How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. An Accidental Business Is Born.
I lead a completely different life before I morph into The Ironing Board Cover Lady.
I own a market research consultancy and am on the Board of Directors of the American Chamber of Commerce in Sydney. My partner, Victor Pleshev, is an architect with his own practice. The ‘recession we had to have’ in Australia, starting in 1989, decimates the building industry and architects in particular.
Victor’s main clients are developers and they are the first to fall.
By early 1992 the writing is well and truly on the wall. Too many clients are falling like dominoes. Owing us unpaid fees.
A simple addition of fees coming in and subtraction of money owed to suppliers equals a big minus.
More money is owed than we have in reserve.
We know it’s time.
The property market is dead in the water.
We have to close our business, say goodbye to our 16 devoted staff, sell our house of 19 years and personal possessions to pay most of our debts and make a new beginning.
We have a decision to make. Stay still and brood. Or get over it, pick ourselves up, move forward and start anew.
To start anew is a ‘no brainer’. That road map is a journey with a destination.
But! We are making this new beginning, this new start in an already maturing life, as poor as church mice! With some debt still hovering over us, to pay off over time.
Where to make this new beginning is an easy decision. We always wanted to live in the Australian bush.
But on different terms.
Have a country house and keep our city terrace house in Balmain, where we lived.
The city terrace house has to go, but the country property is now a definite possibility.
There is an extended drought in 1992 and our purchase is an over cleared, over grazed small sheep property of 54 hectares (about 130 acres) selling for the right price for us.
He wants to pack up and move north where the weather is warmer and the rain falls in more abundance.
To our delight, he happily finances us until we arrange our own financing.
What attracts us is WATER! It has a drought proof bore.
Why is this exciting?
It means we can have the large country garden we always dreamed of.
I’m an expat American. Born in New York City. I’ve mainly lived in apartments, town houses or terrace houses with small gardens.
I’ve always yearned for the solitude and freedom of the wide open spaces.
But you can’t have a garden without water. Our climate here is hot and dry in summer and cold and frosty in winter.
We used to have abundant winter rains with sluggish summer rains. Climate change has reduced the abundant winter rains to occasional winter rains and a big hope for rain in summer.
So a drought proof bore means part of our dream can come true.
The location is perfect. 970 metres high, tucked between the scenic hills of Bathurst and the burgeoning vineyards of Mudgee. And only a few hours from Sydney.
As exhilarating as this new start is, the reality check is this: – we still have to earn a living.
Selling our terrace house in Balmain to pay our bills means we aren’t independently wealthy. Victor comes with some architectural projects in tow, but I come with no work prospects at all. And the architectural work will dry up quickly.
Victor has always designed products for his clients, so we decide to try our hand at product design.
Our first product is an accident. An ironing board cover. Designed as a gift for his mother.
His mother, Margarita, is recovering from a stroke.
Her major side effect is the loss of feeling in her right hand. Not noticeable to you and me, but a problem for her. Holding a teacup, struggling with an ironing board cover that constantly moves, holding an iron, aren’t easy tasks for Margarita.
While visiting her in Sydney in 1994 and watching her iron, she bursts into tears because she can’t control both her iron and the cover that is relentlessly in motion on her board.
The next day we go out to buy her a decent cover. One that won’t move on her board.
We come back with a few. None of them do the job for her. Drawstring covers are too difficult for her to pull tight and good quality elastic covers look like giant mushrooms on her board and don’t fit tight.
On our drive back from Sydney, Victor muses that if he can get a multistorey building to stay up, he can get an ironing board cover to stay on his mother’s board.
And he does.
Over a period of 6 weeks, he designs and perfects The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover. And gives it to his mother as a gift. And promptly forgets about it.
A few days later his mother rings. She has orders for 20 covers!
He tells her he’s an architect and doesn’t make ironing board covers.
She explains to him that she loves her cover so much, she rang all her friends in the Russian community (yes, they’re Russian) and they all want one. And we can’t let her down by not making them.
So there we are, at our dining room table, cutting out and making ironing board covers!
Victor is chief of layout and cutting and I’m head seamstress.
Our tools are a pair of Singer battery powered scissors that will only cut two pieces of fabric at a time, a 25 year old domestic sewing machine and a brand new, domestic overlocker, purchased in haste to get the job done.
An accidental business is born!
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Prototype Kills Sewing Thrills
I started sewing when I was 12 years old. Not because I thought it was a handy skill to have. No. I was flunking sewing in junior high school. And I had something to prove.
I was an honour student. Scoring A’s & B’s. And here I was, flunking of all things, SEWING!
I come from a family of innate talent.
My mother was a couture dressmaker in New York City.
My father was a very talented pencil artist and in great demand as a freelance commercial artist.
My maternal grandmother sang in the chorus at the Metropolitan Opera.
My maternal grandfather was a barber. His shop was on Broadway and he was a barber to the Broadway stars.
Next door was my paternal grandfather, a shoemaker. He made shoes for the likes of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks!
Even my older sister showed early talent as a gifted artist in charcoals.
I assumed I also inherited this mass of unbridled talent that knew no bounds.
But I didn’t.
My school sewing project, a simple blouse, has me stumped. I remember the blouse well. It was pale blue cotton with a simple collar, short baby doll sleeves, front and back darts that are fitted at the waist and buttons down the front.
The semester is 12 weeks long. By the end of the 12 weeks, we are supposed to have finished our blouse and wear it to school on the last day. Most of my classmates not only finish their blouse, but are making skirts and dresses to fill in the gap until the end of the semester.
Five days before the end of the semester, I still haven’t sewn two seams together correctly. My darts are not only pathetically crooked, but are barely holding together. Because I ripped the stitching out so many times, the fabric is so perforated, it resembles tatting more than a solid piece of cotton.
In desperation, I take my blouse home for my mother to finish so I can wear it to class on the last day.
And as all mothers do for the children they love, she rescues me and makes my blouse wearable.
But barely presentable. Not with all those holes I make from ripping stitches out. The uneven collar length, a result of my seam ripping, followed by the trimming I do to even things up, becomes more Nehru than the intended Peter Pan.
How did I get into such a wretched state?
At the end of the semester, my sewing teacher rewards me by giving me a ‘D’ rather than an ‘F’.
She personally thinks I’m incredibly inept and deserves an ‘F’. I think she’s cold and heartless. As well as completely disinterested. I’m sure my hatred of her is a mutual feeling.
Why is she so gracious to only give me a D?
Deep within her beats a very slightly warm heart.
As an honour student, an ‘F’ will keep me off the honour roll that semester. But I was liked by my school principal, who told her I had scored enough A’s during the semester to make up for a ‘D’ and could, therefore, stay on the honour roll.
With a ‘D’, my sewing teacher achieves her objective of marking me low.
And you know what? I can’t help myself. I am genuinely grateful for such a merciful decision!!
But I still loathe and despise her and hope I never cross her path again.
Infuriated that I can’t get the hang of sewing, I decide to teach myself, with the help of my very talented mother. Never one to turn my back on a challenge, I immerse myself in all the technicalities of sewing and discover I absolutely love the creative thrill it gives me. To wear something to school that is admired by my classmates is flattering.
My ‘bespoke’ clothes transform me from ‘inept’ into ‘expert’. I become a fountain of knowledge about sewing and am the girl everyone turns to for tips and information.
From the age of 12 until 1994, I make everything. All my clothes of every description, including tailored suits, overcoats and lingerie. Home furnishings, bedspreads, slipcovers, blinds, lamp shades. There is nothing I haven’t tackled.
So when my partner, Victor, asks if I will make the ironing board cover he wants to design for his mother, I say yes in the blink of an eye. What’s to an ironing board cover? It has a fabric top and elastic around the edge. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
That’s the last time I’ve said yes without asking what he has in mind.
What I don’t know, is that I will sew virtually non stop for 6 weeks.
Victor also has his own eye-opening discoveries.
His first is not knowing the size of his mother’s board. As this is a surprise gift for her, he can’t ask her. And a quick walk through any hardware store shows him there are a few sizes to choose from.
Not to be deterred, he rings Hills Industries in Sydney, who make ironing boards, and develops a friendship with their technical director. He gives Victor all the information he needs to be able to develop a cover that will fit every board made within the last 60 years.
Hills Industries is more than a bit amused that an architect is trying to design a cover for his mother.
With that out of the way, we have to assemble all the components before we can sew the first stitch.
First is choice of fabric. And this is our initial indication that maybe his mother, Margarita, isn’t the only one who has a problem with poorly fitting ironing board covers.
A search through Material Matters in Mudgee NSW shows a large choice of synthetic fabrics, but a more limited choice of heavy duty, 100% cottons. When the sales person asks why it has to be pure cotton and not a synthetic, I tell her it’s for an ironing board cover, so it has to be durable and resistant to burning. “Ah,” she says, “so you’ve had enough of those cheap covers, too?”
One light bulb goes on!!
Second component. What is he going to use for the tension cord? This is the secret ingredient that gives the perfect fit and stops the cover from moving on the board. It has to be stretchable, but much firmer than ordinary elastic.
As an architect, Victor is used to ringing suppliers to find the unusual to fill design criteria, so this is nothing different. Calls show, however, that there is only one company in Australia who makes what he wants. It’s cotton covered elastic shock cord. And he can buy a small quantity of 100 metres. We need 1.8 metres, but 100 metres we have to buy if he wants to make this for his mother.
Third component. The clips to secure the crisscross tension cord. We look at – to me – thousands of options, but come back to one type that we know will last forever. Curtain track glides. Think about it. You pull your drapes and curtains back and forth a squillion times and they rarely ever break.
Fourth is the interior elastic that threads through the hem that ensures the cover always has a tailored, sculpted look. As a sewer I only use braided elastic. But we are presented with a cheaper option of knitted elastic. One quick yank and the knitted elastic breaks. We are never able to break the more expensive braided elastic. So braided elastic it is. It’s our easiest decision.
All up, there are 11 components to this cover. I feel like Sherlock Holmes, hunting for and then celebrating the discovery of each elusive item we want.
Assembling them seems to me the hard part, and once completed, we are ready to sew.
I thought we’d knock this over before dinner!
6 weeks later the cover is finished.
This isn’t a spare time project. Victor dedicates every day, often several hours a day, to complete this gift. This is a harder challenge than he anticipates and he’s going to see it to completion. And completion day is March 20th. His mother’s birthday.
Because Victor wants to make sure this cover will fit his mother’s board without any hiccups, he insists it has to be a one size cover that fits all boards. So we borrow ironing boards in every size from our new country neighbours, for our fittings.
They think we are raving lunatics from the city.
As do farming friends from nearby Mudgee NSW who ring to invite us out several times during those 6 weeks, only to be told we can’t go. Denis finally asks what we’re doing that makes us so anti-social. We reluctantly tell him we’re designing an ironing board cover. He hangs up, speechless!
The design and sewing is done in 3 segments. The nose first, the heel next and the middle last. Doesn’t sound hard, does it?
But we are novices at this. Driving on ‘L’ plates without an instructor.
So every segment is cut out, sewn and fitted an interminable number of times. The slightest crease or bulge means an adjustment has to be made. A new piece cut out, sewn and refitted. Again. And again. And again.
One day, I’m sitting at my sewing machine watching Victor do a ‘fitting’ and realise I can no longer stand the sound of the ironing board creaking. Every time he touches it to adjust his prototype, it creaks. And it seems to me it creaks non stop, hour after hour.
I think I’m ready for a prolonged stint at Rozelle Psychiatric Hospital.
There is personal conflict as well.
Victor at times assumes the mantle of commander-in-chief and insists on telling me how to construct his prototype. Him telling me how to sew! That’s like me leaning over his shoulder and telling him how a roof should be pitched.
We get through this with stony silences from me.
Victor thinks I’m the Wicked Witch from Oz. Best avoided at every sighting!
As with all things, the day comes when it’s finished. Finally, once and for all. Never to be made again.
It’s tucked into its little pouch, complete with fitting instructions, and mailed to his mother, Margarita, as a surprise birthday present.
I blow it a kiss as it goes down the chute of the post office.
I desperately want her to like it – to make the 6 weeks worthwhile – but deep down, I never want to see that cover again!
But as with some things, they don’t happen as you’d like. She loves it. She tells her friends. We make 20 more. Then make the next 500.
And I grow to hate the sight of my sewing machine.
This accidental business is growing. And we desperately need to find a company to make the covers for us.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Sewing Companies Bark And Bite!
Making the first 500 Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Covers on our dining room table is stretching our patience. This isn’t what we want to do. As these covers are slowly developing into an unexpected business, we decide our time is better spent on market development, not making the product.
After a little searching, we find a sewing company in Bathurst, an hour’s drive from Ilford, who say they’d like to make the product. We give them the opportunity to make a few dozen, so they can work out an appropriate price per cover, and agree to a price.
We place an order for 250 covers to be ready for our first Mudgee Field Days in July 1994.
A few days before the Mudgee Field Days, we arrive to pick up our covers.
The first thing we notice when we enter their building is the impenetrable barrier put in place which bars us from entering their sewing area. Prior to this day, we’ve been able to freely access the back area and speak to the sewers to discuss any problems they are having and work out ways to make the sewing easier for them.
We don’t twig to the fact this barrier is for us!
When we approach the counter, with our cheque made out for the agreed price, the business owner appears with bad news. She tells us the covers were more difficult to make than originally thought. Remember, they practiced on a few dozen, which we paid for, before setting their final price.
She’s adding an extra fifty cents to the price per cover.
That is an unexpected $125.00. We say we won’t pay, can’t pay, and we have, in writing, an agreed price.
We can see a lawyer, if we wish, but she isn’t releasing the covers until we pay the extra $125.00.
Initially, it’s to jump over the counter and inflict the same pain onto her that she just caused us!
Fortunately for all of us, Victor is right behind me. His response is to take my arm, escort me out of the building and lock me in our car while he goes back inside.
As an architect, Victor’s highly skilled in negotiating with builders, engineers, clients and tradesmen and women of every calibre. His skills are honed towards a win-win situation. Everyone must feel they’ve won something at the end of the deal.
When he returns to the car with our 250 covers, he tells me he convinced her, albeit reluctantly, that the agreed price was a moral issue, but she still wouldn’t release the covers. After some verbal massaging on his part, and to ensure there was a win-win ending, he offers to pay her an extra 10 cents per cover. Which she accepts and releases the hostages.
My innermost feelings haven’t changed though. I spent my childhood playing on the streets of New York City with the neighbourhood boys. I learned a few things from them. That sometimes taking no prisoners is a good option!
The next stop?
A sewing company in Windsor, just outside of Sydney and about a 3 hours’ drive from Ilford. We find them in the Yellow Pages.
The factory owner is a great guy. Affable, experienced, eager to help us and wanting to do the work. He gives us an estimated price, but to make sure we won’t experience the ‘Bathurst Hostage Syndrome’, we place an order for 50 covers so they can work out an exact price and agree to pay whatever price they set, to release those 50 covers. If the price is agreeable, we’ll place an order for more.
Their price is a few cents more than his estimate. We like their workmanship, so we place an order for 500 covers.
By this time, The Guide Dogs are selling our cover over the telephone to raise funds for the training of guide dogs and pets as therapy dogs. They are a big client from the first day. So we really need a company to make 500 covers at a time.
And what a relief to know we’ll no longer be making ironing board covers!
A phone call from Windsor lets us know the covers are ready to pick up. With great excitement we get in the car and drive the 3 hours to get them.
A girl in the office directs us to a roller door. She says the covers are there.
Then she starts barking at us!
“Your covers are a pain in the bum to make!”
“You’re too fussy!”
“It is, after all, just an ironing board cover!!!!”
“No one here wants to make them!”
“Don’t come back!”
….are the words I seem to remember.
And with that, a man inside starts hurling the covers, packed in plastic bags, out the roller door, bag by bag!
A ‘pugnacious dog’ has just bitten us on the hand!
Victor goes into the office to talk to the factory owner. He is apologetic, but says his workers don’t want to make them. Too fiddley, they tell him. There is easier work to do.
Devastated, we drive back to Ilford hardly exchanging a word, each of us deep in thought. All we want is to find a company that will make our products with love and care.
A few days previously, I was reading Business Review Weekly magazine and remembered an article about the NSW Industrial Supplies Office. It helps businesses find companies to work with, it said. That was a different perspective. We’re the government and we’re here to help.
In desperation, we ring early the next morning. We tell them our criteria. First. We want to keep the manufacturing in the Central Tablelands, where we live. Second. To be made with love and care by men and women who have a disability.
We think this is a tall order.
But they ring back within 2 hours with the names of 3 companies they think will suit us. Victor rings all three and we agree to meet one company that day.
And it’s been a perfect match ever since.
Wangarang Industries in Orange NSW has been sewing for us since October 1994. Finding them was like Goldilocks finding just the right bed to sleep in.
And like Goldilocks, I let out a great sigh of relief. This time I know I’ve sewn my last Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover!
With the sewing finally off the dining room table and out the door, it’s time to get to know my customers.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Squabbles & Tittle Tattle About An Ironing Board Cover!
It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Couples squabbling over a cover. And what can there be to gossip about?
But I have the stories to prove it.
A telephone call at 6:00am one spring morning takes me by surprise. It’s an order for an ironing board cover! What a relief. I was sure someone had died!!
The caller is apologetic and explains he’s a forestry worker on his way to work. He needs the cover urgently and wants to make sure we post it that day so he gets it the next day. He isn’t far away. Just the other side of Bathurst NSW.
I always do some market research when I take an order. Simple questions like:- Are you a new customer or an existing customer?
His answer? I’m both!
He sheepishly explains his predicament. He and his wife are separated. His wife took their Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover with her and left him the ironing board and the ‘tattiest cover I’ve ever seen’. He buys a supermarket cover but can’t iron on it. It never stays still. Always jumps around.
He goes further. To tell you the truth, my wife and I don’t speak. But I want your cover so badly, I swallowed my pride and rang her to get your telephone number so I could order one.
I’ve seen forestry workers and they’re not known for their sartorial elegance! Why does he need a really good cover like The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover? And why does he need one by tomorrow?
With a little prodding (I’ve got to be quick:- he’s on his way to work), I discover he has a new woman in his life. He sees her almost every night and he wants to show her his best side – which is his well ironed side! Tomorrow’s Friday and on Saturday they’re going to a wedding and he needs to iron his best suit to perfection.
Lucky me and lucky him!
Every April the Bathurst Show Society stages the Royal Bathurst Agricultural Show. When we exhibited there in 2000, a previous customer purchased a cover to replace the one she bought 3 years before. We chit chatted like old friends, caught up on the latest news, and then she was off.
In July that year, she comes to our exhibit at The Mudgee Field Days. She taps her well manicured nails on our ironing board and says she needs another cover, plus felt underlay, plus pressing cloth. The whole set. While packing it up, I ask her who she’s giving this to, as I assume it must be a gift.
Samantha and Regina flatted together for quite some time. Their mother, Margaret, is a customer of many years. She bought them a cover as a present when they first moved in together.
Samantha fell in love and moved in with her boyfriend. But wanted to take their Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover with her. Regina flatly refused. Margaret says they resolved the stalemate by flipping a coin. Heads, Samantha takes the cover with her, tails Regina gets to keep it. Regina won and Samantha’s boyfriend bought her a cover as a surprise present!
Then there are the couples who both iron, but don’t like the other partner ironing for them. They bicker over each other’s ironing techniques. They have separate boards and buy their covers in their favourite, albeit different, colours.
A butler in the wealthy eastern suburbs of Sydney is a continuing source of referrals for me. His referrals are always unexpected and their stories colourful.
When I recently asked a new customer how he found out about us, I was given this answer.
I was at a dinner party in Bellevue Hill and the subject turned to ironing.
(Can you believe this? Super wealthy business moguls and their wives chit chatting about an ironing board cover!)
Everyone at the table complained about ironing board covers never fitting properly or staying put. Including my wife.
Although my wife has an ironing lady, she does her own last minute touch ups. She’s always so grumpy at the ironing board, I avoid her so I don’t become a target for her bad mood as well.
As I was leaving the dinner party, the butler takes me aside, gives me your telephone number and details and tells me I’ll never regret this purchase. He assures me my wife will be a different woman at the ironing board from now on.
How soon can you put a Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover in the mail to me, he asks?”
No matter who you are, it’s the day to day little things in life that really annoy you. It’s also the simple solutions that make your life happier and less stressed.
The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover has found its niche and is quickly becoming the simple solution for difficult ironing board covers amongst the discerning.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Bikers In Helmets! Is This A Raid?
We live and work in the Australian bush. In an absolutely beautiful part of the Central Tablelands of New South Wales (NSW).
Ilford is a little village of a few farming families tucked between the scenic hills of Bathurst and the burgeoning vineyards of Mudgee. We’re 970 metres high, have cold frosty winters and hot dry summers.
Our remote property is 54 hectares (130 acres) and our nearest neighbour is a few kilometres away. Our garden is a hectare (almost 2.5 acres).
Autumn in our garden is a kaleidoscope of falling autumn leaves and spectacular colour over a long period.
Spring is the harbinger of sensual pleasures that only wet winters across the Great Dividing Range of Australia can produce, with fragrance filling the air.
Intoxicating wattles, thousands of fragrant bulbs of jonquils and freesias abound; flowering honeysuckle drapes a hectare of our fence line as well as our house; more than 200 scented roses fill the air; the 20 philadelphus shrubs in bloom for just a few weeks turn visitors weak at the knees and our thousands of lavender shrubs are billowing early musky blooms in every direction.
Bathurst is an hour away. Mount Panorama is the mecca for the Bathurst Car Races and Bathurst Motorcycle Races. At two different times of the year.
We’re also only 15 minutes away from the historic gold mining town of Sofala and a hop, skip and jump away from the Turon Technology Museum. Hill End is a little further away, but a more spectacular old gold mining town than Sofala.
All are weekend getaways for touring bikes.
Then there’s the world famous vineyards in the town of Mudgee, 70 kilometres west, which hosts annual general meetings for the Ulysses Club and other national bike clubs.
The sound of bikes on the Sofala Road, 400 metres away from us, down the dirt lane from our front gate, is a week-end given. And when it’s a serious bike convention, I’m standing at the gate, watching them ‘vrooooom’ by, in awe.
So why does a convoy of bikers coming up our dirt lane in early spring concern us?
So when a group of about a dozen bikers storms our front gate, we become a bit anxious.
The lead biker takes off his helmet to reveal a full growth of beard, longish curly red hair and a full moustache. The only thing missing are the tattoos on his upper torso, which we can’t see because he has his leather biker’s jacket on.
We meet him at the gate. Him on one side and Victor and me on the other side with our dogs as a backup.
He politely asks us if this is where they can buy The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover.
I’m sure I haven’t heard him correctly, so ask him to repeat his question!
I’d heard him right the first time.
My next thought is, “they think we keep cash on the premises!!”
But there is something about his polite demeanour that makes Victor and me think this young man isn’t a threat.
And he isn’t.
The dozen bikers are from the Australian Navy, on leave for a few weeks and letting their hair down.
One of their group was given a Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover by his mother and they all came to take one back to their naval base to use.
Our tentative suspicion quickly turns to a warm welcome, with the gate opened wide and 12 leather booted and leather clad bikers marching through to the front door.
They all squeeze into our tiny packing room, select their colours, pay for their purchases, refuse the offer of a cup of tea/coffee because they have a 4 hour bike ride ahead of them, and leave in the same haze of dirt that brought them up to the gate.
Victor and I look at each other, shake our heads in amazement, and disclaim, “Can you believe that?”
And we can’t.
This accidental business has taught us to expect everything and be surprised by nothing. It’s also enriched our lives and given us many stories to dine out on!
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. The Sydney Morning Herald Blows Up Our Fax Machine
“In the future, everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame”.
Andy Warhol’s 1968 throwaway line becomes the inspiration and aspiration of everyone in business.
Ever since we launched The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover in 1994, we’ve earmarked publicity as important. The cover meets all the criteria for a successful publicity campaign. Breakthrough invention. Made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability. Architect solves a difficult problem with a simple solution.
But it has one overwhelming handicap. IRONING IS A DULL AND BORING SUBJECT!
And another handicap. An ironing board cover isn’t high tech. It’s low tech, or worse, no tech.
Just one big yawn for journalists.
The first break is in July 2002 with ABC Radio National. Julie McCrossin’s Life Matters program is doing a special series on Innovative Businesses In The Bush. After listening to three programs, Victor prods me into ringing them with our story.
A call to Julie’s producer, Kathy Gollan, is met with the response the series is finished. In dismay, I blurt out to Kathy it can’t be because she hasn’t heard our story yet! Then I start talking and don’t stop until I run out of air. When I can no longer breathe, I have to stop.
Kathy, sensing an opportunity to get a word in, gives me a reply that stuns and delights me. She’ll run the story the following week, if I’m available for a live on-air interview. I think I’ve died and gone to heaven!
The rules for the interview are simple. Absolutely no sales hype. And just keep talking until Julie asks another question. Then keep talking until the next question. This is no problem for me as I can talk under water with marbles in my mouth!
I am allowed one piece of sales hype. To tell the listeners that The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover is sold by telephone marketing by the charity The Guide Dog Associations in NSW/ACT, SA, and WA to raise funds to train their guide dogs and pets as therapy dogs.
Not expecting much to happen, I don’t tell The Guide Dogs’ in any of the three states about the upcoming interview.
Remember the Scout motto of ‘always be prepared’? Guess who wasn’t?
10 seconds after the interview ends, the public jams the incoming lines of Guide Dogs NSW with queries and orders, to the extent that no one in their offices can make any outgoing calls for the rest of the day! It takes three people in NSW to staff the switch. WA, 3 hours behind, is forewarned by NSW, so is ready!
An email to me from Guide Dogs NSW asks just one question. Who’s your PR agent?!
Flushed with a new sense of confidence, we venture forth into renewed activity to generate publicity. And are met with the familiar lack of interest.
Until Victor approaches Guy Allenby of the Sydney Morning Herald. He’s full of interest because HE IRONS!
A journalist who irons is as valuable as a Japanese princess who produces a boy child!
But he’s also full of pessimism because he’s never had, or heard of, or seen a cover that doesn’t move on his board.
To prove it, we send him one to test drive.
The deal is done. He’ll run a story about the cover and us in a Thursday edition of Domain magazine. In October or November 2002.
October and November 2002 come, go, and no story appears. So we forget about it. Chalk it up as another case of lack of interest by the publisher.
December 12, 2002 is a beautiful, balmy pre-Christmas day in Ilford. My early morning walk with the dogs down to the creek and back is pure bliss. The rising sun of early summer warms the heart and cheers the soul.
The first call comes at 7:30AM. A young lady from Clayton Utz Solicitors wants to order a cover. “How did you find out about us”, I ask. “In the Sydney Morning Herald”, she replies. “A full-page story about you is in Domain magazine”.
Victor is just leaving for a meeting. As he goes out the door, I manage to tell him the article finally appears.
That’s the last minute I have to myself. Because the phone rings, and rings, and rings until 8:30PM!
In 2002, our website doesn’t have online ordering yet. But we do have a downloadable order form that can be faxed to us. And the faxes come non-stop until our geriatric fax machine runs out of puff at 3PM.
Victor arrives back at 4PM to be greeted by a mad woman. Me!
I race out of my office, the cordless phone permanently attached to my left ear. I frantically wave and point to the fax machine and in between phone calls try to tell him the fax has blown up and he has to fix it.
He has no idea how busy I’ve been with phone calls all day and doesn’t understand why I can’t speak in a complete sentence. Nor does he fully comprehend the language of frantic waving and pointing.
It’s as if he’s come back to unfamiliar surroundings!
But he quickly gets the gist of the waving and pointing. He’s also an excellent Mr-Fix-It and inspects the internal workings of the fax. “That’s it”, he says. “It’s sent and received its last fax”.
In the meantime, the fax telephone keeps ringing because people are still trying to send faxes. To keep our sanity, we take it off the hook.
At just before 5PM, we urgently ring Pencraft in Mudgee to organise a new fax.
Malcolm has one ready for us at 7AM the next morning. Victor is back by 8:30AM with an assurance that all we need to do is plug it in. And at the flick of the ON switch, we receive our first fax order of the day!
The phone calls continue until the 22nd of December, 2002. To our dismay, each day is as intense as the first day. We send out so many parcels, our local post office in Kandos NSW isn’t big enough to contain the daily deliveries. The overflow goes out the back door. We even deplete their supply of parcel post bags.
As every company winds down for the Christmas break, we also deplete our sewing company’s ability to supply product. Their Christmas break starts on the 17th of December and they get out all they can by then. And ditto again for our supplier of felt underlay. They have nothing left to send us by the 22nd of December, their last day of business.
This isn’t just 15 minutes of fame. This is a gala performance worthy of bringing the house down.
And no one knows why.
Guy Allenby of the Sydney Morning Herald is truly surprised at the response. Other articles that appeared that day in Domain generated no response, so he’s at a loss as to why this is so remarkable.
But remarkable it is. The calls continue well into March of 2003.
And people still remember the story. Our latest sale from that article is 2nd September 2006 at Mosman Arts & Craft Market in Sydney. Dorothy remembers it when she sees our cover on display. And takes one home with her.
There’s a conundrum in business. If I tell you we have the most wonderful, time saving ironing board cover in the world, you don’t believe me. But if Guy Allenby of the Sydney Morning Herald writes that this is the greatest cover he’s ever used, the whole world believes him. Third party endorsement is that powerful. Which is why publicity is so valuable and highly sought after.
And why we wish ironing wasn’t such a dull and boring subject!
In spite of this, by now, there are more than 150,000 covers in use around the world. And growing daily. All made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Why Retailers Turn A Deaf Ear
Our dedicated customers always ask us why we don’t have the The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover in every retail store in Australia. It’s almost like a failing on our part.
I used to want to hang my head in shame, but no more. Our quality is far too superior to appeal to most retailers. That’s not bragging, it’s unfortunately a fact of life. Major retailers think everyone wants to buy cheap. I call it the Wal-Mart/Big W/K Mart syndrome.
Sometimes we want cheap. But many times, we want quality. And we often yearn for something different. Don’t we?
When you shop in large Australian stores, do you ever wonder why there’s a sameness in product from store to store? It doesn’t matter what store you visit, everything looks the same. There’s little difference between David Jones, Myers, Coles, Woolworths, Big W, K Mart and Target.
Just about everyone complains that it’s very difficult to find something unusual. Do you?
I always wondered about this sameness. Until we ventured into the retail environment.
Major stores don’t buy product with their customers’ satisfaction in mind.
They buy product to make the most amount of money they can in the shortest time span. If enough of us don’t buy something within a proscribed period, they delete it and replace it with something else. No matter how good it might be.
Their buying criteria is very strict.
Let’s start with David Jones. A store I personally like and have made a number of large white goods purchases because they stand by their customer if you have a problem. I’ve been a card holder there since 1970 and have never been let down by their customer service.
In the mid 90’s, our customers kept asking us why The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover wasn’t in David Jones. They associate the quality of our cover with the quality sold by David Jones.
So I ring DJ’s. On the plus side, their buyer politely takes my phone call. And explains to me that she knows who I am. Also knows people come to their stores asking for The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover.
But they won’t stock it because we don’t go through a distributor. They have a policy of never buying one product only from a supplier.
It’s an accounting issue. The Accounts Department doesn’t want to have too many invoices to pay at the end of the month. They prefer buying many items from one distributor. Even though this adds to the cost of any product. After all, the distributor wants their share as well.
We don’t have enough profit margin in our cover to add the distributor, David Jones and us into the profit share. You’d pay close to $75 for the cover if we did. Would you? I don’t think so.
So a door is closed.
And many small, innovative businesses that make superlative products within Australia find themselves cut off from the major stores for the same reason.
Stores like Peters of Kensington, Lincraft, Myers, all the chain stores, share a common policy. They don’t pay ‘freight’. They expect the manufacturer (us) to absorb the cost of getting their product to the stores. Or add it on to the wholesale price.
Many of the really big stores are notorious for making their suppliers wait to be paid and rarely pay their suppliers’ invoices in less than 60 days. A period most small businesses with limited or no overdraft, find difficult to manage.
It wasn’t so long ago that retailers paid cash for their goods before, or on, delivery. Before the behemoth stores like Woolworths and Coles began to dominate the retail industry and insisted all purchases be on account. It was a time when a manufacturer could make a decent profit and keep their manufacturing within Australia.
How long ago? Would you believe up until about 15 years ago?
When the Roth family owned Lincraft, the up market fabric and haberdashery chain, we had our cover in 30 of their 60 stores. It was a huge seller in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Perth. When Philip Roth visited the stores, he expected to see The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover on the shelves. He loved the cover because it was innovative and Australian made. And the family paid their suppliers religiously every 30 days.
When the Roth family sold their stores, the new buyer had a different perspective. Lincraft moved from a family owned, know your supplier and customer philosophy, to a discount store philosophy.
We received a letter curtly telling us the name of the new owner and his terms of trade. They were:- no price increases, no freight to be charged, and payment of our invoices every 90 days. The letter lacked empathy and interest in who we are and what we made.
We asked ourselves if this is how they’ll also treat customers. And decided, yes it was. So we withdrew our product immediately. And over time, Lincraft has become a shadow of its former self.
There’s a saying that if you swim with sharks, expect to be eaten. And large retailers are eating up Australian suppliers at a dangerous rate. If suppliers were animals, they’d now be on the endangered species list.
Many suppliers are told to compete with prices from third world countries, or be deleted from the retailers’ list. Which is why Made In Any Third World Country is the label most commonly seen on the bottom of, or sewn into, the goods you buy.
With this philosophy also comes a lack of customer care, customer service and knowledge about what they sell.
We have no department stores in my nearest regional centre, Bathurst NSW. All we have is Target and Big W. Plus a specialist appliance store, RetraVision, which has an enviable, helpful approach towards customer service and product knowledge. They are simply the best in product knowledge and customer care.
When my food processor did its last spin in the bowl, I went looking for a new one. Unfortunately, at that time, RetraVision didn’t sell food processors. Only Big W and Target, albeit a limited range.
Big W has the largest range. When I managed to track down a shop assistant (an achievement in itself) for advice, I was stunned by her answer. We receive no training and know nothing about any of these appliances. All we do is sell them. You’re supposed to know what you’re buying.
It’s this remote, no care and no responsibility attitude that prompted our decision to carefully choose only small, friendly retailers or else stay out of the retail network.
And another. As our customer, we’d be offended to discover a retailer told you they know nothing about our cover. To direct you to the packaging to find out whatever you might need to know that will help you make a decision, isn’t how we want you to be treated.
Oh, and one more. We won’t cut corners to provide an ever-cheaper price and an ever-diminishing product quality.
Yes, there’s one more. We love helping you.
Let’s see. That makes us unacceptable to all large retailers!
Which is good. Because if we don’t swim with sharks, we can’t be eaten!
Developing a market and a customer following away from the retail sector is a hard road to travel. It requires constant energy and almost Sherlock Holmes type investigation to find you.
There’s no market segment called ‘ironer’ that we can tap into easily. Our customers are mums and dads, celebrities, professional men and women and hobbyist quilters and sewers dedicated to their craft. Plus schools, laundries, dressmakers, fashion and bridal gown designers. You come from all walks of life and all over the world.
You’re sometimes as hard to find as a needle in a haystack.
So why do we choose this path?
This is so old fashioned, but it’s true. Because we think pleasing you, one on one, is so much more rewarding.
We like the warm, fuzzy relationship we have with you. We really like seeing the family tree grow with your referrals and your word of mouth. We like your positive emails, your phone calls, your suggestions for new products and your friendship. Most of all, we just really like you!
Establishing our business like this is similar to travelling down the yellow brick road with Dorothy and her friends to find the Wizard Of Oz. Always interesting, often delightful, and we look forward to the happy ending where you love The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover!
We have 150,000 covers in use around the world, and growing daily. All made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability.
This is our reward. We have thousands of customers who no longer buy their ironing board covers from major retailers.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Look At This Family Tree Grow!
Every time someone places an order for The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, I scour my database to see if they’ve ordered before. Since 1994, I’ve looked at names of customers on a daily basis. Sometimes I think I know them by heart.
And what do I find?
Family trees. Both personal, geographical and corporate.
Because I give an undertaking to keep personal details confidential, I’m not able to reveal the full personal names in our family tree. But when I get emails telling me this order is going to the 3rd and 4th generation of a particular family, I can tell you I get a buzz.
A recent order goes like this. Robin is ordering for her daughter. “Can you believe you now have 3 generations of my family using your cover?” Robin’s mother purchased one for herself and then gave one to Robin as a gift.
I have quite a few unusual last names on my database. Some time ago I decided to ring to find the source of their orders. Yes, it was a brother, sister, mother or father who placed the original order. Sometimes an auntie, sometimes a grandparent.
Then we have extended families of friends. Lyn’s referred 4 friends to us who purchased the cover. How did Lyn find out about us? From her sister-in-law, Jane.
Teo’s referred at least 5 friends who have purchased. Three of her friends have gone on to order covers as gifts for their friends.
Margaret’s lost track of how many of her friends have The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover because of her.
Trish has given the cover to all her children, packed a suitcase full of them for a trip to the UK and her son gave one as a thank you present to a family he stayed with.
Then there are street addresses only a few numbers apart. Neighbour telling neighbour.
Who are the best at referring? Men! Men recognise a good product when they use it and are the first to tell their friends. Stan is a champ. We’ve got many men on the North Shore of Sydney ironing on their Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Covers because of Stan. And Harry isn’t slow either.
But the most revealing are the corporate addresses we mail to. Because we send all parcels Receipted Delivery, they must be signed for. So busy executives want their cover mailed to their place of work for ease of delivery. No last minute rush home to rescue the parcel from their local Australia Post post office.
And our customers come from a wide spectrum of the corporate world. It’s co-worker telling co-worker. During a coffee break or those odd moments when they can indulge in some personal time rather than corporate time.
Perhaps you recognise some of the corporate names. Perhaps you work for one of these companies. But let me assure you these co-workers and their word of mouth are vital to the future of our business!
I wrote this list in 2006. It has grown exponentially since then.
ABC Science Unit
Airlie Vails Pty Ltd
All Saints College
Amrad Corporation Pty Ltd
Australia Post Marketing Dept
Australian Bridal Service
Australian Chocolate Pty Ltd
Australian Securities & Investment Commission
Baraque School of Sewing & Style
Bishop Druitt College
Blue Mountains Funerals
Bowring Macaulay & Barrett
Burra Heritage Cottages, Tivers Row
Canon Office Systems
Cheney & Wilson
Chief Minister’s Dept; Corporate Services
Choice Personnel Services Pty Ltd
Clayton Utz Solicitors
Cleworth & Barini Optometrists
Coober Pedy Hospital
Corporate Public Affairs, Australia Post
Count Wealth Accountants
DCB Advertising and Communications
Deutche Bank AG, Sydney
Empire Film Services
Ernst & Young
F B Rice & Co
Fintechnix Pty Ltd
Gilbert & Tobin Lawyers
Grazing Management Systems Pty Ltd
Harbour View Hotel
Hi-Fert Pty Ltd
Hunter Valley Cheese Co
Inside Out Interior Decorating
Integral Event Management
Int’l College of Tourism & Hotel Management
IPEC, Level 28, Grosvenor Place
James Hardie Industries
J I Moore and Partners
John Heine & Son Pty Ltd
Kerry Price Designs
Land McKaig Accountants
Limon Financial Services
Liverpool Local Court
Macquarie Graduate School of Management
Masson Wilson Twiney
Mercedes Benz Airport Express
McCoy, Grove & Atkinson
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Moneypenny Business & Tax
Nationwide Promotions Pty Ltd
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Nine Network Australia
North Shore Private Hospital
NSW Dept Of Agriculture
Numsbar Business Solutions
Office Of The Governor
Osman Insurance Brokers
Peter Hill Media Sales
Peter Shipway Real Estate
Poet’s Corner Winery
Port Melbourne Paints & Wallpaper
Premier Cork & Timber
Pussy Foot Shoe Boutique
Ray White Real Estate
Rock Around The Block
Rock Lily Cottages
Royal Adelaide Hospital
RPR Consulting Pty Ltd
Rural Press Limited
Shell Company Aust
Sime Darby Automobiles Pty Ltd
Sporte Leisure Pty Ltd
Spring Hill Wines
Spring Search & Selection
Standard & Poors MMS
St George Bank
St John Ambulance
Sun Studios Australia
Sydney Film Company
Sydney Ports Corporation
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Tanner Menzies Pty Ltd
The Logo Works Pty Ltd
The Lonely Palate Winery
The Marketing Store
The People for Places and Spaces
The Peninsula Group
The Purple Patch
The Spare Chair
The Westin Melbourne
Thistle Hill Vineyard
University Of Tasmania
UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building: Fashion Design Section
University Of Tasmania, School of Fashion Design
Venture Creek Pty Ltd
Village Roadshow Ltd
Walgett Police Station
Weekly Times Advertising
Westpac Banking Corporation
Willoughby City Council
We’re very proud of our customers and are always in awe of the help and encouragement they give us. They allow us to develop personal relationships with them and tell us their stories. We wouldn’t have this rich tapestry of family history if we sold only to retail stores. This is our reward for staying small, friendly and personal. Nothing beats this!
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Wow! It IS A Small World!!
Clip clop. Clip clop. The sounds of the footsteps hitting the footpath are brisk and definitely feminine. Short, light steps. Almost musical in their cadence.
It’s a balmy, early November morning. We’re at our monthly event in Mosman NSW, which is on the North Shore of Sydney Australia.
The morning sun is gently kissing our skin and we’re enjoying its warmth and promise of a beautiful spring day. The surrounding trees are already in early leaf and fragrant spring blossoms perfume the air.
It’s a blissful morning and you feel ecstatic at being alive!
The footsteps are getting closer. But still brisk and snappy. This woman has a purpose and knows where she’s going. And we aren’t her destination.
I see her come round the corner of our marquee and come to a sudden halt. Almost like a car quickly braking to avoid hitting something. She stops so abruptly, she almost loses her balance.
She looks at our signage, looks at our products on display, reads the sign again, and then looks at Victor, my partner.
“You’re an architect”, she says. “Yes I am”, he answers. “And you designed this ironing board cover, didn’t you”, she asks. “Yes, I did”, he answers.
Victor’s not a morning person. Early AM he’s a quiet man of few words. But seems able to participate in this conversation. Just answer yes or no. It’s simple and doesn’t stretch his conversation skills at this time of day.
Her name is Jennifer. She lives on the North Shore, not far from Mosman. She’s an architect too.
She has a friend, Olivia, who lives in the United Kingdom.
She’s just come back from a six-week visit with Olivia. While there, she irons every day on Olivia’s Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover. Jennifer loves this cover.
Olivia’s cover is a gift from her sister Catherine, who also lives on the North Shore of Sydney, a suburb away from Mosman.
And Jennifer is determined to find out where to buy this cover now that she’s back in Australia.
Victor, warming to her story, asks her about her architectural background. They discover they both worked for the same architectural practice, albeit at different times. And also discover that in the early 1980’s, Victor also worked with her husband, who’s also an architect.
Life is full of surprises.
What Jennifer doesn’t expect, is to discover The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover so quickly. She’s been home only one day. Which is why she comes to a screeching halt when she sees our signage. She’s also delighted to discover how much she has in common with the designer of this product.
Victor, the man of few words in the morning, suddenly becomes absorbed in his new customer’s background and the architectural experiences they share in common.
He packs her order, chats a while longer, then she’s off. With a big wave and a smile.
A very happy lady who sprinkles even more sparkle and brilliance into our now perfect spring morning.
Her parting comment? “I have to travel to the other side of the world to discover some of the best products are made in my own backyard!!”
It IS a small world.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. This Service Definitely Doesn’t Live Up To Its Slogan
My background is marketing and I read voraciously about the subject. Slogans intrigue me, especially when there’s a fantastic promise in the slogan. And when the service lets the slogan down, there’s nothing the company can do to rectify its image in my mind.
This is a story about FedEx.
Their slogan ‘When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight’ is revered in the marketing world as a slogan that built a company to greatness. It’s a fantastic promise and one of the reasons people use FedEx.
Unfortunately, that slogan doesn’t apply to regional Australia.
My customer, Poppy, lives in Tucson Arizona. She asks if we can send her Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover parcel by FedEx, lodged on her account.
This is what happens.
I ring FedEx Sydney. They give me the name of their agent in Bathurst. So I email Poppy to say, “Not a problem. There’s an agent in Bathurst’.
On Tuesday, 20th November 2007, Victor and I have a reason to be in Bathurst, an hour’s drive from our property in Ilford, NSW, which is the base for our business.
We go to their agent and are told by their receptionist they haven’t been a FedEx agent for 18 months. They ring FedEx on a regular basis to tell them that because they get daily visits from people like me wanting to lodge parcels.
Their receptionist graciously gives me the name, address and telephone number of FedEx’s current agent.
At 2:30pm we pull into their premises only to find the door locked and no notice on the door as to business hours.
I ring the number given me by their former agent. A woman answers the phone. I ask her their address. She confirms I’m in the right place. I tell her the door’s locked. She tells me yes, it is. Her partner only accepts parcels between 5pm and 6pm. The rest of the time they’re out making deliveries.
I’m infuriated! Especially as we have another appointment in Orange, 45 minutes away, and we’re now late for that.
As we’re pulling out, a company van pulls in. Victor gets out and tells the driver he has a parcel to lodge for FedEx. The driver refuses to accept it. Victor bullies him into accepting it and the driver reluctantly opens the office, fills out a docket, and gives it to Victor. Victor asks if there’s anything to be filled out for customs. “ Nope, mate, nothing”. He then puts the parcel in an Australian Air Express bag. Victor queries this and is told the bag will be picked up by FedEx that night.
It’s now 1:30 pm, Friday 23rd November 2007. 3 days after we lodge the parcel in Bathurst. David rings from Australian Air Express in Sydney. There’s no customs information with the parcel and we need to lodge a commercial invoice before the parcel can leave Australia.
In dismay, I ask why Australian Air Express is ringing and not FedEx. In complete surprise, David tells me there’s nothing on the bag to indicate it’s a parcel for FedEx. David then tells me to ring FedEx and complain.
He quickly washes his hands completely of the transaction and it’s left to me to sort it out.
I ring FedEx. Voice mail answers the phone. I choose service feedback as my option.
Kit is on the other end of the telephone and he’s a very professional man. He listens to my complaint and begins to take down the details of my experience. He asks me the postcode of Bathurst and keys in 2795. And sure enough, their former agent is still listed as their current agent.
He then assures me he’ll fix everything and make sure this parcel is treated with the utmost urgency.
And that’s what happens.
He emails me a commercial invoice to fill out and fax back. Then tells me that someone will ring me within the next 24 hours to give me a consignment number and date of despatch.
9am Saturday morning, 24th November 2007, Jenny rings. She gives me my consignment note number and tells me the parcel will be processed today, put on a plane tomorrow and will be in Tucson Arizona on Monday morning.
Then she ruins everything by telling me their current agent has a right to establish their own business hours and they can choose to accept parcels at whatever time they find convenient for them!
I point out to Jenny that until yesterday, FedEx didn’t even know who their Bathurst agent was. And if their agent has restricted trading hours, they’re obligated to tell the customer (me) when I make an enquiry.
This goes right over Jenny’s head. She devotes even more time to telling me that their agent can choose whatever hours they like to be open.
I’m an ex-New Yorker and I don’t take kindly to being pushed around by someone when I’m the customer.
I abruptly tell Jenny she is irritating me with her defence of the inability of FedEx to know who represents them in regional Australia and to expect me to arrange my schedule to accommodate an agent.
I then tell her I’m hanging up because I can’t listen to any more defence of a shoddy service.
And do just that.
In a huff!
Smoke pouring out of my ears!!
Victor and I have had this business since 1994. We’ve driven an hour one way to Bathurst at 10pm at night to help an elderly customer put their Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover on their board. And get home at 1am. We arrange to deliver parcels to customers that are out of our way. We accept orders and postpone debiting the customer’s credit card until a nominated day so the customer won’t be over their credit limit. Overseas customers ring at 2am to place an order. Customers who are early risers ring at 5am to place an order. Night owls ring at 11pm to place an order.
We think this is part of giving your customer the service they want and expect. We run our business for the convenience of you, the customer. And I guess, in our naivety, we expect the same from others.
How true is this saying? When you have a bad experience you tell 10 people. When you have a good experience, you may tell 3 people.
Because in business, we expect a good experience.
And we’re so inconvenienced when we don’t receive it, we tell anyone who will listen.
And sometimes it just feels good to be able to get even for the irritation and annoyance caused by their lack of care.
Slogans are to be lived up to. If they’re not, you’re most certainly disappointing your customer.
‘When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight’ isn’t worth two cents in my neck of the woods.
FedEx allows itself to be run like a business in a third world country. Open only for 1 hour a day, at a time when other businesses have closed for the day and when most people go home to spend time with their families.
Poppy will receive her parcel a week after I lodged it. It’s taken more than 4 hours of my time to drive from one agent to another plus the telephone time to make my complaint and sort out the problem.
Australia Post gets an Air Mail parcel to the West Coast of America in about 5 days. It takes me 5 minutes to lodge it over the counter on my account. I will never again accept a request to use FedEx.
Being in business is like looking after a small child. It always needs attention and if you take your eyes off the business, it can fall over and hurt itself, just like a small child.
I live by my own golden rule. To treat others as I wish to be treated isn’t always good enough. I also have another rule. If I publish a criticism on the internet for all to see, it’s crucial that I check back to see if that criticism still stands. That’s only fair, isn’t it?
A happy ending with Poppy’s parcel arriving on Monday, 26th November 2007, in Tucson Arizona. As promised by FedEx. And she was delighted to receive it.
And sometimes business gets in the way of good deeds. Our Christmas rush stopped me from checking with FedEx to see who their current agent is in Bathurst. But the call I made today to FedEx at 13 2610 certainly did surprise me.
I enquired who the agent(s) are for my region of the Central West. I gave the postcodes for Mudgee (2850), Orange (2800), Bathurst (2795) and Lithgow (2790). Melissa graciously tells me Australian Air Express is their agent for Mudgee, Orange and Lithgow. But we come to a stumbling block at Bathurst. After extensive checking, Melissa informs me, in a regretful tone, that there doesn’t appear to be any agent listed for Bathurst.
Now I’m in a real dilemma.
Should I be smug that Agent XYZ was relieved of their status of inflicting inconvenience on the unsuspecting? Or should I feel contrite that they’ve lost a part of their business that perhaps helps to pay the mortgage on the roof over their heads? Woe is me, I’ve never been remotely successful at gloating over the misfortune of others.
And what do I make of FedEx? I accuse them of not caring. Now look at them! Do they care after all? Is this a case of David, or in my case – Davila! – making Goliath sit up and take notice?
Or should I keep my remorse in check by reminding myself that no one from FedEx has come within snapping distance since my tirade on Saturday morning, federal election day, 24th November 2007? That I had to ring them to discover a change is made.
Gosh, life can be so complicated at times!
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. It’s 4am And America Is Calling
Before we connected to the internet and email, the sound of the fax purring at 4am was a semi-regular occurrence in the late 1990’s. The operative word here is WAS. I prefer IS, but some things are not meant to be.
My first ever international enquiry is from New York City. Anna Barton. She is a take charge woman from the beginning.
“How quickly can you despatch a cover to upper Manhattan?” she faxes.
I am so startled by her request, I read it and reread it several times before it sinks in that she actually wants to buy!! From us!!!
“Today”, I fax back.
That’s brave of me. Up until then, I have never sent a parcel overseas, other than presents to my family in southern Virginia, USA.
24 hours later, at 4am, another fax. “How much?” she asks.
Wanting to know how much is serious, I say to myself.
A phone call to the post office tells me how much postage will be in incremental weights of 250 grams. So I sit down, and with my Excel Spreadsheet open, work out how much each item weighs and how much it will cost, in postage, if she chooses item A only, A&B, etc.
I really can’t afford to make a mistake, so it takes a few hours before I can fax a reply with all her options.
Seriously. How long can it take to calculate a few items? Not long. But this was a big deal to me at the time and I think I went over each calculation at least a thousand times. That’s what lack of experience does to you, as well as being rattled at the thought of losing my first international order.
24 hours later, at 4am, she faxes me an order for one Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover and Superior Felt Underlay. Including her credit card details.
It’s in the post that day, before she can change her mind. I fax back her confirmation of posting. And ask her how she found out about us.
From her mother. She was given a cover as a present. And this order is for a co-worker.
Where does she work?
She’s a senior executive at NBC.
I’m star struck!
Shortly after her parcel arrives, so does another fax. At 4am. Another order. For another co-worker.
Then faxes at 4am for people in her apartment building.
Then faxes at 4am for orders for a little boutique shop in Soho that she frequents.
For about 6 months, the purr of the fax machine at 4am is both soothing and exciting. Suddenly, we are exporters. Just like BHP.
Only to hear a recording saying, “Sorry, this number could not be connected. Please check your number and try again”.
Maybe she’s changing fax numbers, I thought. Optimistically.
A few weeks pass and still no 4am faxes. As I have her home telephone number, I decide to ring. This is a really big decision for me, because in the 1990’s, overseas calls from rural Australia were $1 a minute.
Only to hear a recording saying, “Sorry, this number could not be connected. Please check your number and try again”.
Never to be heard from again. Just like those ‘Life’s Little Mysteries’ you read about in Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The little boutique shop in Soho? Lost as well. We have no contact details for it. Everything is done through Anna.
We grieve over our lost opportunity.
We are no longer exporters.
Until February 2001, when we are connected to the internet and launch our first website. In an instant, we became a true global business.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Botox For Ironing Board Covers!!
Life is full of surprising information. Some of it is good for your soul.
Victor’s mother, Margarita, who is the inspiration for The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover, always gives me magazines to read that are passed on to her by friends and probably passed on to them by friends. As I’m at least 3rd in line to read them, I often feel like I’m reading history.
In an edition of New Idea, there is an article titled ‘Kooky Cures’. The story about Botox really makes me sit up and read it from beginning to end.
Today, Botox is a treatment for wrinkles. Considered a trivial and vain condition by a number of people. But as with many drugs, their original purpose is lost in history.
For instance, when you come out of anaesthesia and your stomach feels like its creeping up to your throat, the injection the nurse reaches for was originally intended as an anti-nausea treatment for pregnant women.
LSD is a therapeutic drug for psychiatric disorders. But its hallucinogenic effects were quickly recognised, and appreciated, by the hippie movement of the 1970’s. This led to it being banned altogether for both medicinal and recreational use. It’s still considered by the medical profession to be a drug of merit and research continues today to study its medicinal benefits.
Botox was originally used to treat people who had uncontrollable blinking or crossed eyes. It works by interrupting messages sent from the nerves to a target area in the body. It relaxes the muscles responsible for the problem.
The cosmetic industry is quick to recognise it also relaxes the muscles in your face that causes wrinkles.
But it’s not all fluff.
It’s now a major treatment for cerebral palsy. Botox is injected into the muscles that spasm, which loosens them enough for a sufferer to walk more freely, albeit with a walking frame or other assistance, and gives them a chance to benefit from a better quality of life.
Because it’s a remarkably safe treatment, the medical profession is finding more and more uses for it, such as for Perthes disease, which causes the hip muscles to tighten and the ball and socket joint in the hip to break down. And is being considered as a possible treatment for people with a serious stuttering problem.
Thinking about how Botox stops spasms – and wrinkles – it occurs to me that that’s a common complaint made about ironing board covers. They wrinkle, jump about, never stay on the board and generally ruin your quality of life while ironing.
It then dawns on me that as the crisscross tension cord is the secret ingredient and simple solution that keeps The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover drum tight and wrinkle free on your board. . .
. . . It really is Botox for ironing board covers.
How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. Fast Forward To Today
The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover is now more than 20 years old.
A lot of water has washed underneath this bridge since 13th February 1994.
We did what everyone said we couldn’t do.
We built a worldwide business from broke on a remote property in rural Australia.
Before the internet. Before email. Before mobile phones. Before call waiting comes to my rural village.
From 1994 until 2001, we do it with one Telstra landline. A fax machine. And a determination to overcome the tyranny of distance.
Some things have changed.
Today, we are a significant global business with more than 350,000 customers in 29 countries around the world.
We make an important contribution to our surrounding rural community. We support them by buying local. Just as they support us by buying what we make.
I’m entrenched on Facebook. Twitter. Google+. Multiple websites. Podcasts. Online videos on YouTube. I’m there!
There are five additional products designed by Victor. And made with love and care in rural Australia by men and women who have a disability.
Customers are hungry for quality and innovation. And we’re delighted to accommodate them.
We no longer travel 60,000 kilometres a year to showcase our wares. We pack the exhibition equipment away in 2008. Hang up the car keys. And the wheels of our car do a jig!
Orders now come daily from existing customers. Referrals. New customers. By email. Telephone. Snail mail. My online shopping cart.
Some things stay the same.
I will forever be known as The Ironing Board Cover Lady wherever I go.
Loyalty always matters. We are committed to the rewards of monogamy.
We have the same suppliers that we started out with in 1994. With one exception. One of our original suppliers closed down. A new supplier took their place. Hired the staff from our original supplier. Who rang us. And it’s like we’ve never changed!
Wangarang Industries in Orange NSW, who employ men and women with special needs, still make our products with love and care in rural Australia.
A history of more than 20 years of loyalty counts. Our suppliers move mountains for us in a pinch. And I mean BIG mountains!
The Guide Dogs in NSW and WA are still ardent customers. The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover is in their top 5 products and is a staple in their product mix.
Our business focus is unchanged. Warm, friendly, personal service. And a deep desire to help others.
That’s how our business started. And that’s how we want to continue to grow.
This 20+ year journey hasn’t always been fun. Victor and I have faced many dark, scary moments along this Yellow Brick Road when we’ve seriously doubted what we’re doing.
But it’s always been interesting.
Attitude is everything. And dictates how you play the cards you’re dealt.
Life is meant to be lived.
And it is possible to carve out a fabulous life. In spite of the circumstances.
This big wide world is full of glittering examples. You don’t have to look far.
I just have to thank my long time business friend, Winston Marsh, for the title ‘How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke’. This is the title Winston used when he syndicated my story on 9 CD’s. I couldn’t possibly think of anything better. Thank you Winston. You can find out more about Winston by clicking this link. Go peek.
All photos are taken by me, Ironing Diva, at sunrise every day, on my beautiful rural property in the picturesque hills of the Central Tablelands of NSW.
The sheep are borrowed. My neighbour agists 75 wethers on our property permanently. By our request. To keep the paddock grass under control. The sheep grazing our paddocks reduce the threat from bushfire to us and our neighbours. I also love them!
We love all the wildlife on our property. It enhances our lives. And we’re never at war with them. There’s enough of everything to share with the sheep, the kangaroos, the foxes and the birds.
The catalyst for the Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover.
She and my Tri-Coloured Rough Collie, Daisy Mae, are the best of friends.
They love each other to bits.
Thank you so much for stopping by to read Our Story.
And I hope we stay in touch.
~Carol Jones, Ironing Diva❤
This is Our Story. How We Built A Worldwide Business From Broke. In a conversation with Tim Webster on Radio 2UE.