The original ‘Bobbie’ bear from Bridestowe Lavender Estate in Tasmania.THE online revolution has allowed even the most remote businesses to flourish, but a skills shortage is making it difficult for fledgling businesses to entice talent out of the cities.
Nanjing Night Net

Entrepreneur Jane Cay, the founder of online fashion empire Birdsnest, based in the NSW snowfields town of Cooma, said the town itself offered a loyal workforce but she struggled to recruit at the higher levels. “I’m trying to recruit an accountant at the moment, and that is a real challenge. But how do you find the right person who wants the tree change and knows about our business and the opportunities?” she said.

Ms Cay said she hoped becoming an employer of choice would entice the brightest minds. She has recently undertaken a cultural audit to learn and implement best practice for the business, as well as putting staff through a mindfulness program and installing a meditation room.

“We are big on making sure we create an environment where people really enjoy coming to work,” she said.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said the online boom had given rise to a national shortage of skilled retail professionals.

“Some of those things will become less of a problem with time, but if you’re looking for someone who’s got strong internet skills the problem is not just isolated to Jane in Cooma. There are still problems in major capital cities for people like planners and buyers,” he said.

Mr Zimmerman said it was a “sad indictment” that many considered retail a job of last resort rather than a career, particularly when the industry’s 140,000 enterprises employed more than 10 per cent of the nation’s workforce.

Ms Cay did not expect a career in retail. She founded Birdsnest in 2004 as a bricks-and-mortar store in Cooma’s main street as “something to do in the country” after moving from a career in information technology in Sydney to be with her now husband, Ollie.

Birdsnest launched an online store in 2009, and now employs more than 100 in peak periods. Its annual net turnover of about $20 million after returns makes it one of the biggest businesses in town.

Ms Cay said her company’s organic growth had allowed it to overcome the dilemma of running a business from the country. Moving into an abandoned supermarket with truck loading areas already installed helped Birdsnest offer a next-day delivery service. Australia Post trucks carry Birdsnest orders to Canberra and from there link into the express post network. But Ms Cay said same-day delivery was a challenge the business still faced. “We’re competing globally. Our customer expects from us what they’re getting anywhere else,” she said.

Mr Zimmerman said there was no reason for regional businesses not to grow, and some were excelling in the face of soggy retail conditions.

A good example, he said, was Bridestowe Estate, a lavender farm in Tasmania. Bridestowe became an instant sensation among Chinese tourists when model Zhang Xinyu posted a photo on social media of her holding one of its “Bobbie” dried lavender bears. More than 65,000 people visited the farm in northern Tasmania in search of the $80 bear, and the farm now has its own online store.

Jimmy Possum, based in East Bendigo, is another. The furniture and homewares maker has its regional base but employs over 150 staff in the local region through its stores across the major cities and an online presence. “With online, you can be in the most remote of places and you can develop a product to sell, and the world can be your market,” Mr Zimmerman said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.