In a small village on the edge of the unique Okavango Delta in Botswana, Lee-Ann Nordin learnt in the harshest of conditions, how to run a business. Faced with extreme challenges, far from civilization, she has found she is ready for anything.
When she moved to Australia, Lee-Ann had built resilience, resourcefulness and gratitude and founded FurTastic Friends by Bocchetta Plush Toys - high-quality, lifelike, forever, plushie friends. They are ethically handcrafted with love to last a lifetime, machine-washable and non-allergenic and are thus extensively used as therapy for people suffering from anxiety, autism, dementia, depression, and other mental health issues.
We got to know Lee-Ann a little more…
How did you come to start in your business?
I came to Australia on a Business Visa and decided to buy an existing business, rather than start one from scratch. I chose wholesale so that I could have weekends and evenings off with the children – and because I thought it would be less challenging!
My current venture is the first one that I visited during my extensive hunt for a viable enterprise. I knew that it was the right business to buy. Sales were definitely on the decline but it had a beautiful feel-good product, strong reputation and good client base. It was still being run in the old school “word of mouth” style and so had huge scope for growth which was daunting but very exciting. I did review another 16 wholesale/manufacturing operations just to make sure.
What makes your business unique?
We are a family-owned business based in Australia who adore the job of designing lifelike plush animals in-house that create a connection.
This business has been going since 1948 and we are only the second family to have owned it. We are different because we create each toy to be unique and friendly. They are not mass-produced or whimsical and our fabrics are specifically made up for us. One animal can be made with up to 50 different pieces to give it the required personality. We name the animals ourselves and each one is carefully groomed before being dispatched. We also try to connect with each of our stockists and continue to have a relationship with our factories to ensure that the working conditions are ethical.
We endeavour to turn them from toys to realistic substitute emotional support animals, particularly for people who can’t have their own living animals.
They are ethically handcrafted to last a lifetime, machine-washable and non-allergenic and are thus extensively used as part of the therapy for people suffering from anxiety, autism, dementia, depression, and other mental health issues.
We are also passionate about promoting conservation and supporting wildlife and thus make a wide range of Australian souvenirs and other unusual and interesting animals.
It is such a beautiful business because we connect with so many amazing people and wonderful charities. Our koala toys serve as substitute mothers for orphaned baby koalas, the black dogs raise funds and create awareness around suicide and other mental health issues and our pets bring comfort to hundreds of children and lonely seniors.
What is a piece of advice you wish you had been told before starting your entrepreneurial journey?
I think I would have avoided a lot of stress and overwhelm if I had been told that success in a business does not happen overnight - that a business is a moving, living, creation and that it is therefore okay to build it one step at a time.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love the stimulation of the daily challenges of business.
I also really love being able to use the business to make a difference in peoples lives. In addition to the products themselves, it is very important to me to create a great working environment for my staff and to empower them. I find a huge amount of satisfaction in sharing practical business and life skills.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
- Courage – you need to have the courage to explore every new and sometimes crazy idea that comes to mind and then to step out of your comfort zone to try some of them.
- Resilience – Choose not to ever be defeated
- Gratitude – be grateful for your business, your clients, your failures and opportunities. Celebrate the wins!
How do you personally measure success?
I love to set loads of small attainable goals and then to celebrate each small one as they occur. I measure success using the figures but also through customer reviews, return customers and maintenance of a happy work environment.
Outsource the skill or learn the skill?
I do not ask my staff to do anything that I can’t or am not prepared to do myself. I also try to ensure that I have a good grasp of all aspects of my business and therefore try to learn as many skills as I can. I believe that it is important that I am able to understand and operate my financial and operating systems, the back-end of my website, marketing strategies etc.
I do, however, outsource wherever I can to set systems up, to receive training and to introduce improvements to my business. I have used web design, branding, Facebook advertising, graphic design and IT companies and brought in a specialist for each of the social media platforms.
Who are the people around you that allow you to thrive and give support?
I joined a group of other like-minded businesswomen who offered support, inspiration and honest opinions. Losing the loneliness, sharing the burdens of the effects of the pandemic and trying to help other women in business has really helped me to navigate the challenges over the last year. By sharing our gratitudes and celebrating each other’s wins we have all emerged better as people and more successful in business.
What keeps you going in difficult times?
I use the quote from John Lennon “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.” as my mantra during difficult times.
How do you handle doubt?
I take a deep breath and go with my gut. If it feels like whatever I need to do is in alignment with my values then I just do it. I don’t overthink and I don’t sweat the small stuff – I just try to keep my focus on the bigger picture.
Do you have any tips for work life balance?
- Be prepared to put in the necessary hours and be as productive as you can while working.
- Schedule in your exercise, friend and family time at the beginning of each week and make it happen
- Be strict about wearing your “hats” – do not wear your work hat at home or during family or down time.