Carolyn Probert candidly admits that more research and a detailed plan would have made the launch of a business in a new market so much easier.
As managing director of Australian New Energy Ltd (ANE), which aims to capitalise on the growing desire for renewable energy products, she brought a diverse business background to the Geelong-headquartered company she co-founded in 2009.
“We thought it would have been easy but we could have done a much better job of our research,” she says, drawing on her earlier experience in having run two high profile fast food franchise outlets in Geelong with her husband, as well as time spent in clothing industry marketing and real estate.
She readily admits that she now loves what she does in contrast with her earlier business career.
That love is for a business that initially started with the production of pellets for heating applications using waste wood.
ANE is seeking to become the major energy supplier from wood residues and fibre for the production of renewable energy. About two centimetres long by half a centimetre thick, the pellets made from clean timber waste are an increasingly popular heating fuel in Europe and elsewhere in the northern hemisphere. Pellet heating is slowly gaining a share of the Australian heating market with Tasmania an early adopter.
A similar production process is now used at ANE’s Moolap facility to also produce pellets for animal bedding and/or litter.
With her extensive experience now honed in a business she loves, Carolyn lists many of the things learned along the way.
Perhaps the biggest of these lessons, financially at least, is the company’s decision to commit to equipment for pellet-making from a European manufacturer. While the capital cost is many times that of the first pellet-making machine sourced from China, the initial machine was plagued with operational problems.
Carolyn says “you need to take risks and to make mistakes. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Importantly know your customer, your competitor and your product.
“Customer service is of paramount importance. As we get busier it is getting harder to deliver and I strive to keep it as good as I would like it to be.”
Carolyn says “while the fast food franchises were cash cows, being accountable to the franchisor we were not really our own bosses. We ended up in “waste” because we could see the potential of recycling and sustainable activities.
“We thought it would be straightforward to install and operate a plant to turn clean timber waste, which would otherwise have gone into landfill, into pellets for heating. “
Given the pellet heating market in Australia was in its infancy, ANE could see more immediate cash- flow in pellets for clean, dry horse bedding. However, this was to prove a small and somewhat seasonal market in comparison with the year-round production of bedding or litter for domestic pets.
If developing markets was initially a challenge to ANE, so too were issues like freight.
But five years on and many lessons learned says Carolyn, ANE’s staff of 10 looks towards the installation of a major heating pellet system and the Catmate litter product being sold through by a large retail chain.