From barrels of oil to relationships and labelling – ELISSA FRIDAY meets three female success stories operating diverse Geelong businesses
Delivering, loading and unloading 200-litre oil drums was just the start for M&R Distributors owner and director Monique Holmes-Richardson.
“It was only me back then,” Monique says of her experience as a teenage entrepreneur.
“I used to rep and deliver everything myself in the truck.
“I had to learn how to move the 200-litre drums – they had to make me a tool so I could lift it on its side and roll it.”
Just learning to physically move the drums took nearly 18 months, Monique remembers.
“When I started there weren’t any female oil reps or even females within the industry, so that was pretty tough.
“Men were not so nice to me when I was 18 and started out, so you have to overcome those obstacles.”
Now on top of running M&R Distributors, Monique’s also a Highton “taxi” mum of three children and has volunteered with local charity Our Women Our Children for 11 years.
She had just finished studying at Geelong College when she started distributing oil and synthetic lubricants in 1992 “by default” after the death of her father.
“I was heading off to uni and dad’s cancer spread rapidly, so I stayed behind to help mum because I had two younger sisters.
“Dad’s business was oil distribution and we had service stations, so I’d worked in those before on school holidays.
“Dad died during the recession, so it was pretty tough and the economic state of Geelong was shocking.
“I was 18 at the time and had never seen anything so depressing – people were, grown men, were so depressed about working, or had no work or money. Everyone was in debt.
“It wasn’t a nice time at all to start my life in business but we just grew and saw some opportunities and the main company that I was dealing with was growing rapidly, too.”
Four years ago Monique changed oil companies for the first time in 19 years, sending M&R Distributors through “a complete 360”, she says.
“I had to reinvent myself, my business. I feel like I started all over again building Hi-Tech’s brand, which had never been in Geelong before.
“Has it been hard? Yes, I don’t think I’d want to do that kind of change again.”
“But I’m dealing with really good people and good support. We’re predominantly looking at the trucking industry, farms and automotive garages but we now deal with all market segments”.
During the brand rebuilding phase Monique identified an opportunity to become a “one-stop shop” for her existing clientele. She expanded her range with items such as cleaning products, helping customers purchase all their essentials with the one order.
With a staff of five, the North Geelong-based company now services everything from trucking and farming businesses through to hotels.
“Our products are not the cheapest – we don’t want to be the cheapest,” Monique says.
“We just want a quality product that compares to the price.”
With truck-driver clients who “rave out” M&R’s products, the company now also exports to Malaysia and Thailand.
“Most of my clients I’ve had for 24 years, so I know their feedback is going to be honest,” Monique laughs.
With multiple business interests, Geelong’s Samantha Krajina “was always very entrepreneurial”.
“But I loved accounting. When I sat my CA (chartered accountancy exams) I got 98 in tax – what a nerd,” Samantha giggles.
Before she was an accountant Samantha started out as a child model until a “very bad experience with an agency” inspired her to start her own.
Samantha used her “great relationships” with brands from her modelling experiences to create a nationwide agency with models in every state.
Samantha grew up in Geelong, attending Catholic Regional and Clonard colleges before finishing her university degree in two years.
“I loved learning,” she declares.
“My husband calls me a sponge.”
Now mum to Emir, 3, and one-year-old Mazen, her children’s names were the inspiration for her kid’s clothing label, Emaze Me.
After six months working on product development, Samantha launched her online brand just over a year ago.
She creates the Emaze Me designs herself, incorporating her psychology studies to keep all the wording on the kids’ T-shirts “cute an innocent”, she explains.
‘Oh My, Dear Me’ and ‘Future CEO’ have hit a chord as two of her best-sellers, Samantha says.
She particularly enjoys developing ideas as a key aspect of her businesses.
“It’s like you never work,” she says,
“But the journey to get there is a different thing. Sometimes you have to do those things you don’t want to do in order to get to that space where you’re enjoying what you do every day.
“I’ve definitely endured that journey.”
Samantha’s interest in psychology also inspired her to write a blog and establish a relationships business with husband-of-15-years Emir.
They have based the business on their studies of neuro-linguistic programming and multiple brain integration techniques.
“They’re kind of the study of the brain and behaviours, the study of psychology more than psychology itself,” she explains.
The couple established E&S Relationship Specialists, their first business together, five years ago.
Emir covers the personal side, working with couples, singles, families and schools to improve inter-personal relationships. Samantha deals with medium to large corporate clients on issues such as personal and professional development, leadership and customer service.
Like Emaze Me, E&S Relationship Specialists has a strong digital presence, including an active website and The Dating Wingman app, which won the praise of judges at the 2014 iDate Awards.
“We came runner-up in front of Tinder for ours but it’s not a pick-up app, it’s just to help users with their dating.
“That (the app) is part of how I tried to get our name out there when we started.”
Samantha is also the brains behind Geelong Women In Business, which she launched in April after developing an appreciation for the value of networking groups while working in Melbourne.
“It really took off,” Samantha says.
“People often ask, ‘Why is it just women, why not men?’ The true answer is, ‘Because women face different challenges to men, not lesser or more or greater or worse, they’re just different’.
“For myself as a woman, I know I face different challenges; having two children, working as an accountant in a male-dominated industry. It’s character-building and provides life lessons that build who you are.
“We’re definitely not a feminist or sexist group, we just support the different challenges women face.
“There are so many smart, wonderful, incredible women in Geelong who are popping up these innovative and clever businesses.”
Samantha also describes herself as a “venture capitalist”, working behind the scenes in four other businesses.
She spends time with coaching and utilising her “vast network” to help ambitious young entrepreneurs get the businesses up and running.
When she’s not working, Samantha enjoys spending time “at the You Yangs every other day” with her kids.
“They’re the coolest little dudes you’ll ever meet,” she says.
Stuck On You’s Carrie Felton describes herself as “the CEO who isn’t fond of titles”.
“We have to have a title for the organisational chart but I believe everyone in our business should and does have a voice, so mine shouldn’t be loudest,” she says.
The Ceres resident began her global business in a spare room, which later became the bedroom of her middle child, Harry.
She hit on the idea for Stuck On You when she wanted to label eldest son Charlie’s school gear with “something better than a Band-Aid and black marker”.
She approached a printer for labels in “three different colours with black text”.
“I asked the printer to put an aeroplane on it and I liked them, so I got a graphic designer to make some up for me.”
Utilising her network of friends and the “bush telegraph” of social media, Carrie then sent order forms with sticker samples to 487 contacts.
She received back 463 orders, some with one child’s name and others up to four.
“I realised that this was a product needed or wanted,” Carrie says.
“I think I’m good at following my gut instinct – it’s stood me in good stead along the way.”
Stuck On You has branched out over its 21 years to now also offer other kids’ products including various accessories, stationery products and clothing.
Twelve years ago Carrie expanded the business with the acquisition of Penny Scallan Designs, which now sells a range of products ranging from children’s luggage and lunchboxes through to back-packs, drink bottles, rainwear and bedroom accessories.
With distributors in Asia, Europe and America, Carrie’s business interests now ship orders to 127 countries.
Stuck On You, based at Breakwater, employs 50 permanent staff and up to 90 during peak periods. About 15 people work in various offices overseas.
“We also have warehousing in America, Poland, China and Australia,” Carrie says.
She credits her “creative and nimble team” of “forward-thinking people” with helping make Stuck On You an international success.
“I’m very busy. There’s not a lot of down-time for me at this stage in business – it’s growing exponentially overseas.”
The business also supplies 900 retailers in Australia, including David Jones, which Carrie puts down to an emphasis on “quality and design”.
She counts her business goals as “making life easier for mums” with “good-quality products”, especially the labelling items.
“They help mums spend less time looking for lost property”.
Carrie’s husband was a pilot but retired from flying to become more active in her business.
“He works closely with our CFO (chief financial officer) and the rest of our accounts team, mainly managing foreign currency exchange,” she says.
Away from work, Carrie loves cooking at home to socialise with friends and family.
“We have a large social life, we live in the country and entertain a lot.”