Executive summary
The Universal Business School Sydney (UBSS) commissioned Cyril Jankoff and Daniel Bendel to write a second book for them, a book on entrepreneurs. Its purpose is to give new local and international undergraduate and MBA students a feel of what everyday Australian business success looks like. To give a realistic view of successful entrepreneurship the authors chose 15 successful entrepreneurs and interviewed them. This is the fourteenth interview. Each interviewee was asked the same questions and the authors reviewed all interviews and summarised the commonalities. The focus of the cases is on Sections III to VI.

Key points from this interview

  • Start small and learn from your mistakes along the way and then expand.
  • Do not get demoralised if the venture does not work, as it may not be the person. It may simply be the product is not quite right for the market.
  • Get up early as that can be a very productive time of the morning, and much can get done.
  • Ensure you have current computer skills as technology continues to drive the world.
  • Take early action if staff are not suited to the position.
  • Continually evaluate all parts of the business which is good business management in any case.
  • The importance of engaging a good Accountant.

Annemarie Manders an agritourism entrepreneur
Annemarie has a background in Nursing. When her family settled in Wandin, an outer suburb of Melbourne in Victoria, she had the idea of growing lavender to utilise the property, a former orchard. She had no agricultural knowledge, but a passion for being creative, productive and utilising unused land. She was keen to start immediately, take the challenge and have a hobby. With no research, she jumped in the deep end!

She had an immediate affinity to lavender with the colour, and the steady tidy growth patterns. It reminded her of her very ordered nursing in medical operating theatres.

Annemarie started with a crop of 500 plants. Her nursing income and husband, Peter’s wages were used to help pay to set up and run the business. As time passed it became clear that it was not producing enough to pay its way. Annemarie then expanded the business (against some advice and opposition from family members). This proved to be the right decision and after hiring an accountant to advise on administration, she never looked back.

This business continued to expand as products were added including tourism, giving people a lavender experience and presentation at shows. Annemarie is a self-admitted workaholic and loves being busy. She does not believe in copying others but rather believes in your own unique take on things. It is interesting that Annmarie purposely did not want to visit other Lavender farms and wanted to do it her own way and stresses the importance of creativity and imagination.

Category: agritourism entrepreneur.
Agritourism is a commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism in order to attract visitors onto a farm or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining and/or educating the visitors and generating income.

Key words: entrepreneur, agritourism, not a family business, innovation, adventurous, resourceful, started as a hobby.
Further information regarding the warratina lavender farm.

I. Key dates

  • 1946: Annemarie was born in Melbourne immediately after WW2. As a young child she always relished the idea of being a nurse. Although her mother tried to encourage her to widen her career focus, Annemarie could not be dissuaded and consequently after completing her matriculation (year 12) she took up nursing.
  • 1965: She enrolled at the Alfred Hospital. Annemarie’s career led her to her main love, the operating theatre specialising in all kinds of surgery.
  • 1969-1974: Annemarie travelled widely, hitch-hiking throughout Europe and the UK, working as a theatre nurse in London, Germany and Switzerland. She became fluent in German. She always liked a challenge and was determined to make a success of whatever the challenge was to be.
  • 1974: Annemarie briefly returned to Australia and met a man who introduced her to flying in small planes. The next challenge was to become a pilot.
  • 1978: Her life changed when she married the pilot, Peter Manders. They renovated an old house on a property in Wandin, which included an old orchard, where they brought up their 2 sons.
  • 1979-1995: Annemarie continued to work part time as a theatre nurse in various local hospitals.
  • 1989: The idea of growing lavender came to Annemarie to utilise the old orchard. She wanted to see the land being used productively. She had no agricultural knowledge, but a passion for being creative, productive and utilising unused land. She was keen to start immediately, take the challenge and have a hobby. With no research, jumped in the deep end!
  • 1994: She had planted out over 10,000 lavender plants and was developing products to sell at markets. This was a steep learning curve, ingredients, labelling, packaging, legal requirements and costings. Also how to do displays, and talk to people about the benefits of lavender.
  • 1994-2014: Annemarie would travel to markets every weekend for nearly 20 years, getting her product out there and spreading the word about the farm.
  • 1996: She built a shop on the farm as a small retail outlet.
  • 1997: Her first lavender festival. She had no running water, no car parking and not much know-how. Despite all of this it was a huge success and subsequent festivals have continued ever since.
  • 2000-2019: Annemarie has been presented with many awards in tourism and retail from the international flower and garden show, mind body spirit festival, the Australian lavender growers association, regional tourism association, certificates of appreciation from schools and TAFE colleges.
  • 2002: A café was added to the shop expanding the business from a hobby growing lavender to retail products to hospitality. Tourism and international visitors started. When Annemarie started the business, she never thought about going into tourism!
  • 2002-2021: Big shows were the next challenge. These included the international flower and garden show, the mind body spirit festivals in all states of Australia, garden shows, and agricultural field days. These shows have given her huge opportunities to increase her knowledge in display, presentation, marketing etc. In addition she had entrepreneurial ideas: events on her property during the low season, including exhibitions in the drying shed ranging from patchwork quilt and craft expos, wood working wonders, photography exhibitions and art shows.
  • 2019: Annemarie was asked to be part of an education program at Swinburne TAFE (Australia’s technical and further education which provides a wide range of predominantly vocational courses) giving lectures to students looking for career ideas and areas to be conscious of when dealing with a multi-cultural society. She ran a thriving business employing staff, and being in demand as a speaker to herb societies, garden clubs, retirement villages and clubs.
  • 2020: Annemarie was a key participant in the Farms2Schools program and gave a Power Point presentation to a number of primary schools during the 6-month lock-down. The concept was to introduce children to life on a farm from cattle farming, flower growing, bee keeping, cropping etc.
  • 2021: Having leased the Tea Room, Annemarie spends more time on the farm and concentrating on the retail side of the business. COVID has reduced the number of visitors but has allowed her to focus on promoting the online shop, developing the product image and initiating new on-farm event ideas.

Fresh bunches of lavender hanging
Fresh bunches of lavender hanging ready to dry.
Note that she grows two different varieties of lavender which flower one month apart. The first is at the end of November where most is harvested over 10 days, and the second variety is at the end of December where the harvest again is over 10 days with a small quantity unharvested for visitors to see how they grow. The Lavender farm is about giving visitors, particularly city visitors, an experience in all the benefits of lavender cultivation.

II. Getting to know the person
1. What is success?
Annemarie sees success as creating something, promoting it and having it accepted in the market. She feels that to go from imagining to having the business name well recognised is a great buzz.

Authors note – as opposed to the bees buzzing on the Lavender farm.

Also she gets this buzz from just having the energy to put into a venture, and the belief and passion is success in itself, that is, “the journey”.

2. What is your favourite TV show, movie or book and why?

  • Television: Annemarie does not watch much TV, maybe the occasional Quiz shows and general knowledge. She loves to learn about history, and understanding about life in earlier times.
  • Movies: She is very keen on the Sound of Music, as it takes her back to Austria. She loves the music and particularly the song “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”.
  • Books: She likes reading non-fiction books, including the dictionary, where she can widen her knowledge of the English language and its derivations.

3. What are you hobbies and/or interests?
Annemarie likes gardening, embroidery, bike riding, walking. She is fond of classical music, opera, travel especially to Europe and the German language. Annemarie is active in the local Toastmasters Club, and part of the local community through CWA (Country Women’s Association of Australia, which seeks the conditions for country women and children, Rotary (which seeks to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian service) and CFA (Country Fire Authority, which seeks to reduce the occurrence and impacts of fire and emergency services especially on the roads).

III. Tips
4. How did you get through your worst times?
Annemarie generally tries not to let the problem get her down and focuses determining to succeed. She feels that there is always a solution. She advocates a few simple things: take the time to work out a better and more efficient way to resolve the problem. She stresses: “If you have a will, there is a way”. She also advocates that you should believe in yourself and your passion and talk to others for advice. Furthermore, Annemarie says do not get demoralised if the venture does not work, as it may not be the person but simply that the product is not quite right for the market.

Authors’ note – Often these things are about timing, that is, things may not work if you have the right product at the wrong time.

5. What keeps you awake at night?
Annemarie quickly responded saying “Not much.” She states that she pushes herself hard during the day and by the end is physically tired and therefore falls asleep quickly. She is also a proponent of yoga relaxation exercises to assist in preparation for sleep.

6. What are your typical daily routines?
Annemarie rises before sunrise, which mostly is between 5 and 6 am, exercises, breakfasts and at the end of the day is in bed by 9.30 pm. She is a big advocate of getting up early as this for her is a very productive time, and much can be achieved because of one’s freshness and lack of interruptions. Her other routines include checking emails and making lists of jobs to be done. Annemarie makes sure the house is clean and tidy before she starts the day. She loves working and does not like to waste time. During the day she works through her to-do list.

Ravina sitting outside the tea rooms
Previous star staff member, Ravina sitting outside the tea rooms

7. What advise would you give yourself starting out?
She advises two key things. The first is that one should keep current with computers skills and software as technology continues to drive the world. Had such technology been available when she started, she would have researched into soil health, and weed control. We will revisit this lack of research issue in the first Case in Question 9. The second is that she should have allocated herself time outside of work.

IV. Business case examples
8. Provide a case you managed well and why?
Annemarie has been exhibiting at various shows for some time, for example at the International Flower and Garden Show, Mind Body Spirit Festival and The Australian Lavender Growers. She advises that many of these shows happen at the same time and the first few times this occurred were very challenging for her. This is because she had to duplicate all props, shelving, tables, signage and product stock. Furthermore, she had to staff both shows with competent staff and also manage staff back at the farm/café/shop. She stated that there are many small, but vital, things that need attention including a working EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale) machine and having a cash float (the amount of cash put in the cash drawer at the beginning of each day). To reduce the risk she recognises that she needs to be very organised and has developed checklists and starts preparing weeks in advance and maintains a steady pace. Notwithstanding the above preparation she finds that something always goes wrong, but fortunately due to her solid preparation they are normally minor in nature. She has been successful in simultaneously conducting multiple shows, and these shows are now a major part of the business.

Sydney Mind body Spirit festival
Sydney “Mind body Spirit” festival

9. Provide a case that did not go well and why?
Case 1 – Weed control
In the early days Annemarie began the planting of lavender plants immediately after preparing the earth. Not having studied agriculture, nor easy access to computer- based knowledge, meant that the preparation was not ideal. For example, a soil analysis of trace elements and a soil pH level (an indication of the acidity or alkalinity of soil) had not been done to determine any deficiencies if any. Due to her haste in wanting to get started with growing the lavender she did not prepare the soil with a pre-emergence spray to hinder the germination of unwanted weeds and was faced with an enormous weed problem resulting in weeks and months of continual work to supress the weed problem. She stated that this is a constant battle, but it is part of farming and after 30 years she now has the hang of it! Lesson learned: take time to do your homework and not be too hasty.

Case 2 – Staffing
Selecting the right staff is never easy. Despite thorough pre-checking it is hard to know whether a staff member will work out until they are actually working. In recent times there have been a few staff issues including one after the COVID lockdown forcing some difficult decisions to be made.

Lavender Pickers

10. What conclusions can be drawn by comparing these cases?
The comparison between Question 8 and Case 1 in Question 9 is clearly one of preparation in advance. She stresses that one should be organised, do your research and be careful not to be too hasty. Case 2 shows the importance of taking early action if staff are not suited to the position.

11. What cultural issues did you experience? How were they overcome? How is Australia different? Were these cases affected by cultural issues?
Hospitality and Tourism at the Lavender farm has attracted many different cultures. She loves greeting people from all over the world. She says that she has had to train staff to understand what behaviour is acceptable, how to greet visitors who come from all over the world. This involves understanding dress code, food habits, toilet use. There have been issues particularly with toilet use. To overcome this during very busy times Annemarie introduced portable toilets for the coaches bringing tourists from Asia who have different toilet habits from what is the norm in Australia. The main café toilets are only accessible for café patrons by key use.

Sri Lanka tourist
Sri Lanka tourists

Cyclist’s coming to visit the Lavender farm
Cyclist’s coming from the nearby Warburton trail to visit the Lavender farm

V. Volatility (for example COVID-19)

12. How has volatility affected your business?
Annmarie said that COVID-19 has been a disaster as lockdowns have prevented customers visiting and therefore there have been zero international tourists. Consequently, there has been a massive reduction in income. Planning for events on the farm, permits etc then cancellations, has been costly in terms of time and money.

As a result, she has been looking at alternatives to generate income, for example more online presence with her high-profile products. Online sales have increased but fluctuate due to people’s financial positions. She is trying to be more innovative and think up new ways of selling her products. She is offering more discounts to help stimulate sales. She noted that during this difficult period many people are not spending, and saving their money. The government JobKeeper program has been good but not enough to stop the need to cut costs. For example, she has rented the Tea Rooms out, but due to the current situation it is closed and thus bringing in no income for the tenant. Annmarie is not charging the tenant rent during lock-down.

13. What lasting impact do you think it will have on your business?
Annemarie says she is hoping it will not have a lasting impact. There is a demand for people wanting to visit the farm and gardens, café, and planned events. She has observed people are craving to get out and have fun. In the meantime, lavender sales are on-going with wholesale and retail customers in a reduced manner. She recognises opportunities to hold functions and utilise the open space on the farm outside of the lavender flowering season. For example Annemarie is planning a dog event with some associates, and exhibitions in the drying shed prior to the main event of the year, the Lavender Festival. These events are all promoted on the business’s web

14. What have you learned from it that you will now implement in your business?
Annemarie says she has learnt a lot from COVID-19 in that we need to be careful and adaptable. She is cautious with her spending and tries to save as much money as possible, stating that she has always been frugal. She believes that social distancing, wearing of masks and hand sanitation will likely be a part of our lives for some time, and advises that she has kept up to date with health regulations and any available business support packages. She furthermore advises that she has learnt the need to continually evaluate all parts of the business.

Authors’ note – the need to continually evaluate all parts of the business is good business management practice and all businesses need to do it periodically in relation to the total business, and also in relation to key severable business parts.

VI. Family business
15. Are you in a family business and from your experience what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of family working in the business?
The business started out as a hobby for Annemarie with solid support from her husband. Her sons growing up were a great help. Now they are not involved as they both work separately in different agricultural enterprises, and both are willing to help with agricultural advice. She states that it is not a family business, but she would be happy to run it as one if the opportunity arose. If one of her sons chose to take over the running of the lavender business or changing it in some way to accommodate their own agricultural enterprise, she would be very happy. As one of her sons operates his intensive farming business next door growing heirloom vegetables (those grown from seeds handed down from one generation to the next) there could be an opening there for a retail outlet together with hospitality. The infrastructure is already in place. Time will tell.

Advantages: Of family working together: on-hand, understand the enterprise
Disadvantages: Don’t like to take orders, have their own way of wanting to do things, too many bosses. All want to be in charge.