Susan Cooper and her husband Nigel began Bright Star Kids around 2005, when Susan, a graphic designer, was completing a Masters Degree. The couple had met in Ireland but moved to Australia temporarily, where Susan planned to finish her studies and then return.
To complete her final university project, Susan needed to work in a real graphic design-based business, but didn’t have any contacts to help. With Nigel’s background in signwriting, the couple decided to put their skills together and start their own little enterprise so Susan could tick the box on her qualification.
As it turns out, they loved the business project so much that they decided to see where it could take them. They set up a website and established what is now Bright Star Kids, offering high-quality personalised products for children to help busy families stay organised.
In the 15 years since Susan and Nigel opened their e-commerce store, they have shipped to places all over the world. They have achieved incredible success, turning their initial $50k business loan into multi-million dollar turnover each year.
Change leads to continued growth & support
The first few years for Susan and Nigel were a struggle, as is often the case in small business. Then slowly but surely their turnover increased annually, much to the surprise of their accountant at the time.
“He used to always say, ‘You know you're going to stop growing soon, this can't keep growing’. And I would say, ‘No, it will. I know it will’, and every year we proved him wrong,” Susan said.
“But then I realised - what are we doing? We're with somebody who obviously doesn't really understand how to make us grow because we keep proving him wrong. It's always safe to stick with the devil you know rather than the devil you don't… but our bank manager kept telling us we needed to change accountants.”
After some research, Susan and Nigel booked a consultation with Angela Bernardi at BLG Business Advisers in early 2018, and have never looked back.
“From the first meeting, she was just so determined, intelligent and friendly. You can just see that she has so much drive and energy. She listens, but also gives amazing advice.
“We were both completely convinced that it was the right thing to do to switch to Angela and BLG… and it definitely was one of the best things we've ever done in our business,” Susan said.
New ideas for cash flow rewards
With Angela now on their team, Bright Star Kids took off. They recently negotiated a licensing agreement with American counterparts; a bold step which took some determination, but is now paying off with regular commission from overseas.
Angela also helped them create the sister company, Bright Star Buddies, after encouraging them to come up with a way to offset the seasonality of Bright Star Kids and free up ongoing cash flow. As a supplier of children’s personalised products, their peak sales tend to be around the beginning of the school year and drop off over the remainder.
“We had bought our dog around then and thought maybe we could do pet name tags. The product we do for kids that we're most famous for is our name labels, so we could do the same kind of thing, but for dogs.” Susan said.
“Cash flow is now more stable and it's because of Bright Star Buddies. It has helped us to even up those ups and downs. I’m so grateful to Angela for pushing us through something that, I think if she wasn't there to do, we probably would not have done.”
A solid foundation for the unpredictable
The ability to adapt and be flexible in their business helped Susan and Nigel continue successfully during the COVID-19 crisis. While customers were still buying online, the usual orders for labels and core products decreased, but with some clever thinking, they began pushing their educational range to help busy parents keep their kids occupied and learning while they worked from home.
“We've got an amazing team who are very used to change…so when [COVID] came, we knew we needed to push our activity books and our educational range. Luckily, we had designed these years ago so it was easy to switch all of our marketing to be about this range.”
With kids going back to school after a short home-schooling period, they were able to refocus their marketing efforts on labelling to stop mix-ups and Susan now reports close to double their sales from the same time 12 months ago.
Benefits and results
Working with BLG has pushed Susan and Nigel out of their comfort zones and, as a result, they have seen exponential growth in their business over the past two years.
“Really, I would put a lot of it down to what Angela has helped us with. She has given us excellent advice. You can just talk to her about anything and she really listens to what you are saying.”
To Susan and Nigel, Angela at BLG is more than an accountant. She has become a valued member of their team who they trust will work hard for their business and is committed to helping Bright Star Kids continue to grow long into the future.
“If you only want an accountant, you would miss out on all the amazing benefits… because Angela is so much more than that. Like all of her team,” Susan said.