December 1, 2016
Million dollar muesli
When Carolyn Creswell launched into business as an 18-year-old entrepreneur, at the top of her bucket list was to have her muesli products sold in one of the supermarkets. Two decades later and this former Australian Businesswoman of the Year leads the number one brand in her category and has big dreams to dominate the Chinese market.
“I literally had tears dripping off my chin the day I left Coles and they said they were going to put me on the shelves.”
Carolyn Creswell was an 18-year-old first-year university student when she bought a small muesli business in 1992, for $1000. Twenty-four years later and Carman’s is a multi-million-dollar business, selling into 32 countries and counting.
It’s a pretty poetic business success story for this former Coles checkout chick, who has had a very hands-on role in seeing the business thrive.
“I still pinch myself when I remember back 24 years ago … personally hand making and packing each and every single packet of Carman’s muesli. I used to make deliveries next to Linfox semi-trailers out the back of my little Daewoo hatchback.”
Having been introduced to some super successful business owners over the years, Carolyn says the best piece of advice she has ever received was from a fellow business owner, with whom she shared a bakery space with during the early days of her business.
“One day I really needed to get a delivery of nuts but I didn’t have enough money to pay for them,” she says.
“I was going to give them a cheque and not sign it and they would work out that night it wasn’t signed and come back the next day and I’d sign it and that would buy me one more day – that was all I needed.
“But he said, ‘Just tell them the truth’, put a post it note on saying, ‘I’m a bit short of money, would you mind banking this tomorrow?” And they’ll be fine and put it in tomorrow; but they’ll be really annoyed with you when they’re driving across town to get a cheque signed, because they’ll know what you’re up to. So just tell the truth.
I still pinch myself when I remember back 24 years ago … personally hand making and packing each and every single packet of Carman’s muesli.”
“That really stuck with me and I now have a big ‘Truth’ painting behind my desk. Sometimes it’s not always an easy conversation, but I’ve found that’s really stood well with me through my career.”
So with the benefit of hindsight, what advice would Carolyn give her 18-year-old self?
“To not say yes to everything. In the early days anything that came past my desk was yes, yes, yes and I’d do everything,” she says.
“I was working crazy hours because you don’t have enough time to do everything, and I was going down paths that weren’t aligned with what I wanted to achieve.”
Carolyn says when opportunities present themselves, she now assesses them against her strategy and business goals, to determine whether they’re useful or beneficial to the big picture.
“It’s about learning the art of the graceful no and being able to be strong about saying it so that you can find the time to do what you need to do,” she says.
Along with running this multi-million-dollar enterprise, Carolyn is also a mum to four beautiful boys, and a wife to her husband Peter, who played a pretty big role in the early days of Carman’s.
“Back then, my boyfriend at the time, Pete, would get emergency phone calls from me saying that I had just received a huge order and that he was needed to come and pack muesli with me into the wee hours!”
Counting her blessings every single day, Carolyn is constantly moving forward, chasing the next bucket list goal. So what does the future hold for Carman’s?
“We’re doing a huge push into China, so that’s the big future and big opportunity for Carman’s,” she says.
“We want to be this loved Australian brand and we think it can be the biggest Australian business in a few years. So that’s the big future of Carman’s – to be in every Chinese pantry! It’s so exciting.”
WHAT WAS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST WHEN YOU LAUNCHED YOUR BUSINESS?
“To get into one of the supermarkets. I never imagined Carman’s would be as big as it is today. I would never have imagined I would sell into 32 countries and that we would have the number one brand in our categories and I’d be Australian Businesswoman of the Year. That was well beyond my wildest dreams – I was also 18.”
WHAT IS ON YOUR BUCKET LIST NOW?
We’d love to be the most-loved Australian food brand. We’re continually dedicated to our customers, wanting them to love what we do and growing our brand with products that resonate with them and to be this iconic Australian food brand – the next Vegemite!