Small business

What makes Bruny Island Cheese a successful small business?

Ambition, clever marketing, and management aside – the story behind this Tasmanian small business’s success begins and ends with the product.

By Cameron Cooper

Being a small business, and not a big one, is central to the success of Bruny Island Cheese. Business owner and cheesemaker Nick Haddow isn’t interested in chasing sales to the United States or other export markets, or dream of becoming a major company.

“I’m slightly terrified of Bruny Island Cheese Company becoming a big business in a way, or even being perceived to be a big business,” says Haddow. “I spend a lot of effort making sure that it does stay true to its original mantra – we make great cheese and the reason we make great cheese is because we love making people happy through what we do.”

“We start pretty much every decision-making process with the question – what’s best for the cheese?”

Operating on Bruny Island in southern Tasmania, Haddow leads a team that concentrates on providing wonderful traditional cheeses for visitors to their cellar door, plus about 20,000 national members of its Cheese Club. It is quite a turnaround for a business that once exported about 40 per cent of its cheese to the US before Haddow realised the venture was losing money and creating production problems that prevented him from supplying local customers – his natural target market.

“As an entrepreneur you are led to believe that export is the ultimate nirvana for small business in Australia and the reality for us is quite different,” he says.

DIVERSITY OF SKILLS

Now performing well and comfortable with the business’s direction (it also has a wood-fired bakery and a new brewery is under construction), Haddow reflects that many smaller businesses have some very talented leaders, but they often lack a diversity of skills.

“They might be incredible financial managers, they might be brilliant marketers, they’re often extraordinary producers. But they’re rarely all of those things and you need all of those skills, particularly early on to get the business off the ground.”

To counter this issue, he has built a great team around him that just wants to make the best cheese possible.

“We start pretty much every decision-making process with the question – what’s best for the cheese?” Haddow says. “Once you get that right you automatically start ticking a lot of the boxes and requirements of the market.”

FIND A MENTOR

Over the years, Haddow has also drawn from the experience of a range of mentors, including artisans from his travels and training in the cheese-producing regions of France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. He believes having mentors – and offering others advice – is essential for all business leaders.

“Doing things in isolation, well for some people maybe it works, but it doesn’t work for me. I need to be able to talk about things and bounce ideas off people and just have some affirmation that what you are doing is OK.”

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