It was the early 90s and then 18-year-old, Carolyn Creswell, was working part time for a small muesli company in suburban Melbourne that created muesli blends when the owners told her they were closing the business.
“I offered them $1,000 and eventually I convinced them to sell it to me!” she says.
At such a young age, the now mother-of-four had no clue what she was in for, including the perseverance required, the long hours, the fickle consumer trends — and the back-breaking work.
“Those first five years were tough, I was so broke and simply trying to get established,” she admits.
A lack of money wasn’t the only challenge faced by the young entrepreneur in those early days. As a 20-something woman in business, Carolyn struggled to be taken seriously by many of the men she worked with.
However, Carolyn never let this get in the way of Carman’s success. In fact, she leveraged her ability to form meaningful and lastly industry partnerships by taking others on the journey and ensuring they too felt invested in Carman’s success.
“There were many steep learning curves along the way – and I was very young. Still, I believed in myself and the product. I just kept going.”
In other ways, Carolyn assures that being a woman in business has actually been an advantage.
“The natural empathy and the way that I was able to relate to people from the start was a real benefit in building the business.”
And build it she has. From those threadbare days some 28 years ago, Carman’s Kitchen is now a household name. And Carolyn is now the world’s reigning ‘muesli queen’ overseeing one of Australia’s favourite muesli brands.
Today, Carman’s gourmet range of muesli, bars, crackers, and cereal are now available across Australia and exported to over 30 different countries.
A big part of Carman’s success, most recently, is the relationship that Carolyn and her team have built with Amazon Australia.
“I am a huge online shopper and the pinnacle of online shopping is obviously Amazon,” explains Carolyn. “When that first order from Amazon came through, I burst into tears in front of the whole company… Amazon is the way of the future!”
As we kickstart International Woman’s Day, Carolyn — who was named the 2012 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, and was the winner of the 2007 Ernst & Young’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award — has some words of wisdom for the next generation of female business owners.
“I have many tips on what to do and not to do,” enthuses Carolyn.
“Most importantly, I tell women to not try to be everything to everyone; know what you are good at and what you stand for; and make sure you spend your time and energy moving the business forward.”
But the most important piece of advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs?
“Take the plunge and prepare to work,” insists Carolyn. “A lot of people – men and women – are quick to put things down to fate. That’s not healthy. But if you work hard you can build your own success – I’m living proof of that!”
To shop from women-led small businesses, head to www.amazon.com.au/internationalwomensday