Emily Burgess, Port Macquarie Workwear

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Emily, you have been a part of the Port Macquarie Workwear business for nine years and have just purchased the business recently. Can you please tell us a little bit about your business and what it offers?

I would describe the business as a cohesive mix of retail menswear, personalised uniforms and of course, the namesake workwear! We do embroidery in house and screen printing at our new workshop space – this means we now cover every aspect of uniform supply and personalisation, something that has been a dream for a long time!

What was it that first inspired you to buy and manage this local business?

When I started at Port Workwear in 2009, I never would have thought I would be calling the business my own one day. I actually wanted to leave in 2012, which is why the current owner offered the option to become part owner – it was what I needed to stay motivated! Then two years later, I purchased the business in full, meaning I was the sole director of a company at 26! I knew the business inside out and had so many ideas of what I wanted to do to make it thrive.

What valuable lessons have you learnt from serving your customers over the years?

Our local businesses and retail customers are loyal to us, which I am so appreciative of. My customers have known me since I began as an employee and they’ve trusted me with their business for years and years, without any questions. If you do the right thing by them, they’ll keep returning. It helps I’m great with names and faces.

How do you manage to build and foster relationships in your business? Not only with the various customer segments that you have, but with other stakeholders – such as suppliers?

I listen to what the customers are asking for. The “target market” for Port Macquarie Workwear is quite broad, so it can be difficult at times. Feedback on new items and ranges is welcomed. Also, ensuring that we continue to supply a range of the “oldies but goodies”, products such as RM Williams boots, is a must.

Suppliers in this business are in it for the long haul. I have been lucky to walk in to pre-established suppliers and have continued to deal with them exclusively. I would have only taken on three to four new suppliers in the last five years.

As a bricks and mortar retail business, how do you anticipate you may have to adapt to the future e-commerce shopping trends that are enveloping your industry?

The workwear industry in particular is very competitive online. I don’t believe the e-commerce world is for us. We pride ourselves on excellent face-to-face service that gets people in the door and has them leaving with their purchase instantly.

What is it that you love most about running your business?

The busyness of it all. We’ve been so lucky to have a constant flow of work to do. There’s never a dull moment. The whole idea that we can constantly be growing and doing more ourselves, i.e. no more outsourcing, is keeping everyone motivated right now.

Also, the network of people in this town and surrounding areas means there’s always someone to say hi to. Everywhere we go, especially now they’ve watched me start my family, customers are always asking how the baby is; it’s like an enormous network of friends.

What are some of the challenges that you have had to overcome in your business journey?

The most difficult thing to begin with was a business loan. As mentioned, I was 24 with nothing to my name, so not a single bank would loan me a cent. I was lucky enough to establish a vendor finance system and loan money from family. I often wonder if this is why there aren’t a lot of young people delving into the business world.

One of our current challenges is keeping up with clothing trends but still keeping the traditional items that we regularly turn over. Our downtown retail space is not huge, so with our new workshop now open I want to establish more of a “retail space” and a “decoration space.” I don’t think it will be the same at Colonial Arcade without the hum of the embroidery machines though.

What advice would you offer to other people looking to open a retail store in a regional area?

Find your niche. Workwear and uniforms are need items. I know that is one of the reasons the business is busy and successful. The majority of what we sell is what people need, not a luxury item.

No matter what you are selling, you need to believe in what you are doing. Small business takes so much energy and hard work; it’s during the tough days (or months) that you really see what you and your business is made of. Get yourself a solid team, people who are like-minded and can be as passionate as you are about your business.

And finally, if you could invite any three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?

All amazing women!

Jane Lu – Jane founded Show Po. I listened to a podcast she did, and I’ve been inspired ever since. She took a tiny market clothing store and turned it into an empire, while secretly pretending to her parents she was studying accounting. Her team is her support system; she surrounds herself with people who are passionate about working for her.

Bethenny Frankel – entrepreneur and reality TV star. She keeps finding niche markets and killing it; plus, I love a good margarita!

Steph Claire Smith – social media influencer and business savvy chick; she’s so young and is checking all the boxes right now. I’d love to know her long term plan; she would be able to provide helpful marketing insight into converting a simple Instagram post into sales.

Thanks for your time, Emily!

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