From having acupuncture to try and induce birth ahead of a major supplier meeting to succumbing to “shiny penny syndrome”, Anneke van den Broek shares some seasoned advice garnered from her 11 years in business.
- Business name: Rufus & Coco
- Industry: Pet products
- Number of employees: 10
- Operating since: 2008
- Location: Sydney
What was your first paid job?
My entrepreneurial spirit kicked in early — and my first “paid job” at the wise age of six was breeding mice and selling them to the local pet shop for 40 cents each! As a teen, I went on to work in retail which fuelled my passion for sales and marketing, and led me to study fashion design.
What made you get into your current business?
I’ve owned over 40 pets in my life — pets have always been my passion. I also have a background in marketing and management with some of Australia’s leading brands. As a frustrated pet parent, I saw a gap in the pet product market for more natural and more fashionable pet products.
How did you get your very first customer/client?
I describe those early days as being a “girl with a bag”. I hit the road with a bag of samples and went door-to-door to pet shops selling my range. And it worked! Within a couple of years, we had 400 pet stores stocking Rufus & Coco products.
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
I’ll never forget the moment we landed on supermarket shelves. I always had a vision of a pet brand that spanned pet specialty and grocery channels, but it wasn’t as easy as I expected. It took three years of presentations and refining the range and processes before we secured ranging in Woolworths.
The day those products landed on shelf, I raced into the store and stood in the aisle with a baby on one hip, and my toddler daughter holding my other hand, and cried tears of happiness realising we had actually pulled it off!
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Wow, we’ve made so many mistakes — and one of my key learnings is that you don’t know what you don’t know.
Our export growth has been a key area which has really been one step forward, two steps back, as we’ve learnt about risk, logistics, demand in target export markets, different consumers and, of course, the amount of finance needed to fund export projects.
I’ve invested time and energy into building a network of contacts and experts, and strongly believe in asking for help and advice as much as you can. Their experiences will save you from making the same mistakes.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My amazing mentor Andrew Smith taught me to stop succumbing to “shiny penny syndrome”. As an entrepreneur, I’m full of new ideas. It can be tempting to take on too many new things and lose focus on strategic priorities.
We’ve definitely succumbed to this in the past and said yes to opportunities that distracted the team and weren’t worth the financial investment.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
I’d love to sleep easier! The financial and emotional responsibility of running a business and supporting a team can be overwhelming. It’s so important to find the support that works for you, and to focus on your own physical and mental health before you can help others.
Who do you look up to in business and why?
I’m a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, which is a global network of entrepreneurs with businesses. I’m endlessly inspired by the many determined and brilliant business owners I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by. They support me, challenge me and inspire me every day.
What do you do to get away from work?
Happiness for me is spending time with my two children and my beautiful friends. I also believe in a healthy body, a healthy mind, so I spend as much time as I can doing yoga, going to the beach, bushwalking or skiing.
What is the best thing you have ever spent money on in your business (and why)?
My executive management team have all been through a two-year Executive Scaling Up program with the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. This investment has been so worthwhile in getting the team onto the same page, and working towards our ambitious shared vision.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be the world’s first female fighter pilot!
What is the funniest experience or encounter you have had in business?
There have been many “memorable” moments in business — like having acupuncture to try and bring on the birth of my second child so I could make it to our first Coles presentation, which needless to say did not work, and baby Saxon decided to arrive the night before the meeting, teaching me that not everything is inside our control!
Or the fact that I finally met and caught the interest of a Woolworths buyer while exhibiting the brand at a pet trade show in Nuremberg, Germany.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.