Where were you raised and what influenced your career decisions?
Both Steve and I were born and raised in Oxfordshire and Ashby De la Zouch Leicestershire in England by a single mum - think Vicar of Dibley Village a slighted Norman Castle, and a school that started in 1567.
You studied American Studies at the University of Nottingham then marketing. What led you to Australia?
I started work life as a buyer for prototype car builds for Rover Cars in Birmingham, and quickly realised corporate life was not for me and headed down the sales and marketing career path with small to medium businesses. Restlessness brought me and my family to Australia, an opportunity came up and we took it.
What did you do before opening Classic Blinds & Shutters?
Both Steve and I were involved running franchises for Autosmart, Steve and Ginny had one in the UK and my then husband and I had one for the Hunter region. We sold that and then travelled around Australia for 16 months with our primary aged daughters, looking for birds and soaking up the scenery of this vast land.
How did Classic Blinds & Shutters begin?
In May 2004, on our return we looked for a business to buy that would support two families, with Steve and Ginny keen to make the move to Australia. We looked for something that would utilise our mixed skill sets. Eventually we took over the lease and stock of a crumbling venetian making business and dug in to turn things around.
Why was your original product hand-made cedar venetians?
Because we had a pile of stock! We also made cedar plantation shutters if we could find a client with deep enough pockets.
What have been the main milestones since then?
The move from Glebe Road to Parry Street has been pivotal. We caught the wave of development in the West End and embedded ourselves in to the friendly, supportive business community of Parry Street. The building we bought is one of the iconic ones in the West End that everyone recognises, it's been great for our brand. We bought our own factory in 2016 and built a purpose built facility on the block. We're all charged up for the next few years of Hunter development.
How has your product range grown?
Steve has loved developing product and we'd realised that whilst everyone loved plantation shutters few could afford the cedar version, plus they were a pain to make as cedar is soft, dints easily and creates a lot of dust during manufacture. Steve looked at alternative materials and started to develop a shutter panel that could be made from extruded aluminium. It had to be fast to make sure we could compete with off shore shutters and deliver noticeable benefits. We manufacture roller blinds and plantation shutters and buy in curtains, external blinds and awnings from other Australian manufacturers.
How important is innovation to you?
It has played a massive role. Steve has brought science thinking to the business. He did a big research project with help from Newcastle Innovation, part of the University which resulted in an academic paper and a long list of development ideas. We've thoroughly embraced 3D printing technology which has shortened the development lead time from 9 to 12 months to 2 to 3 months.
What makes your small business unique to competitors?
We are unique because there are very few onshore manufacturers of window coverings left, even fewer retailing directly to the public and almost no one designing product to suit our local climate and environment. We have a list of patented innovations included in our products and work very hard to deliver a service to match.
The most challenging part of your business journey?
The digging in at the start, the turn around took far longer than anticipated. Once we had built a good body of reputable work life became a lot easier as repeat and referring business started to flow. The build at the factory again took longer than anticipated and caused more disruption than we could imagine. Thank goodness we are through that now!
And the most rewarding?
The people of course, we have loyal staff that have been with us for a long time, great customers and suppliers. It is fun to help clients to put together the finishes for their new build or renovation and then see and hear how pleased they are with the results.
You recently celebrated 15 years in trade. What is the key to your longevity?
Great staff, a commitment to doing good work, the drive for constant improvement, family bond and mostly having fun, too.
What is in the pipeline?
We've a list of planned enhancements for our current range, we are looking at other markets within Australia and more importantly making the most of our lives in this great location.
There are very few onshore manufacturers of window coverings left, even fewer retailing directly to the public and almost no one designing product to suit our local climate and environment.Bev Fidler