Having navigated boxes to get to the fridge, Mariana Boulos knows only too well the dilemma of when it’s time to take a business out of the family home, and has some sound advice on getting what you pay for.
- Business name: The Well Store
- Industry: Retail
- Number of employees: 6
- Operating since: 2016
- Location: Balmain, Sydney, NSW
What was your first paid job?
I was 14 and nine months old and busting to earn money! I loved talking to people. I got my first paying job at a local jewellery store called Sunflower.
What made you get into your current business?
I wanted to fulfil the need to source the purest, most natural and organic body products for my family that did not compromise their health. The journey to finding a way to a healthier lifestyle began in 2008, when my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and then shortly after, so was my father.
The hunt for healthy and natural alternatives led me to find out the distressing truth about the products that I and my family were using. It was an eye-opening experience, where I found out about all the toxins and deadly chemicals that were in most of the food we eat and more distressing the everyday products we use, on the biggest organ of the body — the skin.
The need for greater awareness and education into what is going into our body was the beginning foundations of The Well Store. All the products stocked are natural, organic and safer for the health of you, your family and the planet.
How did you get your very first customer?
Of course, most of my friends and family knew about my journey and were super excited for me, so my first sale was from a good girlfriend of mine. I still remember the “ding” when the order came through — my kids and I were cheering!
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
My biggest triumph was when I hired my first employee. I actually felt like I had a “grown-up” job, a business that was real and had the capability to work on other areas in my business to grow it.
An employee meant more time to educate and blog, research, find new products and move onto the next step in my growth. It was the first big step in growing my business and, more importantly, my passion.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
My biggest mistake was forking out money for stock that I had not researched enough about and trusted the manufacturer for their word and the quality. It did not reach my guidelines, it was poorly made and there were materials used that I did not agree with, which were not in line with what The Well Store believed in. It cost me money, time trying to fix the problem and a whole lot of self-doubt. But lesson was learnt.
I learnt that I needed to look over things with a fine-toothed comb and not be afraid to ask upfront questions. Also, verbal conversations were not good, there was no record of what was discussed apart from me remembering what I had said and their responses: all hearsay. Everything needs to be in WRITING, either email or documented and signed.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Plan and outsource when possible. Planning was never my strength and I needed someone to show me how to plan both my short-term goals — the steps needed to achieve this — and then lead to my long-term goals, for both the business and personal life.
Outsourcing was a big one for me. I believed I could do it all and keep my costs to a bare minimum, and at some point, I could — until I yearned to grow the business and we began to flourish.
It took a toll on me and until I took onboard the advice and outsourced, hiring an employee and someone to help with content. This was a huge help!
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
I wish the government would have stricter controls over the “natural” and “organic” status of products. In Australia, we need a greater emphasis on companies being more transparent in their use of ingredients and their harmful affects.
In Australia, we still use triclosan in products that both the EU and US governments have banned. This would help consumers, and of course me as well, as I spend hours researching and second-guessing products and questioning manufacturers.
Streamlining is also a huge one! I wish there was one commerce platform that just did it all for you! Automation, I have learnt, is a huge key to saving time and being consistent with our customers; however, at times our e-commerce platform has been so rigid, and we are bound by this with making changes.
I guess with more financial backing, the opportunities to change our e-commerce platform can adapt and change over time, but for now, we have so many clunky “bits” in our e-commerce theme that need reworking and sometimes it just isn’t viable.
Who do you look up to in business and why?
I have a few friends who run their very successful businesses and juggle being a mum while achieving their dreams (in business), who I have met along the way and they inspire me daily. Why? I find that there is no point trying to take inspiration from someone you do not resonate with. I need to make connections and these amazing women who I have seen grow, both in business but also personally, teach and inspire me to continue to persevere, take every opportunity and run with it.
I am a cautious person by nature, and this can hold me back, but watching and speaking to them allows me to continue to work harder and grow my dream.
In saying that, I do love Sir Richard Branson and I think I resonate with him because he was not afraid to give anything and everything a go, and, yes, he failed but he persevered, learnt from his experience and continued to build upon those failures to be so successful.
What do you do to get away from work?
I schedule kids’ extra-curricular activities on days I have enough staff — this way, I can still be a business-minded mum but also be part of and present in my children’s lives, because that was one thing I promised myself: I would still be around for them.
I also book appointments and time out for myself; if this is not in my dairy, I cannot go. It is so important to schedule time for your own mental and physical health. In particular, I have a coffee catch-up with a close friend every week and I do not let interruptions affect this; it is my life saver! Time away is imperative; lack of that will impact my family life and, in turn, me personally.
What is the best thing you have ever spent money on in your business (and why)?
Space! Having a proper space that was not in my kitchen, hallway, back shed and my bedroom. I remember not being able to cook dinner one night because I had two employees working, packing and it meant I couldn’t get to my kitchen! That was the day hubby and I decided it was time to look for a space to be able to have a division between work and home. Somewhere all the stock could be, and the employees had room to work too.
Name a little-known fact about yourself.
My career began in teaching. I always enjoyed helping and sharing knowledge and skills with others. I began teaching in 2000 and worked my way up to an assistant principal status. A very different path to what I’m doing now; however, sharing my knowledge and research is still in the blood; I feel the need to educate and make people aware, which comes through The Well Store.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.