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Monkey Trees in Cooma – Hear from Sam And Her Story About Running an Online Rural Business

Stories From The Bush – Our Stories are from our community of Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business, stories of Australian’s who work and live in Rural and Regional Australia.

Monkeys in Cooma – Hear the Story of Sam from Cooma and Her Online Business – Monkey Tree.

A Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business, Business Owner’s Story

 

Today we chat with Sam from Monkey Tree in Cooma, rural NSW.

This transcript was made by Rev.com – if you’d like to try it yourself click here: try.rev.com/3mmN2z

Jenn Donovan:

Well, hey there, welcome to the fourth episode of Stories From the Bush. I am, of course, the host, Jenn Donovan, marketer, keynote speaker, social media strategist, and rural girl, obsessed with helping rural Australian small businesses. I’m a farmer’s wife in the Riverina of New South Wales, mum of three, and so passionate about sharing the stories of business and life in rural Australia.

Jenn Donovan:

My business partners and I, Sarah Britz and Lauren Hateley, shout out to you guys, are the co-founders of Spend With Us- Buy From a Bush Business. If you want to hear more a bad-ass story, how a clinical psychologist, a web designer, a marketer, that’s me, have come together to create this movement, then head back to the intro episode and hear how three rural girls have got together to make a difference in rural and regional Australia and check out maybe even our about section on our website.

Jenn Donovan:

This episode is brought to you by our marketplace, Spend With Us, Buy From a Bush Business. You’ll find it at all the W’s spendwithus.com.au. It’s an online marketplace for rural and regional small businesses supporting almost a thousand small businesses. We also have a Facebook group, which has at this point, 306,000 members in it. We are supporting hundreds and thousands of small business owners in rural and regional Australia. We’d love you to check us out and support our movement and maybe even recommend us to a friend.

Jenn Donovan:

I’ve heard lots of stories, had emails and messages from lots of you, from people with different walks of life and they’re heartwarming and they’re devastating and they’re amazing. They all have this common thread of resilience and community. It’s these two characteristics that have led to this podcast, a series of 10 stories of people from the bush. Amazing stories of business owners doing amazing things, stories of friendship and mateship diversification, and of course, resilience and community. With all my heart, I hope you enjoy listening to these stories as much as I have loved interviewing these true Australian rural business owners.

Jenn Donovan:

Today on episode four, we have Sam from the Monkey Tree Store, an online children’s store. Sam lives in Cooma in the Snowy region of New South Wales. Business names are always something that has fascinated me and the Monkey Tree Store is no exception. Her story is a good little one as well, so I know you’ll enjoy listening to that. Of course, with all this in mind, sit back, grab a drink and listen in to episode four.

Jenn Donovan:

Thanks so much Sam, for coming on the podcast. I’m really excited for everybody to hear you and your little business. So welcome.

Sam:

Thank you. Thanks so much, Jenn. It’s great to be here.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. No worries. Sam, could you tell us … the idea behind the podcast is obviously to talk to some great people who are running businesses in rural areas. Can you explain to someone who’s listening whereabouts you’re located and whereabouts your business is?

Sam:

Yeah. We live in a little town called Cooma which is in New South Wales. If you’re looking at it on the map, we are in the heart of the Snowy Mountains, as I like to say. We’re an hour and a half South of Canberra. We’re an hour to Kosciuszko and Thredbo, so to the Snowy Fields and then an hour-and-a-half to the South Coast, Merimbula, Tathra, those areas. We’re in a fantastic location in our little town.

Jenn Donovan:

Beautiful. I guess small business would be quite important to your town then because obviously it’s a long way to go to do shopping, and to other bigger centers then, isn’t it?

Sam:

Yeah. It really is. It’s an hour-and-a-half, one way to Canberra, so if you need to do some shopping, that’s a three hour return trip on the weekend. We’re lucky that we’re a big enough town that we have Coles and Woolworths here and an ALDI.

Jenn Donovan:

Oh, wow.

Sam:

Yeah, an ALDI. That’s about the extent of our big business in town. We have about 8,000 people who live here. We’re really lucky we’ve got a few fantastic small businesses here in town that do service the area, but obviously we’re lacking in a few different areas like kids’ clothes.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Good segue into your own business. Your business is called the Monkey Tree Children’s Store. Can you tell us, firstly, why Monkey Tree? Where did that name come from? These things always fascinate me, so I’m always wanting to ask where people got their business names from.

Sam:

Yeah. When we decided to open the business, my husband and I were trying to come up with a name that represented us as a family, but we didn’t want to tie it to our daughter’s name or our names. We were brainstorming some ideas and we always had this joke, before we had kids, that our kids would be called tree monkeys because my husband’s middle name is Tree, T-R-E-E, and it’s a family name. His parents are not hippies. One of my middle names is Monkton, which is a family name, so my brother and I always get nicknamed monkey from that name.

Sam:

We were joking, “Oh, maybe we can call it Tree Monkey. No, that doesn’t sound quite right.” My husband just flipped it around and said, “Why don’t we call it Monkey Tree?” I loved it straight away and everything just fell into place.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Wow. Like I said, I find these things really fascinating, but neither your husband or you, other than having a gorgeous daughter and another one on the way, really don’t have a retail based background or a clothing background.

Sam:

No. We really don’t.

Jenn Donovan:

Where did the idea come from that you wanted to start an online retail store for children’s clothes?

Sam:

I love to shop and found myself shopping at lots of different brands through Instagram and online, and lots of little small businesses. I love to support small business and Australian brands too, so we only stock Australian brands at Monkey Tree.

Jenn Donovan:

Oh, wow.

Sam:

My background, I have a lot of program management skills and I have used social media quite a lot as well in my professional career. I felt like all those skills I could bring together and use them in a different setting. I’ve been chatting to a lot of my mom friends here in town and everyone was complaining, “Oh, there’s nowhere to buy kids’ clothes here. The last shop just closed down. Wouldn’t it be great if we there was somewhere we could just jump online or somewhere we could pick up locally, or if there was some other market.” My husband and I were chatting about it and thinking, “Why don’t we do it?” I felt like we had the right skills, that we could bring it all together, and it’s going well so far.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Beautiful. [Crosstalk 00:07:43].

Sam:

[crosstalk 00:07:43] jump in the deep end.

Jenn Donovan:

There’s no other way to start a business than just to dive head first.

Sam:

[crosstalk 00:07:48] when we moved to Cooma. We love challenges.

Jenn Donovan:

How long has the business been going for?

Sam:

About 10 months.

Jenn Donovan:

10 months [crosstalk 00:07:58].

Sam:

We launched in April last year.

Jenn Donovan:

Yep. Okay. Monkey Tree, obviously, you’re in Cooma. How do you get your clients? Where do you get your customers from? Are you an online store? Are you through Instagram where you used to buy your clothes?

Sam:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). We’re an online store only at this stage. We do attend the Cooma market as well and so we get a lot of customers visiting us there. We also have an Instagram and Facebook page and a lot of our marketing is done through Instagram. We’ve got a few different marketing avenues that we use on Instagram. We actually have a team of brand reps and brand enthusiasts, which are all moms who got little kids who love dressing them up. They apply to be part of our team and then they receive products and they take photos for us and help promote our business, which has been fantastic.

Sam:

I’ve had some of those ladies be with me now for the full 10 months. I feel like I’ve got this little online community and lots of new friends through Instagram, which has been great. We also work occasionally with influencers, so some of the big influences who have over 50K followers and that’s been fantastic in helping to build our following and increase traffic to the website as well.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Right. I always find these stories very fascinating because you’re doing so much and you’re building this fantastic business, but doing it from a rural setting. So many people think that there is big disadvantages living rurally and yes, there certainly are disadvantages for living rurally, but there’s some huge advantages as well. Do you think that living in Cooma, growing this business, has had both some pitfalls and some good uptake?

Sam:

Yeah. Locally the uptake of the business has been fantastic. I’m lucky that I have quite a big network of mom friends here since having my daughter, so word of mouth has been great locally. A lot of my orders come from local ladies, which is great. I guess some of the pitfalls of being in a rural area and trying to promote an online business is things like getting stock here and getting orders out can take a little bit longer because of where we are just in terms of postage delays, but it hasn’t been too bad.

Sam:

Being online has been a really good decision for us because you can run it from anywhere. People like the fact that we’re based in a regional area, that’s one of our selling points. We use that quite a bit to promote our story and where we’re from. It’s been good. Not too much disadvantages.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. You mentioned postage just then. I know when we were speaking off air just before, you were saying the fires. We’re recording this in February 2020, so the fires that have just happened over summer, they came reasonably close to Cooma?

Sam:

They did come reasonably close to Cooma. We were fine here in town, but all of the major roads in and out of Cooma were closed on and off over the last a month or so. That did affect some postage delivery and then obviously a lot of my customers are based all over Australia and lots in New South Wales. There was some delays getting orders to them because of the fires that were spread pretty much all down the East Coast.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. I was hearing quite a lot of stories of people with postage delays and that sort of thing. We have met through my group Buy From a Bush Business and there was quite a lot of chatter on there as well in January of people who had bought things and hadn’t received things, and some of that was to do with the fire delays and that sort of thing as well. I think even the backlog from Christmas took up some of that. Sometimes there are some little tiny hiccups-

Sam:

There are. Yes.

Jenn Donovan:

… that mother nature throws at us when it comes to living rurally. That’s [inaudible 00:12:34] absolutely. With Monkey Tree Children’s Store, where do you want to take it? Where do you think you can take it even though you live in Cooma in a town of what did you say, about 10,000?

Sam:

8,000.

Jenn Donovan:

8,000. What are the goals and dreams for your business?

Sam:

The dream, I guess, with Monkey Tree is that one day it will be big enough that I will not have to travel three hour round trip to work anymore and that I can work here in Cooma either from home. We would love to open a bricks and mortar store in town so that we can provide even more support and more opportunities for our little town. There are quite a few empty shops here at the moment so it would be great to be able to add to the streetscape here with our little store. Fingers crossed, that’s on the cards in the next 12 months. We’ll see how we go.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Right. Well, that’s good. I think that that would be really good and it’s giving back to the community and giving the community somewhere else to go. I know that we spoke a little bit before how there is a chance that Cooma will grow and maybe quite quickly with the new snowy scene that’s on that perhaps they will be new families and new customers falling through and therefore new money. If there’s one thing I know for being an ex retailer, if farmers don’t have money, small towns don’t have money.

Sam:

So true. We found that because we attend the market here in town once a month and that’s been fantastic for getting our brand out there, but in times when the drought was really bad, we’ve noticed a significant drop in sales. Chatting to other local businesses as well, I know that they’ve had the same thing and if town’s quiet, the pubs are quiet. Definitely impacts what’s going on in town.

Jenn Donovan:

What does the drought look like around Cooma and around the area because you are quite in a mountainous area? You think that there’s green grass and trees on hills, which perhaps they’ve been through the fires.

Sam:

Well, there is today. There’s green grass today. The Snowy Monaro Region, which is where we live, where Cooma’s based is known for being pretty dry. Cooma itself and the regions immediately surrounding us is in a rain shadow because we are surrounded by mountains on all sides, so we don’t get a lot of rain here. I think I was saying to you off on air before we didn’t have a drop of rain for about six to eight weeks before Christmas. Driving around, going up to Jindabyne or up to the mountains for lunch or for drive, it was just, everything was brown and just gray and quite miserable. Even driving to the Canberra, everything just felt depressed because it was so horrible.

Sam:

But in the last week we’ve been fortunate enough to have quite a bit of rain, which has been very welcomed. I think we’ve got another storm on the way today, which is good. Now when you look out the window, everything’s green rather than being brown. My daughter keeps saying, “Mom and the green grass is back. Can we have some more green grass?” Because we haven’t had green grass in the backyard for what feels like months and months. My husband actually has mow the lawn this weekend and he hasn’t done that since maybe, I don’t know, for four months because we just have had no rain, so nothing grows.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. The farming industry that’s around, are they cropping or are they sheep and cattle or what [crosstalk 00:16:29].

Sam:

Mostly sheep and cattle. Not a lot of crops in this region because it’s just too dry.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah, right. Interesting. Hopefully, there’s green grass for the sheep and the cattle and they can reach off and [crosstalk 00:16:44].

Sam:

Yeah. Areas that are not affected by the bush fires, yes.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. That’s true. Absolutely.

Sam:

That green grass is already popping out through the … you can say on the Monaro all the way to Canberra where the fires came right up to the road two weeks ago. On Friday, the grass was already starting to pop through, so good to see.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Very good to see. I did allude just before that you and I have met through the Buy From the Bush Business group. You’ve joined the group. I just like you to maybe just … how has it gone for you? Has it helped with sales or is it helped with brand awareness and things like that?

Sam:

I think brand awareness has been the biggest thing for me. I joined the group a few weeks ago and I just have found it really supportive and a really nice place to become aware of other brands as well. I love seeing what other little businesses are up to and where they’re located and finding out about new places that I’ve never heard before. I definitely noticed whenever I post in a group, I get an increase in traffic to my website. I’ve definitely had a few sales from people who found me through Buy From a Bush Business as well.

Sam:

They’ve often sent me a message or whenever say they order and said, “Thanks so much how we found you through here and we love your business.” Some of them have come back two or three times already, which has been fantastic. I’ve definitely had an increase in my Facebook following. Every time I post, I definitely get more people and it’s been lovely.

Jenn Donovan:

I think you were saying before … I think I keep saying that either I feel mean that everyone’s listening [inaudible 00:18:35]. You were saying how you’ve connected with a few other small businesses that are perhaps a little bit like yourself. I think that’s just such a beautiful off from the group that’s been created.

Sam:

Yeah, I totally agree. I love connecting with other businesses who are doing the same thing as me or something similar. I’m all about community over-competition. I think there’s space for all of us and we all have our own unique selling points. I think we can all help each other out by not just promoting each other’s business, but being that behind the scenes support as well. In the sellers’ group, there’s people asking different questions, “I need to set myself up a website. Does anyone have any suggestions?” and just being that sounding board and just someone to go, “Yeah, you’re doing a great job,” kind of thing has been really nice

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Look you’re so singing my song there in your view of over-competition. That is absolutely how business, and especially businesses who are finding it tough should definitely be running their businesses. Look, I’m really glad that the group has had some influence on your business and hopefully continuing on, it does. You continue to make those really good connections with other small business owners who are possibly in a very similar situation to you, they’ve rural, whether they’ve got a bricks and mortar or just online, but they know the trials and tribulations of what it’s like to run a small business.

Sam:

Yes. It’s definitely good.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Beautiful. You said you stocked Australian made clothes in your business. How have you come across them? Have you been just research or to trade fairs, or have you come across the people that you [crosstalk 00:20:33].

Sam:

Yeah. Mostly, just research online and word of mouth. I would love to go to some trade fairs, but being located in a regional area and having a toddler and an almost other full-time job on top of Monkey Tree has made it a little bit difficult. I’m hoping to get to some of this year while I’m on maternity leave again, but it does require a big trip to Sydney, which is eight hours. Well, not quite eight hours, but it’s a long way, or to Melbourne and it’s just not feasible at this stage.

Sam:

Mostly researched three Instagram, recommendations from some of my customers or my rep team as well. They often will recommend different brands to me. Some of them are friends of mine, so people that I know. A couple of my girlfriends that live here in Cooma had their own Etsy businesses, so they hand-knit and crochet beanies and other different goods. They stock to my store, which is fantastic.

Jenn Donovan:

That’s great.

Sam:

A little business but also all supporting each other here in Cooma. Some I’ve met through other business groups that I’m part of and done a call out, “I’m looking for these products. Does anyone make these?”

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Right. [crosstalk 00:21:58].

Sam:

[inaudible 00:21:58]. Everything’s Australian owned and designed, all of our brands. Nearly I think every single one of them is a lady startup too. They’re all run by women, moms just like me. Pretty cool.

Jenn Donovan:

Wow. What a fantastic little community and story?

Sam:

Yeah.

Jenn Donovan:

Well, you must have the best dress daughter in the world. Do you?

Sam:

I do most of the time, except she’s two-and-a-half now just getting to that point where she does not want to wear what mommy wants her to wear. She prefers to wear her daycare clothes that are stained and dirty, but she does have a pretty good wardrobe. I’m looking forward to having a new born in a couple of months that I can dress up and that won’t be able to talk back at me for a little while anyway.

Jenn Donovan:

You need lots about fits for a newborn. They soil their clothes very quickly when they’re new born, when they’re little.

Sam:

Yeah.

Jenn Donovan:

Beautiful. It’s been great to chat with you today, Sam. I’m really thankful for you giving up your time and coming on the podcast and having a chat. If anyone wanted to get in contact with yourself or Monkey Tree, whereabouts do they go? How can people connect with you further?

Sam:

Yeah. They can go to our website, which is www.monkeytreestore.com, and they can find us on Instagram, our handle is @monkeytreestore or Facebook. Facebook, if you just search for Monkey Tree Children’s Store and we’ll pop up.

Jenn Donovan:

Beautiful.

Sam:

Hopefully, pretty easy to find.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. With a very great name that just seems to stick, I love it. As soon as I saw it I thought, “Yep. I can actually probably see your logo and your store and everything just by the name.” That was super. Beautiful. Is there anything you’d like to share with the audience before we go that perhaps I haven’t asked you or anything you wanted to say to finish off?

Sam:

I just want to say thanks for starting the Buy From the Bush Business page and group. I know it’s definitely the benefit of a lot of small businesses in regional towns. I’m so happy to be part of it and I can’t wait to see where it goes onwards and upwards and pray for rain.

Jenn Donovan:

Yes. For rain. Absolutely. I am with you there. I can’t wait to see where this little movement goes and started off with the Facebook group and now there’s podcast and there is definitely [crosstalk 00:24:34]. It will certainly be a great little journey for all of us to go on. Thank you so much, Sam, again, for coming on. If anyone would like to connect, I will have all those links in the show notes as well, and good luck.

Sam:

Thanks so much, Jenn.

Jenn Donovan:

No worries. Thanks, Sam, again.

Sam:

Thanks.

Jenn Donovan:

How is that? I really hope you enjoyed Sam’s story. I love businesses that come from just a simple idea, a simple conversation. You see a problem, solve a problem. It’s like a business model that is as old as time itself. I can’t thank you enough for listening in to episode four. Episode five is definitely on its way and I’ll be chatting to another fabulous rural business owner. Thanks again for listening in. If you haven’t checked out our marketplace spin with us, you can go to all the W’s spinwithus.com.au. Go there and support rural and regional Australian small businesses.

Jenn Donovan:

Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button of this podcast so you never miss an episode we’d also love you to leave a rating and review just to show how much you love hearing the stories about rural and regional Australia, but also give a bit of a thumbs up to our beautiful guests that we have each week. We’ll catch you on episode five.

 

Through droughts, floods, bushfires, and Covid19 – these are the stories of our Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business community.

Haven’t checked out our online marketplace as yet? Click here to shop now and show your support for rural and regional small businesses by buying directly from them.

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