A career as a butcher and a police officer may not be the path taken by most budding entrepreneurs. But that is exactly what Errol McClelland has done, going on to build a business with $20 million turnover in just three years.
Having begun his working life as a butcher, working for a number of years between New Zealand and Australia, Mr McClelland later became a police officer, working on the force for around eight years.
That was before becoming a serial entrepreneur: he founded start-ups and businesses across everything from spring water to shotgun pellet collection at gun clubs, and vacuum packaging to camping products.
Yet he launched perhaps his biggest and best business, TurmeriX, three years ago, off the back of a personal injury that threatened to permanently restrict the use of one foot.
Here, Mr McClelland shares with My Business a candid overview of the path that led him to his current business, some tough lessons he has learnt along the way and just how he managed to build $20 million turnover in such a relatively short period of time.
How did the idea for TurmeriX come about?
Over 15 to 18 years, I’d had this ankle injury on and off, which I then had operated on what would now be six and a half years ago. The surgery wasn’t done particularly well, I don’t think. The end result was that it never healed properly and my ankle stayed badly inflamed with a lot of swelling.
Post-op, everything went as normal, and the surgeon said... I think it was six weeks, no weightbearing, all the rest of that, which I did everything plus a week per her instructions, because I only wanted to do it once. At the end of that time, I went back and saw the surgeon, but my ankle was still really swollen. They didn’t seem overly concerned, put me on some anti-inflammatories and some other stuff.
That went on and on. I was in and out of plaster casts and boots over the next three years. My ankle would go down a little bit. Then it would swell up again, and so on.
There was a lot of pain with that because of the swelling on the nerves. The last meeting I had with the surgeon, they said the only way to fix it was to surgically fuse my foot, like a clubfoot. It would be completely locked and never move it again, and it’s irreversible.
I’d been doing some research into natural anti-inflammatories. I told them, “No, we won’t be doing that.” I hobbled out of the room, and I came back home. I just continued looking at products that were on the market. I trialled a few of them with limited results. I then got onto a spice company with all the information I’d gathered and said, “I’d like you to make me this”, which they did.
When was Tumerix first launched?
I officially launched the TurmeriX brand just over three years ago (in 2016) after about six months of playing around with the formula, trying it, refining it etc.
What made you decide to take the leap from using the product personally to selling it commercially?
The results I was achieving and the results of a few friends I gave it to try. People that had arthritis, a girl that had IBS, they all experienced a relief of their symptoms and were asking for more. I thought, “All right, well, let’s give this a crack and see if we can turn it into a commercial product”.
I then went to Melbourne and I got one ton of product made, which I hand-bottled, hand-labelled with one of my sons and a couple of backpackers at a food store and a food premises at Bendigo. And I started selling that at the Daylesford market.
I sold about $3,000 worth with the first market. I thought, “Okay, this is going to work”. So, I then did a series of markets and shows that I’m aware of from my previous business, and including what we call the North Run up to Darwin.
What was the first business to place an order with TurmeriX?
I was at the Gibson market in Victoria and a man I know asked me how he could get involved in the business. I made him my first Victorian distributor and he was the first person I put into the business (state distributor).
The product has been doing really well online and via our state distributors, but we decided in early 2019 to start to go after the retail market.
We are now in Go Vita Health Food stores nationally and have a week-long promotion coming up with Priceline’s biggest store in Australia, on Bourke St in Melbourne.
What have been the challenges associated with such rapid growth for the business, and for you personally?
The main one is cash flow management. It’s really just cash flow management. Bringing new products into the market costs a lot of money, especially when you’re paying suppliers for ingredients, packaging, manufacturing, shipping etc. Everyone wants to be paid quickly, but it doesn’t necessarily align with sales of the product.
Add to that additional costs like TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), consultants, marketing etc. It all adds up.
It’s also about finding the right people. For example, we had a few poor TGA consultants before we found our current one. That set me back quite a few dollars as well as time, but that’s part of doing business.
Personally, I love business, I really enjoy meeting new people and I love travel, so I have been enjoying the experience.
Speaking of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, what was your experience like in getting your product listed with them?
Well, the TGA is quite a complex thing and I hadn’t had any dealings with them at all prior to TurmeriX.
I engaged with three different advisory companies and had false starts with all of them, that held out a lot of hope, charged me a lot of money and did very little or any of it. So, that was a hard lesson.
I was then introduced to a lady in Sydney who has been amazing and has been advising us ever since.
We originally started with one tub, a 360-gram tub of powder. What we call our base product. We now do that in a 360 and a 260 for different markets.
The TGA process has allowed us to go into the capsule market. It took us a while to do, as I was determined to find a capsule that dissolved in a very short period of time and that took some time, but we have it now.
What steps are you taking to ensure this growth is sustainable for the business?
I needed more hours in the day, so the only way I could make more hours in the day was to expand into Europe because they’re in a different time zone. So, we launched at the London Home Show in the middle of 2017 and I set up distribution over there and got things in the UK, and that gave me more hours because we’re working 24 hours a day essentially.
I virtually don’t stop moving at the moment. I’m on a plane most weeks visiting potential new markets or signing up new distributors in other countries. Australia is an important market, but being able to grow the business internationally is key to our longer-term success.
We also invest considerably in a number of online marketing strategies (via our digital company) which over time have opened up our audience reach.
By that, I mean the first year we started to invest in our website and different digital marketing strategies, our average customer age was around about 62, 63. In the second year, that flatlined out from about 25 to 90. So, we lost that big bubble at the end and we’re now appealing to a much broader range of people, which is fantastic.
And then on top of that, we create TV commercials, which we play regionally all over Australia and New Zealand, and we provide the product at direct-to-consumer shows all over the countries as well.
What’s the biggest single lesson you have learnt on your journey building TurmeriX to its current position?
Cut off the dead wood early and follow the three Ps, which I’ve had all my life: passion, passion, passion. Love what you’re doing and make sure you’re working with or hiring people who share your values and want success just as much as you do.
What advice would you give to others on scaling up their business?
Find the right people. Go through existing networks, do your research, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people. Don’t stop moving, make the appointments, do the business.
If it’s not working, stop it as soon as you can. Cut off the dead wood early and keep moving forward.
What’s next for TurmeriX?
We are focused on expanding our retail distribution footprint in Australia across health foods, pharmacy and grocery. The feedback we have been receiving from our customers is just phenomenal and we are really pleased to hear that our products are making a positive difference to people’s lives.
So, now I want to make sure we have a wider distribution network to make it easier for people to access across the country, because not everyone shops online or at markets and fairs.
We also have plenty of new products in the works and are about to launch our soap and hand cream range. I’m also currently working on formulations for our food range and have been approached about a range for pets. Lots to do!
Personally, I am also very focused on making sure our packaging is as environmentally friendly as possible. I am working with a Melbourne company to develop the most recyclable wrapping possible for some of our new food products, and will continue to work with our existing packaging suppliers on the existing range to find better ways of packaging our products.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.