Going bush: A look at rural business opportunities

Farm at sunset

Whether you’re thinking about a tree change, sea change or just a get-away-from-the-city change, going rural might just give you the opportunity to get your business started.

Heading to a rural area to start a business may seem like a daunting prospect. Will there be the customers? Will there be the facilities you need? Is there any business support?

These questions are legitimate worries for first time business owners or those who are used to regular foot traffic locations. However, seven leading regional cities have come together as NSW’s Evocities, a campaign to promote their towns and encourage people to move from the capitals to the regions, and bring their businesses along with them.

According to the Evocities campaign, 64 percent of Sydneysiders have considered leaving the city and 38 percent have mentioned that traffic congestion in the city is a serious issue. When 60 percent of SMEs have changed their start and finish times to deal with this issue, according to NRMA research, it’s not surprising that more people are considering moving to the regions and potentially becoming their own bosses.

Getting started

Finding a new place for your favourite coffee might be the only issue you have in relocating to an Evocity and getting your business started, according to Evocities spokesperson James Treloar. “You might have a slight increase in the cost of freight but otherwise I would suggest you’ve got no other areas where you’d be facing increased charges,” the ex-retailer says. “Even phone services, and those sorts of things, they’re pretty much the same no matter where you are. I would say most of your business expenses are no more in a regional centre than the capital.”

Tania Gillanders, owner of the Quinty Bakehouse in Uranquinty and Wagga Wagga, also agrees that in terms of services that a business needs, there’s no reason why you’d have more or less of an advantage working in a regional area than you would in the city.

“It’s definitely cheaper than the city here,” says Gillanders. “We were able to buy our property in Uranquinty and Wagga. In Sydney we would definitely not have been able to afford to buy. There are plumbers and electricians here for all your maintenance needs, or there are people in Orange or Young. We’ve got big business here. I think there’s a lot of money floating around Wagga, you’d be surprised.”

For Jessica Price-Purnell, getting started was the easy part. “I found it really easy. I think I’ve been blessed to be perfectly frank,” the young PR consultant says. Price-Purnell started her company Bubbles Consulting, after first finishing university in Armidale. She decided to stay in the regional city and quickly found out that public relations advice was sorely needed by many businesses in the area. She says that while getting started in the area was easy, she was concerned about maintaining a healthy client base.

“I was absolutely scared stiff in fact. Armidale’s the sort of place that it’s not so much what you know but who you know, and six years after moving here I’m still a blow in, I’m not a local, so that was certainly a bit of a worry. But word of mouth is a wonderful thing and that’s basically how I’ve got the bulk of my clients.”

Bill Parianos of Bill’s Beans in Orange, on the other hand, hasn’t had to worry about maintaining a healthy client base. After moving from Sydney to Orange six years ago, his coffee roasting business has expanded to now include two premises and over 23 staff. “Before we made the move from the city we were probably selling about 100 kilograms a week in central west and about 50 kilograms a week into Sydney. But six years later we’re probably selling about 2 tonnes a week, of which half goes into central west and half goes into the major capital.”

Local assistance

While Parianos says that they established the business on their own without the assistance of any small business services, Price-Purnell says that without the help of the Armidale Chamber of Commerce she wouldn’t know where she was.

“The Chamber of Commerce is fantastic for that sort of thing, we’re quite lucky in Armidale. They run a series of training courses on different things. For example, Armidale is one of the first sites for the NBN so things like how to get connected and how to utilise new speeds. They also run fantastic networking events; there’s a monthly women in business breakfast where they have different speakers talking about how they find their experience as a woman in business. So things like that have been a real learning experience,” she says.

Treloar isn’t surprised that this kind of assistance is becoming available in the Evocities as they continue to grow. “The thing that’s important to understand is that these cities are all growing and growing quite well. When you look at the state average population growth being 1.1 percent last year, Orange, Tamworth and Bathurst had fairly good growth rates above the state average and in most instances above the coastal average.”

Not just business

Not being limited by time, traffic and more costly overheads means that many of these small businesses have the ability to give back to their new communities. Gillander’s bakery runs classes for the kids on Saturday mornings to encourage them to get into the kitchen and learn how to bake. “The local preschool wasn’t doing too well so we donated a percentage of the sales of our hot cross buns at Easter to them. Then later you see them come back to the bakery as a customer.

“We’re a community here in Wagga. It’s a city but it’s a community. A lot of people work for themselves and they have an understanding of that. So we have a lot of friends who, if you’re going through a hard situation you support each other. I know there’s competition but we’re still on good terms with each other,” Gillander explains.

Parianos also tries to give back wherever he can. “We get the staff from regional cafes to work at our retail outlets for a four day induction and barista training, and then they go away with a really good skill set. Most other suppliers can’t offer that. That’s what sets us aside from the rest. We think outside the square, and think differently to the rest.”

Talking to these small business owners, it would seem that they’re all happily ensconced in their Evocities, with no plans of moving to a major capital any time soon. “There’s no way in the world that I would have been able to start up a business of the scale to compete in Sydney,” Price-Purnell says.

Parianos also definitely doesn’t regret the move. “There’s no way that we’d move back to the city. We still have a ten-year plan with the business. We’re looking at a glass ceiling now in terms of volume, and we don’t really want to exceed that. It’s enough to remain boutique and enough to remain as a quality supplier and retain some value with the brand.  You see a lot of brands that move too big too quick and end up on every street corner, and the quality falls away. We’re trying to avoid that at all costs.”

With more small businesses being encouraged to make the move to these regional areas, if you’re thinking about getting your small business started, perhaps now is the time to look to an Evocity for a new beginning.