Footy player turned businessman Sean Garlick reveals his approach to being innovative without cutting off his firm’s established bread-and-butter sources of revenue.
It is a challenge many businesses grapple with, and finding that sweet spot can be a difficult feat. For ex-footy player turned businessman Sean Garlick, co-founder of Garlo's Pies, this balancing act has been a focus not just in the actual product offering, but also in
the route to market.
Speaking on My Business Podcast, Sean outlines the lessons he has transitioned from professional sport to the workshop floor, to start and grow a business that now counts some of the world's biggest brands as customers, including McDonald's, Singapore Airlines and Coles. He also discusses how other businesses can leverage these strategies for their own benefit.
Intro: Welcome to the My Business Podcast with your host, Phil Tarrant.
Phil Tarrant: Good day, everyone. Phil Tarrant, here, editor of My Business. Thanks for tuning into our podcast. I'm joined by Adam Zuchetti, our regular co-host. Adam, how you going, mate?
Adam Zuchetti: I'm good, Phil, and yourself?
Phil Tarrant: All right. What's been going on, mate, in the world of SME land lately?
Adam Zuchetti: Good question. What hasn't been going on?
Phil Tarrant: Yes. I know.
Adam Zuchetti: Everything is such a whirlwind, particularly this time of year where a couple weeks out from Christmas and yeah, everybody's busy ticking over and...
Phil Tarrant: Everybody's got Christmas deadlines, don't they?
Adam Zuchetti: They do, but you've got all the usual stock challenges, staffing issues, all that sort of stuff. It all comes to a head, sort of September through to December.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, it does and coming up Christmas season, so the liver's going to get a bit of damage over the next couple weeks. It's always good fun, but it's always good to have a break after Chrissy.
Anyway, I want to get straight into our podcast today. Our guest is Sean Garlick. Sean, you might not know his name, but you probably know his business, Garlo's Pies, and you notice why I actually put on a big Aussie accent when I said that, which is cool. Sean, mate, thanks for coming in.
Sean Garlick: No, thanks for having us, guys.
Phil Tarrant: Good to have you here. People's businesses have sometimes have some very spurious names, you have no idea what they do. I can tell by this that you make pies, right?
Sean Garlick: Yep.
Phil Tarrant: Tell us a little bit about the company. What do you do?
Sean Garlick: It's pretty simplistic. What you see is what you get. It all started, I was a retired Rugby League footballer. Finished playing with the Rabbitohs and the Roosters in the 90s and was looking to something to do after football, as most footballers do these days. As it turned out, my brother was a pastry chef and was working in a local pie shop, but had just grown bored of working for wages and have given it away and was driving a truck and was miserable. And I thought, “Geez, what a waste of talent.” He made every pie and sausage roll and custard tart in that shop and now he's driving a truck at night and not real happy with it.
I said, "Look. What about if we had our own pie shop?" I was looking for something to do and, "Would you change your mind?" He goes, "Well, I know how to make the product, but I know nothing about running a business," and I thought, “Well, how hard can it be?” We opened our first shop at Maroubra on Anzac Parade. I was doing a bit of work still at the time with The Footy Show, doing some guest panel work and some interviews and all that sort of thing, so I got a hold of The Footy Show and said, "Would you like to televise a grand opening? A celebrity pie eating competition,” and I've got the likes of Artie Beetson, Darryl Brohman, and Mark Carroll and Craig Salvatori and Darryl Brohman.
Phil Tarrant: Folks that look like they like a pie?
Sean Garlick: That's right, they were big names and big frames at the time and Mark Geyer, actually, he ate fifteen pies that night and consumed about fourteen Crown Lagers, which sets you back about a year.
Phil Tarrant: Yes.
Sean Garlick: Not many people drinking Crown Lager these days, and the shop was an instant success. And immediately, it was too small and we had people come from all over the place and buying pies and it was only this small, little 60-square meter shop, so we thought, “We're going to have to open another shop.” Twelve months later, we opened another shop and The Footy Show, were back and they televised that again and we had two shops and then, I started getting inquiries from everybody, all over the place wanting to open franchise stores. Said, "Oh, would you consider opening up a shop in Parramatta and Blacktown?" I said, "Look, guys, we're just still working this out," and they said, "Oh, look, let's just, we'll work with you," and so, we opened a shop in Parramatta and then opened a shop in Blacktown and King's Cross and before we knew it, we had thirteen shops in the first six years and it was quite a big business.
What we discovered, though, was rents are high in Sydney. Wages are as high as they get, too, and our first five shops were always our best five shops. For the first five, it was like a license to print money and then the ones after that, we maybe got a bit cocky and thought, “Let's just keep opening these,” and a lot of them started to fail. The other thing we discovered, too, was everybody loves a hot pie when it's cold and miserable in the middle of winter, but when it's a hot, sunny day, 30 or 40 degrees outside, not many people want to walk into a pie shop and buy a hot pie. Let alone the women that want to be seen dead in a pie shop. Being called a pie eater in Australia is...
Phil Tarrant: Not the most flattering thing, is it?
Sean Garlick: Not something a woman wants to be called. We thought, “Hang on, there's a bit of volatility here. Not only are we missing the female market, but during summer, it's tough because our sales halved,” so we started supplying a bit on the wholesale side to a few cafes and some pubs and some ladies' clubs where I had some contacts and then in 2009, so it was eight years after we've been doing a bit of that, and we found that was much more level in terms of the business. Once we sold them the pies, it was up to them and if it was a really hot day, that was up to them to sell them or put them away and sell them the next day or whatever.
Then we got a knock on the door, literally, in 2009 from Coles. He had come in and said, "Look, we're looking for a local pie manufacturer to really push our Wear Local brand in our stores in New South Wales and in Sydney and, “We know your shop.” The guy that'd come in said, "We know your shop from opposite from Peter Wynn's out there in Parramatta. I take my son in there to buy football jerseys and I go and buy pies afterward. Would you consider supplying to Coles?" I said, "Not on your life. No way." I said, "I heard what Coles do to small businesses. You know they screw you on payment terms..."
Phil Tarrant: Gouge you.
Sean Garlick: "…price and build you up and then when you really think things are going well, they just get cut off at the knees, so I'm not interested in that. Plus, how could we sell a pie for $4, $4.50 in our stores, if you're selling them for $2 in the supermarkets?" They said, "No, no! Look, we can work with small businesses,” and we got chatting; “How about we get started in one store?” and we started in one store over in Balgowlah and we didn't have any stores near there. Then, we did another store in Newport. We started going into the Coles stores as they either opened new ones or renewed their old ones and found that, and I was always sceptical. I thought, "Look, I'll go ahead, but who's going to our pies from the $3.50 and $4, when they can buy these dollar pies in Coles?"
Anyway, they sold and I was really quite surprised and so, after about six months, I got a phone call from Coles head office in Melbourne. Never heard of us and said, "Look, we're looking at your sales and they're going quite well," and by that time, we were supplying about twelve stores. "Would you consider supplying to all of the stores in New South Wales?"
I said, "Wow, geez, that's a big deal. How many stores are there?" He said, "206." I said, "Okay. Sure, we'd love to do that!" He says, "Okay. That's great, all right. No problems.” I hung up the phone and I thought this sounds interesting. Anyway, the next minute, we got a fax, when faxes were in, and it was an order for 52 pallets of pies and we'd never supplied anything on a pallet before. We couldn't even fit a pallet in our place. I rang this buyer back in Melbourne and I remember it very clearly and I said, "Look, there must be some sort of misunderstanding. We can't supply pallets. How many boxes are on a pallet?"
She says, "You tell me, I don't know." I said, "Well, I would never supply them on a pallet. We're going to have to work that out. In fact, I don't think we can fit a pallet in here in our corridor.” She said, "Well, you told me want to supply to all of New South Wales." I said, "Well, I do, but I didn't expect to jump to it straight away," and she spoke to me like a schoolboy. She said, "Well, I've delayed another line so yours could come in and now that the range review's done, there's going to be space on our shelves and you told me you could do this." I said, "Well, I wanted to do it. I didn't know whether I could or I couldn't."
"Next," this was about November. "The next range review's going to be in about March or April next year, so if you don't go in now, you've got another five, six months." I said, "That's just perfect for us. If we can keep doing what we're doing and build towards doing this in six months time, we're happy with that." We got to work and knocked down a few walls and took out a few posts and got a pallet in our place and was able to supply that first order about six months later and then it's just gone from there.
Phil Tarrant: Whirlwind.
Sean Garlick: Yes.
Phil Tarrant: Outside of the reason that it's a good pie to eat and it's tasty.
Sean Garlick: Thin on pastry, big on meat.
Phil Tarrant: There you go. Outside of that, why do you think you've been so successful in being able to range in Coles matched with a demand on the street. What is it?
Sean Garlick: Very good question. I think pies, we all, pies are an iconic product in Australia. I think for years, pies were pretty s****y, to be honest. It was always a standing joke, what do you get in a pie? What do they put in them? Nobody really knew and I think for so long, people, they had a pie when they're desperate, when they're out on a drink, or on the way home, or hungover or whatever, pie was great. It was always a bit of a question mark over it, and so, we pretty much came and we made a pie, that we, my brother and I, we made a pie we like to eat.
We hated those pies that pastry like concrete and you had two bites before you go anywhere near the filling. Then, when you got to the filling, there was no real meat in it, and so we thought, we kept our pastry really thin and everybody knows pastry is where all the fat is. Pastry is basically half margarine and half flour. We kept the pastry thin and we kept our fillings really lean. Lean beef and lean chicken and lamb and we thought the difference with our pie, too, in the supermarkets at the time, every pie came in an opaque pack and it had a beautiful photo on the packet, but it was nothing like the pie that you got inside.
We just had our pie in a completely see through label with just a logo on it and it said, Garlo's Pies, so people could see exactly what they're getting. It was a beautiful, flaky pastry top, whereas most of the supermarket pies had pastry like concrete, which actually served the world because they got transported and distributed and handled everywhere. Our pies would be fragile and didn't stand up all that well early on and we got a lot of breakages and a lot of wastage actually. We made a pie that we essentially liked to eat. It was the lowest in fat on the market and still is. It's the lowest in sodium because everyone's worried about that these days, as well, and it tastes great. Basically, I was selling something; I came from football and the one thing I found and it was just a fluke, football people and pie people are pretty much the same people.
Phil Tarrant: Interconnected, aren’t they?
Sean Garlick: Exactly, so I had a bit of a connection there and I was able to use a lot of the contacts that I had and it just worked and it wasn't too complicated. People could relate to the pie and me, I wasn't selling software or air conditioners. It was a family business and we have eight members of the family working full-time in the business at the moment, which is terrific, and I think Australians like that. They like the backstory, they like the product and the price has got value attached to it and I think it's just not too complicated.
Phil Tarrant: It sounds like, and I hear this a lot from the football fraternity, that that was absolutely integral to your success. Getting the guys at The Footy Show to come and do your launch and pie eating contest, which is smart marketing, by the way, but the fact that they like to get behind their own and I think a lot of ex-footy players often struggle with the transition from sport to business, right? Some people do it very well, yourself included. A lot of other people don't do so well, but the fact that you had that sort of groundswell behind you of these guys willing to just give you a leg up just because.
Sean Garlick: Absolutely. Yes, we had no money and everyone knows when you start a business, you got no money. You do everything yourself. You can't advertise and you can't promote and you've got to call on favours and get stuff for free where you can. They thought it was great. They thought, "Oh, this is funny." Actually, back in those days, big men stuffing pies in their face was good TV.
Phil Tarrant: Yes, it still is, by the way.
Sean Garlick: Things have become a bit more sophisticated, but not too much more. It was great. For them, it worked for them, it was interesting and it was a bit of fun and it was a huge advantage to the business back then that needs every sort of leg up it can get because, if you can't get through that first twelve months, two years, you're in a lot of trouble. We were lucky. We didn't have to build the business. It was just really good from day one, which we found later on, doesn't always happen. As we just then kept opening stores, they weren't always like the first couple that was so successful.
Adam Zuchetti: At the same time, as well as a high profile launch or something like that for a small business, you also got to have the product behind it to back that up, so you could get everyone on board and if the product was just absolutely awful, it could fall flat.
Sean Garlick: You're absolutely spot on and the thing that was just lucky for us, because I knew nothing about running a business or about strategy or plans or anything like that, we just... it was very easy. My brother looked after the product and I looked after everything else. All his concern was, was making sure we had enough pies to make. It was my job to keep stretching him to grow the business and it kept getting to the point where, "Hang on. We can't make any more pies here. The mix is too small” or “We don't have enough bench space” or “We got to get another deposit” or whatever. That's just what's happened along the way. Our roles became easily defined because my personality, I still don't get into the pie making. Never did, which kept me out of it, which was good because business owners, when they usually start a business, they're usually the technician and they find themselves always having to jump back in, which prevents them growing the business.
All I've ever had to concentrate on is growing the business and worry about making them. It was a real lucky fit in that regard, just our personalities were like that and our skills were such that it's never really crossed over.
Phil Tarrant: So, say that first day when you opened up, put your sign up on the side of the building, opened up the shutter, were you the bloke standing there walking out pies?
Sean Garlick: Absolutely. In fact, because I never, even though he'd worked in a pie shop for probably about seven years, since he was a fourteen-year-old kid. He knew all about… I’d hardly even really been in, and sort of a had a good look at what was going on, so I thought, “How am I going to employ staff, if I don't even know what to do myself?” He made the pies and I sort of served. Then, I served behind the counter.
Phil Tarrant: They make the pies out the back?
Sean Garlick: That's right. We're in a 60-square meter shop and we made the pies right there and sold them, right here. It was very intimate and I had an office that was a meter wide by two meters long and that was it. That's where we had all our files and everything there and I worked every day in that shop for the first three months. I had to learn how it long it takes to unload the shelves and put them in there and what we did with the wastage at the end of the day and just where we packed things, where we put things, how long it takes, so then we could eventually start employing staff and we'd know exactly what to tell them. That was really valuable and because the last thing I needed was 15 year old kids that we're employing say, "No, that takes an hour to do that."
Phil Tarrant: B******t answer, yes.
Sean Garlick: That's right. Exactly.
Phil Tarrant: It's good. It's good to know. You started, just on the tools, selling pies. When did you work out that your job, in order to, and you could have continued to that. You could still just have one shop and selling pies and stuff.
Sean Garlick: Yes.
Phil Tarrant: What was the watershed point or what made you go, "You know what? There's more to this. I've got to change my mindset. I've got to change my skillset for us to do X, Y, Z." What happened then?
Sean Garlick: I'll tell you. What I forgot to mention was, as soon as I finished playing football, the Rabbitohs were thrown out of the competition. They got back into the competition, I got offered a role to work in administration there as football manager, which I thought was going to be my spot in life, to be involved with the football club, not coaching, which is real volatile, not the CEO so somewhere in the middle. I was working there full-time while we opened this shop, so I was doing all the admin and all that sort of thing on the side, but after the first three months, I worked at the Rabbitohs and then, I employed servers and all that sort of thing, so I did the wages, paid the invoice and all that of a night-time.
Did that for two years and we had about four shops then and it was just killing me. I was doing a hundred hours a week and it was just too much and I thought, I’ve got to leave the Rabbitohs and go into this pie shop because there's a lot of opportunities,” but I was on a good wage and so, the business had to afford me, so I said, "Nathan, I'm going to come, but we now need to ramp this up a little," and that's when I seriously contacted everybody I knew in the leagues clubs, in the cafes, at sports grounds and all that and really learned how to do the sell.
Phil Tarrant: You did the hustling. You did the sales.
Sean Garlick: Yes, absolutely, and still did up until two years ago. Didn't have a sales team. In fact, all the customers that we got came through inquiries to us or from people that I knew or found out about or networked with. Now, we've got a sales team. I've got my son, who's twenty-one. Sorry, he's twenty-two now, and I've got a twenty year-old son as well, and we've got another sales person as well, but up until two years ago, that was what I was doing. I was doing sales.
Phil Tarrant: Have your boys got the same energy in terms of sales as what you had? Have?
Sean Garlick: Absolutely, lots of good questions. It's very hard to ... they seem to, but at the end of the day, it's not their ass on the line.
Phil Tarrant: Yes.
Sean Garlick: It's not their money and so, yes, they're excited. They're young and excitable, but they don't have the same urgency or responsibility that I had at the time. I had young kids. There was no choice.
Phil Tarrant: Simple things.
Sean Garlick: That's right. I had to make this money. I had to pay for a family and a mortgage, all these sort of things and it was a lot on the line. For them, now, it doesn't really matter. They want to do their best, but ...
Adam Zuchetti: They largely know the business is sort of, as it is today, quite established and successful.
Sean Garlick: That's right, so it's not the same at all, really.
Phil Tarrant: Are they competitive though?
Sean Garlick: They are amongst themselves. I mean, the middle boy, he plays with the Bulldogs. He's playing reserve at the Bulldogs under Desi there. He's in the first grade squad, actually, so he's just stopped. He's in the first grade squad over summer and so, he stopped working for us now, and we'll see how he does come the season start. Yes, that competitiveness is certainly there and my wife works in the business too. I've got my father who's an old fellow now, but he retired from the Waterfront when we started the business, virtually that year and so, he became a truck driver for us and a delivery man. He was good with his hands; he was a good maintenance man, so when things broke, we didn't have to a hire a tradesman; we had someone to fix it. He's involved in the business. My mother's involved in it part-time way, I've got my sister as well, and we all think it's a great way to keep the family together and give everyone a common interest. In fact, it gets a bit too much, Christmas and all that.
Phil Tarrant: You're still talking pies.
Sean Garlick: That's we're all talking.
Phil Tarrant: Do you ever find yourself eating too much of the stock, mate, and blow out?
Sean Garlick: Yes. Well, I do, I eat a pie every day without doubt.
Phil Tarrant: I'd love to eat a pie every day.
Sean Garlick: It's too easy. You're working away and you go, "It's two o'clock!"
Phil Tarrant: Do walk into the store and go, "That smells good"?
Sean Garlick: Well, funny, you don't smell it anymore, but a lot of visitors go, "Geez, it smells great in this place." I don't smell it anymore. At our place, we've just moved into a new place where we make pies on a big scale now and we have a mill room. There's a pie warmer there and it's a rule at our place, although we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, there's pies there, but we also provide noodles and lasagnes and cereals and toasts and all that sort of thing, so you can eat as much as you like when you're at work.
You can't take anything away. Stock that's wasted or damaged and all that, it's got to go in the bin, but everyone gets an allocation of pies each week, as well to take home. We have a lot of guys and we have a lot from non-English speaking backgrounds working as process workers on the lines and they'll eat three pies a day, every day. They'll get there early and have one and have one at lunch time and have one before they go. It saves them a lot of money.
Phil Tarrant: Your brother, what was his name, then?
Sean Garlick: Nathan's my brother.
Phil Tarrant: The origins of the business is you're the bloke that went out and hustled and got the business and he was the guy that was making the pies?
Sean Garlick: Yes, that's right.
Phil Tarrant: Is it still the same?
Sean Garlick: Absolutely. The same.
Phil Tarrant: What time do you start baking every morning?
Sean Garlick: We start at four. Our first guys come in at four. They'd be the guys that prepare the meat and the pastry. It takes them about an hour and then, the guys on the pie lines come on at five, and then, the guys on the ovens come on about six. Then, the guys in the wrapping and packing come on about seven and so, they got a staggered start and a staggered finish.
Phil Tarrant: Those pies go into the stores?
Sean Garlick: Yes, absolutely. We basically supply half of our businesses is in supermarkets, which is basically Coles and IGAs.
Phil Tarrant: Does that stuff get snap frozen at the store?
Sean Garlick: Correct. That's right. We're big in the airlines, so we supply places like Etihad and Emirates Airlines and Singapore Airlines.
Phil Tarrant: You do those deals? Is that deals that you put together?
Sean Garlick: Yes, most definitely. We're in the lounges of Qantas and Virgin, plus, we supply what we call the food service side of things. That's the pubs, the clubs, the schools, the sports grounds and cafes, the lunch trucks, the golf clubs. Basically, pies can be found anywhere that food is sold, pretty much. In any small canteen or kiosk or work that needs a pie.
Adam Zuchetti: It's become quite a diversified business then?
Sean Garlick: Absolutely. We export a to supermarket chain in the UAE, in Kuwait, in Qatar, in Hong Kong and in the South Pacific, we supplied a few other nations there. These days, the pie is just the vessel. What you put inside it is weird and wonderful, these days.
Phil Tarrant: What was your first pie? Just the meat pie?
Sean Garlick: First, and still to this day, we make about 40 different flavours. The plain mince pie sells as many as all the others put together. Still to this day, and sausage rolls is the next one. It was funny, the first day it was like, "How many pies should we make, Sean?" I said, "I don't know."
"What do you reckon?" Well, he said, "100 pies?" He made a 100 pies and we sold them by, like 10:30 that day. Next day, he said, "We'll make 200 pies," and we got through until about 12:30. Then, it was like, "We'll make 300 pies," and we just got through and we said, "What are we going to do? That's all I can make. That's all I can make, mate." I said, "Well, we can even find a bigger shop," because it was literally, we couldn't get enough flour in, we couldn't enough meat in, we couldn't margarine even to make enough pies. There was just nowhere to put the stuff. There was these physical barriers that made us think, "Hang on. We've got to do something about this."
Phil Tarrant: What bit do you like most about your business now?
Sean Garlick: The bit I like about the business is that it's an easy product. You speak to some people that've got complicated businesses. The products they sell are complex. They're hard to explain. Everybody can relate to a pie, in Australia. In America, we opened a store in LA two years ago. In America, it's completely the opposite. Whereas we have so many similarities, our cultures are virtually identical, everything that's there is here and vice-versa except pies. I just can't work it out. Meat pies have never transitioned over the Pacific and they don't understand just how big pies are in Australia.
We tell them, "Pies in Australia are like your burgers." They say, "No way. Can't be." Australians can't believe that pies just aren't in America. We just don't get it. It's just this assumption that's just not there. I love the fact that it was a brand new product to them and how much of a novelty just the plain meat pie was to them. In Australia, the big challenge for us is to keep mixing it up. We have to come up with new flavours, new sizes, new shapes, new packaging, and different ways to present the product. Overseas, it's the basics.
Adam Zuchetti: What's the biggest flavour disaster that you tried?
Sean Garlick: Ah, we've tried heaps of flops. When we first started, like fifteen years ago, the steak and kidney had quite a following. Unfortunately, a lot of those customers are no longer with us, The sixty and seventy-plussers.
Phil Tarrant: They didn't want any kidney.
Sean Garlick: Nobody did. You ask anybody under forty, they wouldn't touch kidney, so we've had to discontinue that. We do an Alaskan King Crab pie now, too, which we serve in the small pies, in the small cocktail pies that we do to caterers and things like that, but you name it and we can... Peking Duck and Moroccan Vegetable. You name it and we've tried it and some sell great and some, they just don't sell at all.
Phil Tarrant: How do you balance it because, I guess, there is the drive to always want your stuff to be new and fresh. Not fresh as in it's fresh food, but like a new type of thing versus the fact that you know you are going to sell, half of your stock is going to be just the standard meat pie, so do you sit there and go, "Let's not worry about that. Let's just concentrate on a handful of lines, get them right, make sure the scale's there. We can sell plenty of them. They're the most cost-effective to sell," versus “I want to keep our customers really happy with new flavours.” How do you balance that?
Sean Garlick: It's a really good question and it's, it's, it's a balancing act and you need to weigh up what is paying the bills, but also what's keeping your brand relevant and keeping your name out there. We do lots of little PR stunts, as well. We just put out a muscle pie which has 26 grams of protein, low in fat and all that, we're selling in a few gyms, but it's never going to retire on that sort of thing.
We create the, Grand Final, for example, we created the Shark pies that had mashed potato piped on top that was blue, black and white. We sent around the Shire and sold them in the Coles stores down the Shire. You need that because it gets you publicity.
Phil Tarrant: Is that you driving this?
Sean Garlick: Pretty much.
Phil Tarrant: Going, "What can I do next ...?"
Sean Garlick: We have a PR company, as well.
Phil Tarrant: Yes.
Sean Garlick: Which we've been able to take on over the last few years. We're going to do a Donald Rump steak pie with a bit of a mashed potato quiff on the top.
Phil Tarrant: Yes, good.
Sean Garlick: We just haven't gotten around to doing it, actually. When is that election? Two weeks?
Phil Tarrant: You've got a couple weeks. It's not far off.
Sean Garlick: We haven't gotten much time, but little things like that, that people find funny. It just makes it fun and the thing I like about the business, too, is that at the end of the day, we're not finding a cure for cancer. We're making meat pies and delivering them and sometimes we get fired up, if their pies are delivered late and that sort of thing and I try to put into perspective.
I try to say that with the staff is well, we have high standards and all of that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, this is a product that is comfort food. It's supposed to make people feel good and it's not going to be the food for athletes.
Phil Tarrant: Everyone likes a pie, it doesn't matter who you are. Everyone likes a pie, always hanker for a pie. How do you sort of get on with your brother now? You're sort of in business together, is there ever any friction or how do you deal with conflict or different ideas?
Sean Garlick: Look, he's seven years younger than me and I've got to be honest, he came from a small little pie shop, like our first shop. He's probably struggled more than me with the corporatising of the business, now that we have an operations manager, and production manager, and post-production manager and a team leader in pastry, a team leader in the kitchen, a team leader in the oven room; him working within that structure has been difficult for him.
He's a shy guy. He's a doer. He likes to do it with hands and so, to evolve ourselves the way we have because we've had to make it up. We've made it up as we've gone along and I said at the time, when we opened our first business, not only did we not know how to run a business, but we didn't even know anyone who had run a business and so, there was no one to go to, so we just had to make it up, make plenty of mistakes, silly things that we thought'd work, didn't work and we had to can them and they cost you money and you learn those lessons.
We constantly, we’ve never had an argument in our lives. Funnily enough, we're just that sort of personality. I admit that I am probably the more dominant personality and he's happy to go along with what I sort of come up with.
It's been a terrific way to spend the last fifteen years and he's my best mate. We've been working together each day and you share your successes with somebody and at the same time, you cry together when you're going to throw out five pallets of pies because they forgot to put the flavour in them, or you've got foils that arrived from China and all of a sudden, the silver starts coming off on them onto the pies, like that sort of stuff.
Phil Tarrant: S**t happens.
Sean Garlick: Yes, that's right. It happens. You go, "Look, don't worry. We can save these. We can change all the foils and dust it off," and you say, "Look, by the time we do that, it's not worth it." That sort of stuff happens all the time. The time that we thought we'd try a new thickener and it was a powder and well, he goes, "Oh, this is going to great. We could put this in right at the start rather than at the end," when you thicken the meat,” and he goes, "This is going to save us a lot of time. It's just easier." We put it all in and made all these pies, it was great and then, we even sent them out, but we didn't realise something happened and it sent them green. It was like a fluro green inside and people bit into it and it looked like... It tasted fine, but it just looked terrible.
Phil Tarrant: It's St. Pat's Day's pies, right?
Adam Zuchetti: It's all your marketing, yes? Wow!
Sean Garlick: That had happened. That was in the early days, so you got to be really careful now when you change things and implement new stuff to make sure it works before you start sending it out.
Phil Tarrant: How have you gone personally with playing footy at a professional level? It's a pretty high impact game, requires a lot of diligence, all this sort of stuff. How have you gone sort of entering the business world and sit in there and obviously, you've probably got a lot of self-doubt like all people that run businesses. They go, "How am I going to do that? What am I going to do about it?" How have you sort of been able to manage or fire yourself up or just making sure you're happy to take that leap even though you know you might not be able to do it? Is there anything from your footy background that's helped you with that?
Sean Garlick: Absolutely, without doubt. The football background really teaches you and hardens you and it's not just from a physical point of view, but from a psychological point of view as well. Sitting in a room after a loss around all you peers and getting drilled out by the coach hardens you. It's humiliating. It makes you look within; “Am I the type of person that wants to do this?”
Those sort of losses. You've had five losses in a row and you just don't feel like going to training, but you've got to train. It's raining and you've got a sore knee and all that. It really does harden you. I remember Phil Gould, who I still think was the greatest coach I had at the Roosters, talked about toughness. What is toughness?
Is it your ability to play on with a broken jaw or is it being able to cop a whack in the mouth? He said, "No, toughness is all mental." It's when you don't want to come to training and it's raining outside and it's cold and you've got to get there and you've got to get on time and you've got to perform and you don't feel like it, and you're tired this day, and you're behind by twenty and it's easy just to not make up that half yard to make that tackle. It's being able to get your mind to do things that your body doesn't want to do. It's that discipline. What is discipline?
It's getting your body to do things that it doesn't want to do. I think that's what football really gave me, was that discipline. When your back's against the wall, when you're never supposed to win this game, but you win it and by pushing through, you develop this confidence that you can do anything. There's a million books, I've become a real reader of books and Covey's Seven Habits and all the books that have been really helpful to me because if I'm going to have to, this is getting a bit of a business, I'm going to have to learn how to do this stuff and a lot of the lessons I learned about business were in football.
The thing that I found though is, in football and in sport in general, you could be doing everything right. You could have your team pumped. They could all be fit. Everything could be firing for you and there's a bounce of the ball or there's a decision from the referee that's wrong or whatever, and you've done everything right, but you still lose.
What I found in business, if you do things right, if you cover all your bases and you're careful and you've got contingencies and you plan it out, you win. You generally get there.
If you don't give up, you generally get there. If you persevere, you eventually get there because most people, when it gets tough ... That's what I say to Nathan. I say, "I love hard because everybody else is giving up. When we come up with something that is really hard and I'm going to work it out, how we're going to get this?" We found a way to deep pan our pies. Our pies are made in these pie shaped tins and they're formed and filled and everything and then they need to come out of the tins to be baked. Anyway, we found these prongs that were pushing the pies up and it was really quick, but what it was doing was damaging the bottom of the foils because it was pushing them up too hard and all the foils were getting these damages. We said, "We can't have that. We can't have it." "We'll get thicker foils." "Oh, they'll cost double the price." "What are we going to do?"
We try and put soft things, rubber on the posts, so it doesn't damage them, and then we finally nailed it. We put a stainless steel disc at the bottom of each tin, so as the posts come up, they just spread the weight around the whole base of the pie and no damage. The feeling you get when you can just solve those little things and it's cheap and it was easy and it didn't require any sort of extra consultant or whatever, the feeling that you get from overcoming those little obstacles really gives you confidence to think I can do anything.
Phil Tarrant: Yes, it's good and we're going to have to wrap up pretty soon, but what's next for the business? You've obviously got, you've got the retail route and grow franchises or you can do the wholesale route and provide your Coles, you can do your deals on airlines and that sort of stuff. Where are you going to take it?
Sean Garlick: Yes, look, I've decided that to get true economies of scale, shops don't provide that. We saw by the Pieface model, they really hit some trouble, especially opening stores in Sydney. Highest wages in the world, you don't get economies of scale. Every shop that you open has the same set of costs. It has its rent, its rates, it has its electricity and wages and all that and you open more and you've actually then, got to put more resources. Whereas when we just make more pies, the more we make, the cheaper we make them for.
Our buying power gets ... If we're ordering more flour, we get a better price. If we're ordering more cardboard boxes, you get a better price. We decided that we're going to be a manufacturer and we'll give it to other people and let them sell it. It's about increasing that reach and it's right across ... We're about to concentrate on QSRs and we started a trial McDonald's two months ago. We're in twenty-three stores in Canberra and three about to start next week in the South Coast and they're using our brand, Garlo's Pies, and that's a huge opportunity. We've discovered not just in Australia, but now that we're a McDonald's supplier, we're in this trial, we can approach any McDonald's country in the world about supplying this novelty Australian pie that they've never heard of. That, and then there's, the other QSRs is the KFCs, the Domino's, there's the Nando's, there's Oporto's, you name it.
Phil Tarrant: You're only restricted by your imagination.
Sean Garlick: Absolutely, and the way I see it in five years’ time, we just won't be pies. We'll be banana bread, we'll be muffins, we'll be croissants, we'll be biscuits, we'll be cookies, baked goods, anything that's in that baked range could sort of fit under the Garlo's brand because we've just built this facility that ...
Phil Tarrant: You've got the gear. You don't…
Sean Garlick: We've got the gear, we've got mixes, we've got deposits, we've got ovens, we’ve got spiral freezers. We can do all this, it's just what we see as being on the forefront of product development, which I think is where the business really is at. We can keep mixing up flavours and making different pies.
Phil Tarrant: You know what? People just sometimes just like a good old fashioned meat pie.
Sean Garlick: They do.
Phil Tarrant: That's the beauty of what you've got.
Sean Garlick: Yes, that's right.
Phil Tarrant: How many pies would you do at a time, then?
Sean Garlick: We do about 35,000 pies a day at the moment, but the facility has the capacity to do 8,000 an hour. It's my goal to get that maxed out, when we can.
Phil Tarrant: Good, mate. I'm really impressed. It's a great story and what you've been able to achieve in 15 years after 40 years is really impressive, so, yes. You should be proud.
Sean Garlick: Thank you.
Phil Tarrant: It's really good. Yes, thanks, Sean. Let's keep in touch, mate.
Sean Garlick: Absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: I want to know, when you hit that milestone, when you exhaust your facilities and your ability to produce that many pies in a day, it'd be good to catch up and see where you guys are at.
Sean Garlick: Sure.
Phil Tarrant: What's next. It's good.
Adam Zuchetti: At the rate you’re going, it'll probably be next week.
Sean Garlick: I don’t think so. I hope not. We're not quite ready just yet, but you never know.
Phil Tarrant: Yes, it's good. A couple of things I'd take out of this chat is you got to back yourself. If you think you've got a good idea and your willing to put in the hard graft and the hard yacker and just get in there and roll your sleeve up, you're half the way there.
Sean Garlick: You're right. It's about confidence, too. It’s about your ability to…When you run a business, your employees, they live and die on your attitude, your demeanour, and your confidence. If you're positive, they're positive.
If you tell them we can do it...
Phil Tarrant: They'll do it.
Sean Garlick: Then, they know they can do it.
Phil Tarrant: Yes, it's good.
Sean Garlick: It's about getting that trust, and having them all on the bus.
Phil Tarrant: Yes, and I think also, leaning on... You're quite fortunate that you played footy at a league level and you knew a lot of blokes who maybe had some capacity to help you out and launch into a bit… I think everyone's, irrespective of what they do or their sort of community, you can lean on people around you and ask for a hand.
Sean Garlick: Absolutely, you've got be not afraid to ask. Unless you ask, you don't know. Quite often, people, I've found, they're generous with their time. They want to help you out. Especially successful people that you go to for advice, they're flattered that you come and see them and they're always willing to help.
Phil Tarrant: That's good. Excellent.
You can follow me @philiptarrrant. You can follow Adam @adamzuchetti. If you're feeling hungry as I do right now and you want to look about what pies you can eat, how do you track you guys down?
Sean Garlick: Just garlospies.com.au.
Phil Tarrant: Okay, and available anywhere they sell good food?
Sean Garlick: That's right. You can pretty much find us most places.
Phil Tarrant: Nice one. You guys on Twitter and all that sort of stuff?
Sean Garlick: Yes, we're on Facebook, we're on Instagram. Twitter, I think we're just not quite there yet.
Phil Tarrant: Okay. Search and find out. Thanks for tuning in, we’ll see you next week. Bye.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.
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