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A Pioneers Story

A Pioneers Story

Hats off to hard work

Author: By Louise Kennedy
Date: 14/06/2001

Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Words: 655                     
Section: Supplement
Page: 6

It's a million dollar business with a Web site attracting orders worldwide.
One fine day in 1990 Joy and Ron Romanovich stopped their four-wheel-drive at an intersection on the Pacific Highway. To the south lay Sydney, their home and their business. To the north lay the exotic and the unknown.
They turned north and never looked back.
"Five days in Cairns and that was it. We decided to stay," Joy says.

The next question was how to make a living. In Sydney Joy had nurtured a video business from a staff of two to 85 and Australian Stock Exchange listing in just five years. Their new lifestyle was to concentrate on exploring the far north's four-wheel-driving frontiers and making enough to live on.
"We had no big ambitions," she says. But it seems they couldn't help themselves.

Ten years later the Romanoviches have built their business, Aussie Bush Hats & Oilskins, with several retail outlets and a Web site that attracts orders from all over the world.
In line with their plans, the Romanoviches started small - they bought bundles of hats from the local disposal store and onsold them at a market stall in the nearby tourist village of Kuranda. Meanwhile they combed Australia for manufacturers who could provide the high quality - and sometimes unusual - product they wanted.

Their first supplier was in Perth, then followed makers in Adelaide and Byron Bay. By the end of the first year they had 15 suppliers and had won contracts to handle Driza-Bone, Akubra and Blundstone. By now they were covering 13 markets a week in Cairns and the surrounding area, from the legendary Rusty's in Cairns to the impossibly picturesque in Port Douglas.

Whenever anyone stopped to chat at their
eye-catching, Crocodile Dundee-style stall, the Romanoviches collected a name and address or a business card.
Two years down the track, when they "stuck their necks out" and spent $10,000 to produce their first catalogue, they had 3,000 addresses in a plastic bag. "It nearly went in the trash a few times. But I'm a bit of a hoarder - and it turned out to be gold," Ron says.

The mailout earned them $35,000 in six weeks, and continued earning over the next three years until, at a 2,000-strong tourism convention in Cairns, they recognised the potential of the worldwide Web.
Never ones to do things by halves, they enlisted the aid of Austrade to compile a new catalogue and launch it via a 400-page Web site.

Joy's current focus is to convince each of the major suppliers to link to Aussie on the first page of its Web site.
Driza-Bone has come to the party, and Joy says she is working on them one at a time.
These days, they kit out convention delegates by the thousand as well as visiting dignitaries - Bill Clinton and Helmut Kohl among them.

Thanks to the Web, they might wake up one Sunday morning and find a large order from a boutique in St Tropez, France, on the fax or another order from Germany.
So, while they maintain three retail outlets and two franchised shops in Cairns and Kuranda, as Joy says, the Web business is the way of the future.

Now for the hat-tricks
* Hands on. Every little effort counts.
* Determination and constancy are winners.
* Presentation. It takes a lot of time but it's worth it.
* Store ambience. No detail is too small, from shelving to customer-friendly music to the change-room furniture.
* Variety. Sell everything from the $35 no-frills cowhide hat to the $750 crocodile-skin model.


 

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