Kip & Co is a luxe bed linen and lifestyle brand coveted by soft-furnishing devotees across Australia and New Zealand. Bursting onto the scene in 2012 with an irreverent mix of vibrant colour and rambunctious prints, Kip & Co answered the prayers of those seeking bedding with va va voom.
Two thirds of the Kip & Co owners/brains-trust live on the Bellarine Peninsula. Sisters Hayley Pannekoecke and Kate Heppell decamped some years back, leaving Melbourne for Barwon Heads and Point Lonsdale respectively. “It was a surf mad boyfriend and a love of small seaside villages that brought us to our sweet town on the coast back in 2004. Kate just followed me,” quips Hayley.
With a thriving business based in Melbourne, Hayley offers practical remote working and commuting tips to keep your business humming while living beyond the city limits.
Jam pack commuting days and travel less
The seasoned entrepreneur warns those considering a move that “commuting to Melbourne too often can be seriously hard work.” Based on her experience, Hayley recommends limiting trips as much as possible. “We generally go to Melbourne once a week and jam pack a huge day in together. We leave super early to beat the traffic, and return home after dinner. Flexible start and finish times are essential. Our business partner Alex is Melbourne based, and so are our staff. So the heartbeat of the business is very much in Melbourne, and we enjoy spending time in Melbourne as part of our week,” says Hayley.
Make remote working the norm
Balancing the needs of children with husbands who also run their own enterprising ventures is no mean feat. “We learnt quickly that for us, it’s not possible to commute to Melbourne more than a couple of days a week. It’s essential to work remotely for the majority of the week from home. We utilise the tech at hand, Skype or three way phone conversations to get the job done. And of course, we’re on email constantly,” adds Hayley.
Plan out family life when work interruptions will impact. Lists rule!
Many families find getting out for ‘date night’ a logistical challenge. So imagine the military like precision that goes into planning Kip & Co’s overseas inspiration and supplier visits?
“When things are chaotic or we’re on location shooting or travelling to India, we rely on a great support team of husbands, babysitters, friends and family to help with the kids and the daily family routine. A good amount of planning goes into it, to keep things running as normally and smoothly as possible. I’ll be the first to admit it can be a challenge, and it definitely adds another layer to these events! But with some good planning and lists, these times usually pass without too much drama.”
Tips for making your seachange work
Hayley applies a pragmatic approach to successful sea changing. “Get involved with the community. It’s hard to truly get to know an area if you don’t connect with its people. Take your time settling in. Give yourself two years,” which Hayley readily confesses to it took before she she felt truly connected to her new home.
Both sisters “love the proximity to everything and everyone on the Bellarine Peninsula. The ease of getting around and the sense of community” keeps them calling the coast home. Hayley has no regrets whatsoever about leaving Melbourne. “We came in with an open mind and didn’t know anybody in the area. We hoped to love what we found. And we haven’t been disappointed – with the exception of a lack of great Asian restaurants in the area,” Hayley laughs. “I’m often craving fresh Vietnamese and Japanese.” Japanese and Vietnamese restaurateurs take note: Hayley is not alone in this view. Opportunity knocks!
Going coastal and building a business can go hand-in-hand
The idea of going coastal and setting up a killer business is an alluring one obviously – so how did Hayley and Kate actually do it? In fact, Hayley and Kate were no strangers to small business when they ponied up with fellow Kip & Co owner Alex van der Sluys back in 2012.
With a combined background in bean counting and naturopathy, sisters Hayley and Kate previously set up and ran the Sprout Health Store in Hawthorn. Both women confess to being “total foodies with a love of organics, wholefoods, super foods, crystals” and as Hayley describes it “other fun hippy stuff.” Sprout became their expression of love for all that, giving the happy team in Hawthorn access to a bit of 90’s era Collingwood, without the river crossing. Genius!
Sprout’s organic cafe, organic whole food grocery store, naturopathic clinic and yoga studio became a well known hub, highlighting Hayley and Kate’s knack for spotting an opportunity, and their gumption to realise it.
While the nature of the Sprout business is worlds away from the Kip & Co offering, Hayley believes “the experience definitely prepared us for the joys and challenges of small business” teaching them valuable lessons that Hayley offers up readily.
Build a business with people you trust
“Enjoy what you’re doing. Only ever go into business with someone you fully trust, who you’re not afraid to confront the hard issues with. Surround yourself with staff that you also trust and have respect for. Keep it all in perspective, and don’t take it too seriously,” Hayley suggests.
With Sprout performing well the ‘working with food’ box became a tick on Hayley and Kate’s life list of things-to-do. A mix of expanding broods and commuting challenges prompted the gals to make good on the positive commercial mojo and call it a day. With that, the two sold off their firstborn business in 2010. Successfully doing their own thing laid the foundation for the natural progression to Kip & Co.
“It became apparent we wanted to put our creativity, ideas and skills into something of our own,” says Hayley. “We’d both worked for other people for years in different roles and believe that you have to create your own opportunities.”
Strike a balance between risking what you can afford to lose with leaps into the unknown
Hayley suggests that “for an initial startup, don’t invest more than you can afford to lose. But at the same time, don’t let the fear of losing prevent you from giving it a crack.” Hayley, Kate and Alex are certainly not averse to taking a punt, exercising calculated risks to build up the Kip & Co offering over time.
“There’s been a couple of suppliers we’ve wanted to work with along the way, meaning we had to invest a lot more financially in a category of our range to meet their minimums. At times, this has felt a little risky. But generally, we feel really confident in the choices we make. And we’re always careful about putting too many eggs in one basket, just in case an area doesn’t go as well as planned in one season.
With a lot on their plate, Hayley’s feeling fortunate that “most of our expansion is evolving organically. However, any expansion we do put in place involves financial planning, and of course, there’s always a level of risk that something won’t do well. We don’t operate too far outside set financial spending parameters each season, for now,” Hayley concedes. This organic growth will see Kip & Co enter the massive US market in February 2017, which is a very exciting evolution for the maturing business.
While a fan of taking a structured approach, Hayley believes in seizing the moment. “A lot of planning goes into what we do, but that’s not to say we don’t make spontaneous decisions and fly by the seat of our pants at times!”
Letting go VS keeping control
Maintaining the right level of control is a proving a trickier one for the co-owner’s to grapple with, as operations are growing. “It hasn’t been easy, but generally speaking we still hold the reigns pretty tight, and we all keep our eye pretty closely on everything that happens. There’s three of us, so we share the load and maintain an interest in everything involving Kip. Carefully select the people you add to the business. Consider what you can afford to outsource, and what you’re better off keeping.”
Growth conversations inevitably stray into bricks and mortar territory. “We ‘never say never’ for retail. But we know the retail game is a huge commitment and not something we’ll enter into lightly, if we do decide to go that way. At this stage we only work with stockists in New Zealand. Actually, a huge portion of our business comes from NZ – they’re a style savvy bunch!” says Hayley.
Get a mentor and make time to dream big
With so many opportunities to consider and juggle in small business, Hayley recommends getting a mentor on board, and taking time out for the big picture conversations.
“A mentor or two will help guide you. They’re one of the best resources we’ve had along the way. Also, run a strategy day every twelve months. We still have a lot to learn,” Hayley adds humbly.
Geelong, Bellarine and Surf Coast style tips
Finally, how do two fashion forward ladies with a unique style sate their design appetite locally? “Kate and I love going to the Mill Market – we always find great treasures there. There’s a great little culture starting to brew on the Bellarine with loads of creatives now living in the area. So I’m excited to see what’s starting to pop up. We miss the food in Melbourne, but in the past two years there’s definitely loads more options, so hopefully this area continues to flourish,” says Hayley.
Living somewhere they truly love continually inspires Hayley and Kate to propel their business further. “We love what we do. And we have plenty of ideas about where we want to take the business and the things we’d like to achieve. So we have some grand plans for Kip & Co ahead!”
Luckily for us, Hayley and her business partner’s hard work keeps us cruising and snoozing through life in style. Sweet seachange dreams…