our first mentor said that if we didn’t get our s**t together, we would be out of business soon,” reveals gifts retailer Tui Cordemans. Clearly the wake-up call worked, as that was some 15 years ago...

Background

  • Business name: Koh Living
  • Industry: Retail/wholesale/tourism
  • Number of employees: 10
  • Operating since: 2004

What was your first paid job?

Working for IHC selling pizzas door-to-door (fundraising for the intellectually handicapped).

What made you get into your current business?

A promise. I gave a friend of mine some money to go on a holiday that she wanted, and she took the money on a promise that I would start my own business when I came back from my own holiday.

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I had been in Australia about two years (previously having owned a business) and had to start all over again. I knew that I wasn’t meant to be an employee, so it was time to find something of my own again.

How did you get your very first customer/client?

I picked up the phone and called them!

We had already been selling at a big tourist market for a few years, and I knew that high-end markets in tourist locations were very fruitful.

I rang the busiest, most suitable markets in the more popular Australian locations, because I knew that would be an easy place to start and they would be big customers.

What has been your biggest triumph in business?

I tried to sell to the airport chains a few years ago. The buyer wasn’t interested in the exact set-up I knew would work best, so the sale didn’t eventuate. But I didn’t stop trying, and five years later she agreed to do it — it was worth the wait.

I also realised that we were not ready years ago, so back then, the deal wouldn’t have worked out very well. I truly believe things happen when they need to happen, but it’s no excuse for not trying.

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Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake?

I don’t really believe in mistakes; calling it a mistake means that you haven’t learnt the lesson and seen the blessing.

If you ask what my biggest lesson was, I would say watch your numbers like a hawk. Don’t think that because you’re making sales, things are going well. So, watch your stock, watch your margins, watch your expenses. Never get comfortable and lazy about your numbers.

What is the best thing about owning your own business?

You have complete control of your destiny. You can change anything to be exactly what you like when things are not working. You have the power to give people exactly what they want. You can change lives, you can make people happy, you can be different, you can make a difference.

I am forever learning and engaged, there is never a dull moment. Whether good or bad things happen, things are always in motion.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

There have been so many bits of advice I have been given over the years, it’s hard to pinpoint one!

However, a few years ago our first mentor said that if we didn’t get our s**t together, we would be out of business soon. At this point, we had no real direction, we were selling for the sake of selling.

His words really made me open my eyes and take a good look at what was going on, realising we had no purpose and a warehouse full of stock. His harsh words made us completely change our business in a matter of months. We decided to stop growing sales and settle for a year to understand who we were, what we wanted, where we wanted to be.

It really pays to have people in your business that will give you harsh but honest advice. It hurts initially, but it works.

Who do you look up to in business and why?

Richard Branson. He is super authentic and he is who he is. He’s a great guy, with great values and does the right thing. He seems down to earth, a family man and no money in the world has changed the type of man that he is.

He took risks, disrupted industries, stood out from the crowd and makes a difference to the world. Clearly a very smart human being too.

What do you do to get away from work?

Spending time on the weekends with my partner and daughter seems to be the only way I can get away from work!

I practice daily yoga and meditation, so this is my rock and helps me keep calm regardless of what is going on. I love travel, so I work away often, but it means I don’t usually get a holiday that is 100 per cent a holiday.

I aim to go to a deserted island for a week one day without a computer or phone!

Name a little-known fact about yourself.

I was born in a town called Likasi in Zaire.

What is the funniest thing you have come across in business?

Sometimes communication between companies can create mixed messages, especially when working with non-English-speaking companies. The funniest thing that happened to me was when I asked someone for a catalogue for some crystals, and she came back with a catalogue of crystal adult toys.

Keen to share your own journey as a business owner? Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016. 

The two-time Publish Awards finalist has an extensive journalistic career across business, property and finance, including a four-year stint in the UK. Email Adam at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Five minutes with... Tui Cordemans, Koh Living
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