Young Entrepreneur – Tips from and OUTDOOR products retailer

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Aaron Giddings Aarons Outdoor Living Managing Director and owner was asked to comment on his business strategy and to help budding entrepreneurs.

Scroll to the bottom for a list of hot hot tips!  Read through the article to hear the successes and the downfalls of Aarons business, Aarons Outdoor Living (Previously Aarons Outdoor Creations).

 

 

 

In The Black July
2009 edition
Out of the doghouse By Anthony Black

Aaron Giddings started out building kennels in his parents’ backyard, but 15 years on the manufacturer and retailer is well equipped to deal with hard times ahead. Experience counts for a lot when running a business in challenging economic times. The battles fought to survive and prosper in the past provide invaluable lessons in dealing with the present and mapping out the future. It’s in times like these that manufacturer and retailer Aaron Giddings is relying on his bank of knowledge, accumulated over the past 15 years, to keep customers spending in a contracting economy, while preparing for a recovery.

Giddings, 36, is the founder of a company that builds bungalows, cabins, workshops, garden sheds, tropical thatches, children’s cubby houses and forts, outdoor furniture and pet houses. His range of products are built in a giant Australian factory and transported to his own display sites and numerous retail stores scattered across Australia. Today his company Aaron’s Outdoor Creations turns over almost A$10 million a year and employs 48 staff and dozens of contractors. The business, as they say, grew from humble beginnings, it started life when he began building dog kennels out of 44-gallon drums in the backyard of his parents’ home.

With measured confidence, Giddings says his company is ready to deal with the economic slowdown. He devised plans to offset the ill-effects flowing from the global financial crisis almost 12 months ago when it became clear to him that Australia would not be spared. His objective is to sustain and possibly increase profits amid stiffer competition for fewer discretionary dollars in times of growing unemployment.

Giddings is a numbers man, and several times during our interview repeats the line, ‘turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.’  In the past year, he has put budgets under the microscope in a bid to cut costs.  One move saved the company A$150,000 when he decided not to renew a lease on a factory manufacturing his products.  He concluded that an existing factory had enough spare space going to waste, and it could be easily used, making the most of each expensive square metre.  Two factories was a luxury enjoyed in times of economic prosperity.

Several years ago, Giddings was operating five factories and employing 72 staff in what he says was a highly over-capitalised and inefficient business.  ‘You can always trim the fat,’ he says.  ‘Look a bit closer and I’m sure most businesses can always find some more.’  Well Giddings did, and he restructured his advertising budget not only to cut costs, but also to extract maximum value using the right media vehicles to carry his message.  Advertising, in good times, was just another business expense void of attention and scrutiny.  Not so now.  Giddings says he has drastically cut his telephone directory advertising spend by A$85,000 a year.  He still advertises, but television and a growing presence on the internet are better equipped to carry his ‘visual message’. These forms of media offer flexibility, in that the company message can be changed and updated very quickly.

Giddings says customers buying his products in kit form and assembling themselves can now follow video instructions burned on a disc.  ‘Yes, we are ready for a prolonged recession,’ Giddings says.  ‘We’re not going to ebb and flow with the recession; my strategy is to attack it, to be aggressive, to get satisfaction out of beating it like a disease.  Blaming the recession for softer sales and weaker performance would be the easy thing to do if my numbers decline going forward.  And that would be a genuine excuse.  But I don’t want to do that.  The real satisfaction would come from actually beating sales forecasts and growing profits and margins in a downturn.  If you can do that in tough times, business should only get better during a recovery, provided we guard against complacency.’

Giddings is a salesman and to keep the numbers ticking over he has changed his sales and marketing strategy to deal with challenging times.  His fresh approach essentially involves adding optional extras to base products at an attractive price.  For instance, Giddings says a base model cubby house, without the optional extras of double doors, a skylight, two flower boxes and a letterbox, sells for an average price of A$1395.  But after repricing optional extras, as a result of better deals with his suppliers, Giddings now offers the cubby, including optional extras, for A$1400.  ‘This strategy is a response to the global recession,’ Giddings says.  ‘People are very wary about spending money, particularly on discretionary items.  Shoppers have to believe they are getting a good deal, or they will simply walk away.  For an extra A$5.00 at the point of sale, I’m offering A$190.00 value in optional extras.  Packaging the optional extras is a carrot to buy my product.  People feel satisfied if they believe they have bought a quality product at a bargain price.   Satisfied customers make a habit of returning, and repeat business is invaluable because you’re getting it free.  Satisfied customers also recommend you to others, again for free.

Word-of-mouth advertising should never be underestimated.’  Giddings says experience has taught him how to evaluate or ‘read’ customer behaviour, another invaluable sales tool.  ‘I study body language from the minute a customer walks in the door,’ Giddings says.  ‘I see what product is interesting a customer and ask if I can assist.  When a customer talks, he or she is volunteering information that I’m assessing.  If customers want to browse, I stay off them, but I don’t ignore them.  Some want you to make up their mind for them, while others just want a quick-fire solution to their nagging backyard problem.  Customers in a hurry need urgent attention … and they get it.  If a customer is aggressive, I make them feel superior without being subservient.  Aggressive customers like their egos massaged because it’s a control thing, they like to feel they’re in charge.  But aggressive customers also like a sales person to look them in the eye and to speak with authority.  Invariably, they buy my product.  ‘Placid or uncertain customers require a different sales approach.  I speak to them with a softer, reassuring voice.  They may want me to confirm they’re buying the right product.  But I don’t over-sell, or it will turn customers off.  Most customers don’t like pushy or overbearing sales people.  Sometimes customers may visit my display sites several times before they buy.  Or sometimes they don’t buy.’

With the sales pitch comes the passion for his business and products.  Giddings says it’s important that any sales person or employee be more than adequately equipped with product knowledge.  ‘Employees must know and understand their product, or they risk looking silly in front of the customer, and are unlikely to make a sale,’ Giddings says.  He says sales people and employees who genuinely believe in their products and services are much more likely to be successful.  Their enthusiasm is contagious.

Aaron’s outdoor creations sells about 2500 cubbies a year, 2500 pet houses, 500 sheds, 200 tropical thatches, 50 bungalows and countless pieces of outdoor furniture.  Giddings is self-taught; his story of initiative and persistence, sometimes in the face of adversity, can be considered an example of how dedication, commitment and making the most of opportunities can bring success.  He says his attitude has never wavered since starting his business at 21.  He recalls how it all began after returning from a 12-month stay in Japan.  Giddings learned Japanese for four years at Melbourne High School.  He wanted to be fluent so a 12-month scholarship took him to Nagoya where he learned more than the language.  He marvelled at the Japanese work ethic, which he promptly adopted.  ‘The Japanese work ethic is simply unbelievable in whatever field of endeavour people choose,’ Giddings says.  ‘Parents go to work early in the morning and arrive home late.  Children practise their sports before and after school.  They are proud people who want to succeed and they work long hours to achieve it.  Living in Japan was such a valuable experience.  I was young and wanted to see the world, Japan provided me with vision.’

After Japan, Giddings, aged 20, deferred a commerce degree at the University of Melbourne to earn money.  He never finished his degree.  One of his first jobs was selling smoke detectors door-to-door when legislation made them compulsory.  The job paid the rent but it was boring.  He set his eyes on a neighbour’s dog kennel made from a 44-gallon drum, and Giddings’ business venture was born.  He would cut a hole in the top of the drum, turn it on its side and bolt it to timber legs.  He would carpet the inside, and the smart finished product included a corrugated iron gable roof.  He managed to salvage used drums (free of tar and oil), from council depots and car dealerships, mostly free.  After a slow start he sold his first dog kennel for A$90 from materials costing A$9.00.  Next, an advertisement in a publication specialising in buying and selling goods generated four consistent sales a week.  Then Giddings approached 50 nurseries and pet shops about stocking his kennels for a sales commission.  It was a win-win for Giddings and the retailers as demand for kennels grew stronger as winter approached.  He needed workers, a factory and a loan.  He managed to get an unsecured ANZ Bank loan for A$20,000 after almost every other financial institution had said no when examining his turn-over, product and prospects.  With the loan, he leased a small factory and started hiring the long-term unemployed under an Australian federal government program, the job start allowance.  The allowance covered 80 per cent of his wages bill, a timely, helping hand when establishing a new business.

Giddings says the first financial commitment his business met each month was the ANZ loan.  ‘I was determined never to miss a repayment because the last thing a new business needs is a bank on your back,’ Giddings says.  He says the business has never taken out another loan and is ‘totally debt free’.  Giddings was keen to build and diversify his business and he wanted another product to complement his dog kennel line, and to keep his workers busy.  He bought a newspaper advertisement to test if there was a market for children’s cubbies.  The response was immediate, with orders to build six cubbies a month before Christmas.  But he wasn’t prepared, and sold each cubby for $350.00, which didn’t cover the cost of materials.  He spent the next month, often working until 3am to meet orders, fully aware he wouldn’t make a profit.  The positive aspect was that he created a new business.  The lesson he learned is to cost a job properly before quoting a retail price.  And Giddings acknowledges he has made his fair share of mistakes along the way.  He says at one stage, the business grew too quickly and in different directions, which compromised product quality and service.

‘There was no checklist so we sent out product with parts missing,’ Giddings says.  ‘It didn’t take long before I had irate customers on the phone.  I was caught up in my own success and dropped the ball.  I hired employees prepared to work for low wages, but the mistake was I recruited too many unskilled people.  That’s entirely my fault because I was too busy to do the necessary checks before hiring staff.  I’ve learned that recruiting reliable, efficient, skilled and hard-working staff is one of the most valuable assets to a business.  I’m learning to delegate much more, although that’s difficult for a control freak.’  Giddings, who works 70 to 80 hours a week, plans on expanding the business in Australia and to other countries when the global economy improves.

To date, his hard work has been personally rewarding, he owns three residential properties in prestigious Melbourne and Sydney suburbs without a mortgage.  ‘Money is a by-product of running a successful business,’ Giddings says.

What can business’s learn from a young entrepreneur? – Aarons Giddings

  • Plan in advance to avoid nasty shocks.
  • Anticipate revenues, costs and profits for the next two years by putting budgets under the microscope.
  • Trim the fat.
  • Find efficiencies and cut unnecessary costs.
  • Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.
  • Restructure company operations to get the most out of staff, plant, office and equipment.
  • Advertising. Use suitable media vehicles that can maximise exposure of products and services.
  • And do a better deal today.
  • Expenditure.
  • Demand value.
  • Do better deals with commercial and industrial landlords and product suppliers in times of fierce competition.
  • Package products and services for clients to make them feel they are getting top value for money.
  • Be prepared to spend more time talking or dealing with clients in these uncertain times. You’re on their side. Some want reassurance. Satisfied clients will do free word-of-mouth advertising.
  • Show measured business passion; it’s contagious. Be confident, but keep the ego in check.
  • Product and service knowledge. Ensure all new employees are fully trained in company products and services. Ignorance can be costly.
  • Be alert. Constantly look for new opportunities. They can come out of left field.

Reference: July 2009, volume 79:06, p.40

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Hot Tip for Keeping your Backyard COOL!

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Extend your living space to your outdoor area with a Bali Hut or African Thatch, the coolest natural shade.  Thatched roofs are known to be approximately 10 degrees cooler and provide great shelter from the weather, be it the sun or a warm summer rain shower.  Our Australian Made, Bali inspired products are a great way to bring the holiday experience to your own backyard whilst turning your backyard down a few degrees.  

Cooling down seems to take up so much of my time lately.  I’m constantly thinking about how I can cool down and what time of day I should do what so as to take advantage of cooler periods.  A thatched roof in your backyard can free your mind and increase outdoor use.  Entertain under an Aaron Bali Hut or African Thatch or simply use it as lounging space.  The great thing about our thatch roof huts is that they are very flexible spaces.  You can make them what you want them to be with a simple change of furniture.

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Sizes of Thatch Roof Tiki Huts Available at Aarons Outdoor Living

For both Bali Huts and African Thatches, we have the following sizes available

3000mm (w) x 3000mm (l)

3000mm (w) x 4000mm (l)  

3000mm (w) x 5000mm (l)

4000mm (w) x 4000mm (l)

4000mm (w) x 5000mm (l)

If your chosen space does not meet the standard sizes that we offer, Custom Sizes are available upon request.

Materials used

The roof frame , round corner poles and optional decking for our Bali Huts, Tiki Huts and African Thatches structure is made from arsenic-free treated pine that is sure to stand the test the Australian climate will undoubtedly deliver.

Bali Hut

The thatching topping our range of Bali Huts is hand-woven Indonesian alang-alang grass, creating a 100% waterproof, naturally insulated shelter.

African Thatch

Our authentic African thatching is produced with cape reed, which offers 100% water-resistance and sun protection. This fantastic layered effect is a style that you won’t find anywhere else – except when you’re on safari in Africa!

Alternative names

A Bali Hut or African thatch is an excellent shade structure and can actually be referred to as many different names.  Some of the names we have heard include, Tiki Hut, pergola, thatched gazebo, patio, beach hut, Balinese shade, and a garden pavilion.

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Winter Backyard Tips from Aarons

June marks the first days of Winter.   Now is the time to start to think about your winter garden.   Here at Aarons, we have a few hidden tips and tricks to help you stay outdoors in the colder months!

  • Blog one: Winter DIY tips and tricks
  • Blog two: Winter outdoor activities for kids
  • Blog three: Winter Garden Farming – what veggies to plant in June

Aaron’s Winter DIY Tips and Tricks:

  1. Build an Outdoor Fire-Pit

How to Build a Firepit - Backyard Winter DIY Ideas Aarons Outdoor LivingThe Fire Pit instruction photo to the right is a simple way to create a warm and cosy place to hang out in your backyard!  Simply choose your spot and away you go!  There are also plenty of other  fire pit designs out there to choose from.  Fire pits come in many shapes and sizes. They can be a permanent structure or a simple barrel that can be moved around the patio.

Source – Pinterest

Build a Fire Pit for winter outdoor livingFire Pit for outdoor living in winter

2. Cushions Cushions Cushions!

Outdoor Living in cold winter months - cushions and textiles aarons outdoor living backyard diy tips

Every outdoor space, (whether it be a summer outdoor space or a winter outdoor space), should utilise outdoor cushions and textiles. This is especially so during the cosy winter months.  Bright colours are best for winter to brighten up your space.  Now you have your fire and cushions, what’s next?

Source – Pinterest

3. Marshmallows! and other yummy things… An Outdoor Kitchen!

Kids love cuddling around a fire with a packet of marshmallows and some twigs! Marshmallow cooking is the perfect winter activity to do outside around your new fire-pit.  A more holistic approach is to build a full kitchen outdoors using a BBQ, Gazebo and stone benches.

Gazebo Outdoor Kitchen Aarons Outdoor Living DIY winter backyard ideas

Outdoor kitchens are gaining popularity especially in Australia! Check out this kitchen built underneath a Gazebo!

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4. Great Outdoor Accessories

With some functional, fashionable furniture, warm lighting and good company, you’ll be able to create a warm and inviting space in which to entertain and relax. In winter, choose warmer colours such as deep reds, purples and gold.

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Bamboo Panels, The Natural Solution

Transform your backyard into a relaxing bali escape, with our high quality Black Bamboo panels. Bamboo Panels are an attactive and unique addition to any yard, used simply as a fence or as a feature. We stock the highest grade Black Bamboo shades around. They look great behind a pool or spa or a fencing around a thatch or Bali Hut. Our Bamboo panels are made with only the most attractive and highest quality bamboo lengths.

Bamboo Panels will cover all types of fences, pool pumps, unsightly walls, backyard sheds or used simply as a privacy screen. Bamboo looks great as a garden edging and really compliment water features.  Here at Aarons Outdoor Living, we use them as fences around our outdoor superstores and as feature walls behind our display water features.

Bamboo as a Fence

Spruce up your backyard while creating privacy and security with a bamboo panel fence.  Quick & easy, bamboo fencing is a popular substitute to unsightly concrete, wire or Steel fenceing.  Add a pleasing aesthetic finish to a tired old fence or wall.  A Bamboo Fence will certainly appeal to neighbours and guests.  Use bamboo panneling to get the Bali look to your yard, by easily covering current fence.  The bamboo panels are made to easily screw or wire in to any surface.  This means they can be fixed to a steel fence, Colorbond type fences, wooden fences, wire fences, a wooden frame, sheds, concrete walls and more.  Even better, let us take care of installation of your bamboo fence for you!

Bamboo as a Cover for Unsightly Structures

Bamboo is a popular material for covering your poopl pump or other structures in your yard.  Used as a cover, the natural look and feel of the bamboo will eliminate visual pollution.  A bamboo cover is the ultimate solution to hide anything away.  Simply buy the necessary quantity of bamboo panels and then cut them to size to wrap around the item and mount.  Even better, get us to mount the bamboo for you! Easy!

Eco-Social-Friendly

Bamboo is a sustainable resource.  Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on Earth.  It can be harvested in 3-5 years versus 10-20 years for most softwoods.  Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on Earth. Bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than an equivalent quantity trees. Due to the speed at which it grows, not only is it more sustainable but it creates more jobs and wealth to the local communities producing the bamboo.  Buy purchasing bamboo you help to create wealth in these communities, help to eleminate Carbon Dioxide polution and create a beautiful relaxing escape in your backyard.

Quality and Strength

Bamboo is one of the strongest building materials. The incredible strength of bamboo shockingly out-performs the very best timbers in hardness and dimensional stability.  Bamboo has a smooth and consistent surface making it a high quality and attractive material.  Aside from a small variation at the node point, the strength is consistent the entire cut length makinig bamboo highly versatile.

Available from Aarons

Our versatile bamboo panels are available in two sizes, 900mm x 1800mm and 900mm x 2400mm.  Both sizes are perfect for all construction purposes.  We reccomend the 2.4m high size if you are looking to create privacy or surround a Bali Hut or African Thatch.  To view our bamboo products in use, visit our Bamboo Gallery orFacebook.

Timber Veggie Patch for Small Gardens or Balconies

Create a Veggie Patch in your yard

Create an urban veggie patch with our Raised Garden Beds!  Raised Garden Beds are a great way to get the kids into the yard and start eating cheaply and healthily.

An Aarons Veggie Patch is a multi-purpose veggie garden that is beneficial to Mum, Dad and the kids! Mum and Dad get fresh herbs and vegetables while the kids get to have fun cultivating their own little backyard farm! Made from moisture resistant arsenic-free plantation pine, this veggie garden is sure to be a hit with the kids, and you’ll love the smile on their face when they pick their first tomato!

Quality and Versatility

With an Aarons Veggie Garden Bed, your assured longlasting vegetable planting success.  A raised garden bed is the best way to grow your vegetables.  The height of an Aarons Garden Bed means you won’t have to bend down low to garden AND your kids can enjoy gardening becuase it’s not too high.

With an Aarons Raised Garden Bed, you can also utilise the extra timber around the bed as a seat or knealing place whilst gardening.  As you’ll see in our photographs, this timber around the outside creates extra versatility as a functional seat and garden bed/veggie patch.

If in year to come, you decide to not continue with your veggie garden, you can turn an Aarons veggie garden bed into a sandpit by simply removing soil and replacing with sand.

Growing

To grow a successful veggie patch, you should research which plants grow best in your area.  There are many handy tips on the web about planting your veggie patch.  Gardening Australia provide a great guide on what plants to plant depending on where you live and the time of the year.

Available from Aarons

Our Raised Veggie Garden Beds are available in a stained or natural finish.  Purchase a natural veggie garden if you don’t mind the timbers natural wear to weather.  A stained Raised Garden Bed will ensure the life of your veggie patch!  Visit this link for more datails or phone us via 1300 305 375 to speak with your nearest sales yard.

Our timber is non-arsenic acid-free treated pine which will resist rot and termites without causing any risk to children or your vegies.  This is an ideal timber for a veggie patch.

Paint your Cubby to Match Your House or Childrens Style

Decorated Cubby Houses really are becoming very popular! Our customers love that our cubbies can be painted very easily.

An Aarons Outdoor Living painted Cubby House will look just like a little weatherboard!

A great idea we’ve seen is to paint one of the walls inside with blackboard paint which you can find in most hardware stores like Bunnings.  The kids will love leaving notes and drawings on the inside of their new cubby house!

If you would like to paint the outside of your cubby, be sure to purchase a ‘natural’ finish cubby house and appropriate colorbond roof colour to go with your theme.

Getting your childs first cubby is a big step.  At Aarons we make it a little easier by including slides and accessories as part of the package price.  All you need to decide is the height of your cubby.

Decorated, painted, cubby house

Head to our Cubbies and Forts page to start chosing your dream cubby house.  All our sales staff are friendly and experienced so feel free to utilise us when making colour, roof and package elevation decisions.

Once you’ve chosen a package, you can begin to think about colour.  Dulux has a great paint gallery that is a useful place to start for cubby house painting.

The next step is to chose a Colorbond roof colour.  Visit this handy Colorbond page to view the range.

Painted Cubbies, painted cubby, Aarons Outdoor Living

Kyle and Jackie O Painted Cubby Aarons Outdoor Living

Recently Kyle and Jackie O had a competion to “Pimp” two of our Townhouse cubbies. Kyle got one cubby to do up and Jackie O’s husband Lee got the other. Jackie O’s daughter, Kitty, then got to decide who’s cubby she liked best!

These cubbies both turned out great! A little girls paradise! Check out the inside of the white cubby painted, it looks like a shabby chic beach house.  Very stylish for your childrens first home.