My Insta friendship with the lovely Kate and Sarah from The Small Batch Gift Co was borne from a mutual love of Kester Black, a gorgeous ethical nail polish brand that features in their ‘Nailed It’ gift box. I straight away vibed with their beautiful gift box collection, ethical business ethos, and love of a G&T! I recently chatted with these Perth-based sisters and co-founders of The Small Batch Gift Co about their lives and business journey. I know you are going to love these inspiring ladies!
Tell us about The Small Batch Gift Co..
Kate: We sell gift boxes online that contain exclusively Australian-made products, made in small batches using traditional and artisan methods. Although we are selling a product, we are essentially offering a service too, as the majority of our suppliers are small businesses that you might not usually come across! We’ve spent countless hours scouring the country to locate these awesome businesses, then parcelled these gems together into a carefully selected collection of gift boxes.
Sarah: Our customers are people who are passionate about supporting local, who appreciate the quality of hand-crafted, and who are interested in shopping in an eco-friendly way. Our customers are passionate about beautiful, simple design and they want wow-factor in their gifts to family, friends, clients and customers.
How do you seek out the beautiful artisanal, eco-friendly products for your gift boxes?
Sarah: The wonders of the internet and especially Instagram! We wouldn’t want to count up the hours we’ve spent between us sourcing all of our amazing suppliers, it might be a little scary! But as we said, that’s the service part of what we offer – we’ve put in all the hours and done all the hard yards to bring our customers these products. We are looking for new products all the time, and we are contacted on a regular basis by other small businesses who want to tell us about their stories and be a part of ours. We love that!
Kate: We have a set criteria that our products need to meet. Number one, they need to be made in Australia! There are certain items that we have searched for that would complement some of our gift packages (for example, a little tea strainer to go with loose leaf tea) but we just can’t find something we love that is made locally. So it doesn’t go in. Next, it needs to be an excellent product with stylish design and packaging. We favour quite a minimal design aesthetic with our product packaging: this ensures that everything fits together and suits our branded items like our boxes and cards. Probably the key word that has been used in our customer feedback so far is “stylish”, which is wonderful! Definitely the look we are going for. The next criteria we consider is how the company sources its ingredients and raw products – are they coming from areas with sustainable farming practices? Are the farmers being treated fairly? Are they organic or free of pesticides and other nasties? Finally, we really enjoy working with other small businesses, so as much as we can we like to deal directly with our suppliers, rather than through distributors.
What did life look like for you before The Small Batch Gift Co?
Sarah: We are both physiotherapists by trade but haven’t worked in a clinical capacity for many years. I have a corporate job in risk management and assurance from which I am currently on maternity leave as I have a three week-old baby boy and a nearly three year-old boy!
Kate: For the last decade I’ve worked in people and project management in the not-for-profit sector. We both have two little boys – mine are two and four now so they are pretty energetic! Like many women our age, our hands are pretty full with work and family and life and our passions.
Was there a catalyst or a particular ‘aha’ moment for starting The Small Batch Gift Co?
Sarah: I always liked the idea of a coffee shop/cafe business but I knew with small children it probably wasn’t a realistic option. I had been looking at a few different gift businesses online thinking they didn’t quite have the items which appealed to me, and thought I could do it better. In early 2016 I mentioned the idea to my sister, Kate, but she was a little tentative about working with family. After a few months we decided ‘let’s do it’ so we started researching in September. From there things moved pretty quickly – we are both good at getting things done quickly and juggling lots of things at once so we were able to launch a few months later in December!
What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt to date in business?
Sarah: Working with small suppliers and being a small business ourselves we have had to try to work out how much product to have on the shelf for demand which has been a bit of guess work but we have so far done pretty well. We do need to constantly be aware of wait times so we don’t run out of our products.
Kate: It’s commonsense, but great relationships are the key, whether it’s with creatives or suppliers or customers. Good communication, clear expectations and mutual respect build good business.
What achievement to date are you most proud of?
Kate: A week before we launched to the public we found out that a corporate client was ordering 41 of our gin+tonic gift boxes for their client Christmas gift…I definitely squealed out loud when I read the email.
Sarah: I don’t think there’s something in particular but I am proud about how quickly we have managed to be an operating business. It also makes me very proud when people have approached us to put together custom boxes as they have liked our style and products – it must mean we are doing things right!
What would a typical week in the life of The Small Batch Gift Co look like for you both?
Sarah: We spend time packaging up orders – quite a few of our offerings have some level of customisation (for example, choosing the blend of your Seven Seas Tea or the colour of your Kester Black nail polish) and so the boxing up can’t be done until the order comes in. With our coffee lovers’ box “beans+bliss”, our awesome coffee roaster Pound Coffee literally doesn’t roast the beans until an order comes through, so our customers are getting a product at peak perfection.
Kate: Sarah probably has the better flair with the packaging details and the neater handwriting for our hand written cards! Sometimes we hand deliver special requests or last minute orders. We share our social media duties and take it in turns day by day for Instagram, which keeps us inspired and fresh. Although our Instagram feed is fun, it certainly is time consuming. Otherwise we are searching for new products and suppliers, ordering stock, working on our strategy to get our brand out to the world! We have recently started a blog to complement our business, which is great fun, so planning content for that too.
Sarah: We are growing the corporate gifting part of our business, and we curate unique gift selections for our clients if that’s what they are after. So a given week could involve a discussion with our suppliers and back-and-forth with our client to find the perfect combination at the right price point. We recently curated a gift box for a tipi hire company called tp&co-that will be gifted to their newlywed clients as a special thank you and congratulations gift!
Which is your most popular gift box?
Kate: Our gin & tonic box! It’s a total winner, with everything a craft gin aficionado would want. Organic small batch gin distilled in South Australia, tonic syrup brewed with genuine cinchona bark to an 1820s recipe in Melbourne, gorgeous leather coasters hand-cut in Perth, and a Western Australian blackbutt chopping board, made-to-order in the beautiful South West of WA.
Sarah: As G&T lovers ourselves, we knew we wanted to have a gift box dedicated to this most excellent drink!
Working with family is notoriously challenging, but this doesn’t seem to be the case in your business – what do you think is the secret to your successful working relationship?
Kate: We have always been particularly close and chose to live together for our whole early adult life (until we got married!) so maybe that has helped! As sisters, we know each other so well and can question each other’s ideas or strategies without offence being taken. And like with any family, you never hold any grudges if you do have a disagreement, because it’s family. We have different strengths and different personalities so I think we have helped to complement each other in business.
Sarah: We are not only sisters but are great friends and we both work in a similar way, in that we are able to juggle quite a few things at once (as many busy women do) so we can rely on each other to get things done pretty quickly. Kate is picking up a bit of the slack for me at the moment as I am getting used to the newborn phase again!
I think it also helps we live very close to each other so will often have brief business discussions or sometimes pack boxes while the cousins play together – the realistic side of mums with small businesses!
What do you love most about your business?
Kate: Spreading happiness to gift recipients and supporting other small businesses who make awesome products locally. I never thought I would be in business selling stuff, but when that stuff is a product that has been made ethically, locally and sustainably and the creator of that product is literally doing the small business “happy dance” when you place an order, it all feels really good.
Sarah: My ‘normal’ job isn’t particularly creative so I enjoy that side of things, particularly in the set up of the business in choosing logos, packaging and photos. I also really enjoy finding new products which would be great to include in future gift boxes. I am also loving all the new connections we are making with other small businesses and look forward to growing these relationships.
The popularity of products with small batch production runs has experienced strong growth in recent years – what would you attribute this to?
Kate: I think people like the idea of buying something that is more unique, less mass-produced and of a higher quality. Many small batch producer use traditional techniques or traditional ingredients or recipes, which is interesting and attractive to customers. Our tonic syrup producer Sinkonah is a great example. Tonic syrups became popular is the USA some years ago and lots of small companies there started producing interesting syrups which you could buy here in Australia via online companies like onlybitters. But you still couldn’t buy anything locally made up until the last few years. Sinkonah is made in Melbourne with a traditional 1820s recipe, using real cinchona bark (not an extract or powder). This was the original source of quinine in tonic water and was created by officers serving in British India to ease fever and ward off Malaria. So not only are you buying a good looking, great tasting product that happens to have waaaaay less sugar than commercial tonic water, you are also having a bonus history lesson! And if you use a Soda Stream to carbonate water to add to your tonic syrup, you’re lowering your environmental impact too.
Explore Small Batch Gift Co.’s beautiful curated gift box range at www.thesmallbatchgiftco.com.au