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Staying local for a brighter future

 

”We couldn't have survived the last six months without people that live in my street, in my suburb, in my town, supporting my family and our businesses.” Jake Wolki, Owner Wolki Farm

Jake Wolki. Image source: https://www.facebook.com/wolkifarm/

Located in Thurgoona, just outside of Albury in New South Wales, Wolki Farm is small regenerative farm specialising in multi-enterprise operations, including egg production with their pastured chickens, grass finished beef, pastured pork (grass fed) and most recently, chicken meat and honey production.

 

The bulk of its products are from the farm straight to consumers, and to their local café, Café Mussette.

 

I recently caught up with owner Jake Wolki to chat about his experience of trade finding its way back to local, how he has managed business though extreme change and what his advice is on tackling the challenges.

 

Conor: We’re seeing people travel less within Australia and overseas. This has resulted in a resurgence of local trade; tell us about your experience.

 

Jake: The bushfires came through in January and February this year (2020). I guess as the saying goes, out of fire new things are born. It really pushed us to the limits on all of our businesses. It was a tough couple of months. We got through that and just as it looked like rain was on the horizon, COVID came through and presented a whole bunch of new challenges.

 

It's provided a great opportunity for us to solidify the values of the farm and our other businesses being local. We couldn't have survived the last six months without people who live in my street, in my suburb, in my town, supporting my family and my businesses. People from Melbourne couldn't come up. People from Wodonga couldn't come across. Online sales went berserk and became really difficult for a while due to freight and logistics challenges. It really just came down to us saying ‘the only way we're going to get through this is if we band together as a community.’

 

So I’ve hung my hat on that (supporting local) and have been loud and proud about it. I've always known local business was important, but I guess I've never lived through an experience where I could see how important it really was. But now we’ve experienced this, I've been very vocal about letting people know it's important to support your local businesses and producers.

 

During COVID we have seen so much support in local communities, but it’s important not to forget us in the good times.

 

 

Conor: Jake, you adapted your businesses quickly in various ways, from a food supply perspective, to customer experience. What advice would you give to other business owners who know they need to change, but are not sure how to do it?

 

Jake: I would say listening to your customers and communication.

 

If you want to know how to change your business, listen to your customers. And if they're not telling you anything, just ask. We have so much ability to contact them through socials or talk to them in person and ask, ‘how is your experience?’ ‘What can we change to do better?’ People will tell you and appreciate you involving them.

 

Clear, transparent communications is also really important when you are making changes in your business. It’s important to communicate with your staff, explaining the changes and why you are making them, so they feel confident in their jobs and can communicate better with customers. And it’s important to communicate with customers in an open and honest way.

 

For example, we have made a solid commitment to supply our café in town – Café Mussette - with as much local produce and product as possible.

 

Understandably, customers ask ‘why is my meal now $20 instead of $17? Why are the prices higher’? When you can communicate to customers through staff training, point of sale in-store or messaging on your social media channels and explain that ‘You guys think is really important to support local and so do we; that’s why we are getting our trout or our cheese from local farms, we're getting all of our ingredients now within a certain radius’, you find not only are customers more likely to come and support you, they'll understand why the business is changing and the prices might be fluctuating. They appreciate the transparency.

 

Wolki Farm. Image source: https://www.facebook.com/wolkifarm/

 

Conor: We like to evolve with our customers, especially during challenging times. When you think about the relationship you have with us a bank, what comes to mind?  What do you look for in the partnership?

 

Jake: My family has been in business in Australia for more than 50 years, and obviously we've had relationships with banks throughout the entire time. When I came into the business and took over from the family, I had a different set of needs than what my family had previously.

 

I like being listened to, I like sound-boarding (brain storming) and I like my phone calls returned, so the relationship I have with my bank isn’t purely price driven; I hold the value of service high. Through the bushfires, ANZ was in-store and on-site asking ‘how's business’? ‘How can we help’? ‘What strategies can we put in place’? ‘Do we need to look at adjusting loans for this period’?

 

That prompting was really helpful as we were so busy just trying to keep staff employed and manage the smoke with the wildlife on the farm and everything else.

 

And now COVID; there's been a lot of government-mandated assistance, so receiving help to navigate those in a real time sense and sort of cut out all the jargon has been invaluable for me because as a business owner, there's a lot more going on than managing interest loans with banks. You know, that's like one per cent of one hundred things we do. So to have, I guess, correspondence and advice that feels genuine and is very straightforward is what I'm looking for. I definitely get that from my local bankers.

Wolki Farm. Image source: https://www.facebook.com/wolkifarm/

 

Conor: When you are faced with challenges, you have the ability to let go of how things have been done in the past and go with the flow and focus on the present? How do you do this – what advice would you give to others?

 

Jake: I've been asked that quite a few times over the years - I don't really have a roadmap as such. The best advice I can give is know your values. Really sit down and figure out what your values are in your business. Once you know this, you can operate accordingly. For me, integrity is important. It’s important to walk down the street and be able to look everyone in the eye. Because I’m clear on what my values are, when a challenge presents itself, I go for the path of least resistance. I think, what is the easiest way to get through this obstacle that aligns with my values?  I don't mind failing. I don't mind doing it wrong.

 

That's a lesson in itself.

 

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