We sat down with Coolana Olives owner and industry professional, Ian Roy, to chat about olives.
Ian has a lot on his plate, and we don’t just mean olives. The business of olives has been a balancing act for Coolana Olives owners Ian and Dot Roy of Minden in Somerset,Queensland. There’s farming, processing, flavouring, packaging, marketing, selling and more. Not to mention, squeezing in 50 years of marriage, raising a family and winning a swag of awards for their trouble.
WHO IS YOUR TARGET MARKET?
Tourists from Brisbane and the surrounding areas. As well as anyone who appreciates olive products, healthy eating and gourmet, locally crafted produce.
HOW DO YOU MARKET YOUR PRODUCT?
We don’t do much marketing these days. Most of our marketing is via word of mouth or repeat business. However, in the early days, we had to work very hard to market our product. We used to get involved in tradeshows like Brisbane Ekka, Regional Flavours (in Brisbane) and the other royal or regional shows around Australia and these were a great way of getting our product out there to the public. I am a strong believe in offering taste tests. If you can let the customer have a taste, the olives will speak for themselves and do their own marketing for you. We also used to attend networking events with other olive growers and the olive growing/producing associations which were a great way of establishing ourselves in the industry.
WHERE DO YOU ADVERTISE AND PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS?
We advertise in the Somerset regional guide which is produced every two years by Somerset Regional Council. The guide is distributed across several visitor information centres in South East Queensland and at several tourism trade shows throughout the year. We don’t pay for newspaper advertising because of the disposable nature of newspapers, I don’t feel we get a return. We have a website, but no presence on social media.
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE COOLANA OLIVES FACES?
Competition from the major supermarkets. The major supermarkets have developed their own brands of olives which are usually imported, produced on mass and at a price that is reflective of this.
HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THIS CHALLENGE?
Quite simply, I ignore it. Generally speaking, supermarkets offer an inferior product for a fraction of the price, but at the end of the day, Coolana Olives customers are chasing something more than mass-produced basement bargain prices. They are after something special, handcrafted, locally produced and made with love. We concentrate on offering the very best product that we can make at a price that is affordable and that’s what makes Coolana Olives so special. Coolana Olives have the wow-factor and that’s something you can’t get in the supermarket.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE THAT YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS?
When Dot and I branched into the olive game, we had several mentors who nurtured us and guided us through the industry. We were given lots of good advice but something that has always stuck with me is that you can never stop learning about your product and your industry. It’s so important to be aware of the world around you and keep up to date business wise. Research and business planning are vital. When we first began we invested a lot of time and money into developing our business plan. We joined a study group and took three months to put together a business plan for a fictional olive business, which in time became the backbone for our own business. It was hard word and a big project, but it really stood us in good stead for what was to come.
HAS INDUSTRY NETWORKING BEEN AN IMPORTANT PART OF OPERATING COOLANA OLIVES?
Absolutely, you can never underestimate the power of networking and your ability to learn from those around you. When we first began, we were hungry for knowledge and wanted to learn as much as we could about the olive industry. We joined the Australian Olive Association and participated in all of their forums and conferences. We made great connections with other olive growers and producers and other industry figures, in particular with Rosemary Stanton, who is one of Australia’s most well known dieticians and nutritionists. Rosemary has been a real mentor for us and we’ve learnt so much from her. It was through our networking and associations that I developed a passion for infusing the olive oils, which ultimately lead us to extend our product range from baked olives to olive oils. From these connections I then went on to be the president of the South East Queensland Australian Olive Association and remained in the position for 15 years. Both myself and Dot then went onto judge the olives at many of the regional shows around Australia, including the Royal Sydney Show around. Dot judged the olives and I judged the infused olive oils. This was invaluable experience for us as olive producers ourselves because we knew what products were out there and developed a thorough understanding of the level of quality in the marketplace. This knowledge kept us competitive and continually inspired us to keep striving for excellence in our own olive products. Over the years, we’ve entered many of these types of competitions ourselves and have gone onto win a myriad of prizes including Best in Show at the Royal Perth Show. We even won a trip to Italy for our olive products, which was a fantastic learning experience as well as a reward.
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR PRODUCT FRESH AND NEW?
In the beginning we experimented with lots of new flavours and recipes. We did this until we established a taste and flavour of our own and that we would be remembered by. As we are more established now, we don’t need to experiment or reinvent the wheel, because our product is tried and tested. However, everything has a shelf life, so we just make sure that all of our ingredients are fresh and processes are up to date and that helps us to maintain the high quality of our product.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY INTERESTING GUESTS AT COOLANA OLIVES?
All of our guests are interesting in their own way. Getting to meet people and hear their stories is part of the charm of running our business and something Dot and I really love about owning Coolana Olives. Just recently, we had a group of visitors from Turkey. They were a great group and had a fantastic time tasting olives and soaking up the beautiful country atmosphere. After they’d been there for quite some time, one of the guests in the group pulled me aside and told me that one of the gentlemen was a very famous high profile Turkish actor. So it just goes to show, you never know who is going to walk through the door so it’s important to treat every customer like a VIP.
THINKING BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER, LESS EXPERIENCED SELF?
Bite off more than you can chew and just chew like hell! The secret is to have a go and give it your best shot.