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Kahuna Bay - A Story of a Young Woman Entrepreneur

Today we showcase the story of a young woman entrepreneur, Susie Hambleton, founder of Kahuna Bay, from Gold Coast, Australia.

Kahuna Bay - is a brand of tropical-styled homewares and accessories. The Kahuna Bay products are sold in boutiques and homewares stores in Australia as well as online in the web boutique. The products are made from natural materials such as sea shells, mango wood, sandstone, mother of pearl, freshwater pearls and silk.

We explored a bit further about Susie and her journey as a woman entrepreneur. This is what she has to say in her interview with us:

• Please tell us about yourself, your background and interests?
I live on the Gold Coast. I am Australian but grew up in California. I have an MBA from California State University and a Bachelors in Management and Marketing. When I’m not consumed with my business…you’ll usually find me at the beach, in yoga class or hanging out with friends. I’m learning to surf and always surround myself with people.

The first decade of my business career I worked in financial sales, then I was a business studies lecturer, and moved into corporate communication and marketing. In my late twenties, I quit my job and started a homewares and café boutique in Brisbane. After three years, I sold the business. I always knew the boutique was going to be a launching pad for something bigger…I called it my retail uni.

It was there that I gained knowledge of the retail and wholesale homewares industry and decided to start the Kahuna Bay brand.

Tell us how it started?
I went over to Asia and spent seven weeks looking for factories that could manufacture my products.

What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
My main objective is to create a great brand that means style and quality with inspiration from the tropics while at the same time having fun in the venture.

How long it took before it was up and running?
I started Kahuna Bay in March 2007. It took about seven months to set up the manufacturing, develop the website content, organise international shipping, and create a sales system.

What services does it provide for consumers or customers?
Kahuna Bay provides gorgeous products for the home such as vases, photo frames, candle holders and accessories like jewellery and silk scarves.

What market segment verticals are you targeting?

  • I am targeting boutique homewares and giftware shops that are independently owned in Australia.
  • The secondary target is individual customers shopping online for tropical and coastal style décor.
What type of customers you are targeting?
The end user of my products is usually affluent women between the ages of 30-50. Many love tropical-style or beach-style decorating and enjoy products made from natural materials. They are very into style and decorating their home is important to them.

How many people are using your services?
  • About 30 stores are stocking the Kahuna Bay brand in Australia with numerous end users.
  • People shop online, but this is not my primary focus. I have recently deleted over ½ the products online to streamline the business.
  • I would like to see the number of stores stocking the brand triple in the next year.

What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
The most effective marketing has been a personal approach and that means setting up meetings and showing the product range. I have two sales reps as well as myself who represent the brand to prospective clients and service existing customers.
I have also used:
  • Google Adwords
  • National advertising in House & Garden magazine and Real Living magazine
  • Shopping Centre counter to generate customer interest as well as test the market reaction to the products and set realistic prices
  • Direct Mail
  • E-mail campaign
  • Decorating website community Coastal Living- by participating there I had more success than Google Adwords results.
  • The brand will be launched to a wider market at a buying trade show in Melbourne in July/August 2008.
How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
I am measuring success by repeat store orders and qualitative feedback from store clients as well as end-user feedback. I am using a customer database that tracks store orders as well as looks at trends and room for growth.

What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
Product sales. Nope…just an old-fashioned model of buying and selling.

Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
There are many brand competitors. However, I have chosen a product niche that was different in the Australian market and entered the market with competitive prices. I approach the market from the retailer's perspective, harnessing my experience owning a boutique.

What are the main technologies used behind this start-up?
The website is based on CubeCart, it's pretty easy to get going but it's not perfect.

What has been the easiest to use, out of the box and most helpful technology?
For sure CubeCart and my customer database by Simply Contacts.

How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up? Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
No formal networking…just informal. There is a local bloggers group and I have used Twitter to link in with other entrepreneurs. I tend to meet other entrepreneurs when I travel to international trade shows.

What’s your thought on being a women entrepreneur?
How tough it is to start a venture in Australia esp if you are a woman?
  • The homewares industry is natural for a woman to be involved in. In my opinion, I haven’t faced any harder challenges than a man would face in Australia.
  • I think some people are surprised by what I do… because I’m a female, but it could be that it's unusual. They are more surprised that I travel on my own and have set up my Asian networks alone.
  • I probably have encountered more obstacles in Asia being a female…but I have been able to work through each issue as they come along. I just try and take it one step at a time.
Which city in Australia is more vibrant and can be regarded as the Silicon Valley of Australia?

It seems there is a lot of activity in Sydney.

What do you think of new ventures and innovation coming out of Australia?
I think some Australians are very innovative. I get excited by new ventures and love meeting other entrepreneurs.

What do you think of our TAFE/Universities and their curriculum in terms of promoting and encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation?
I wasn’t educated in Australia, so I don’t know if I should comment. Although university helped, nothing could really prepare me for having a business like having a business does. Having your own business can be an obstacle course of extreme highs and lows. You have to be a risk-taker as well as a good juggler. You have to learn to cope with anxiety and be better than others. Most importantly you must believe in your business ideas more than anyone else, even when other people are doubting you. I think real entrepreneurs should be the ones teaching innovation and business. You can only teach it if you’ve experienced it.

Have you sought any funding?
No, Self-funded


What do you think government (federal and state) should do to improve the culture of innovation?
Besides grant matching programs or reduced-rate loans, I would love to see the government put in place useful initiatives at the local State Development offices…more than just business planning. Wouldn’t it be great if they did free seminars, networking and share space? What if there was a shared space for entrepreneurs added to local libraries?

At the 2020 conference, PM Kevin Rudd is meeting with the top 1000 people from different backgrounds to discuss and collaborate on the issues facing the
nation. What issues would you like to raise if you are allowed to attend?
I think issues of drugs, domestic violence, depression, high cost of living and troubled kids are all really important issues.

Do you have any advice/message for people, esp; women, who want to start their venture?

If you are thinking about a business, but don’t know where to begin, start a journal. Before I started both businesses I had a journal where I sketched out what I wanted until it became very clear. Documenting my thoughts really helped me create a clear path of what I wanted and what the business concept was. Using word concepts or drawing pictures is great.

When you do decide to start the business you must realise it is going to be hard w
ork. You will be working all the time and much harder than in a 9 to 5 job. It's not an early retirement and people will doubt you. Stay clear on your focused goal and just go for it. Once you start you have to know you are in it for the long term. Keep visualising how you will feel once you achieve your goal and reward yourself for progress.

Thanks, Susie for sharing your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you in future on the progress of Kahuna Bay. All the best for Kahuna Bay.

For coverage on other Australian startups/innovation/tech trends check this.

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