What’s your business?
Interview with business woman and Tassie treechanger, Liz Smith

Are you planning a move to Tasmania? You’re not alone! Mainland Australians craving a better lifestyle are flocking to Tasmania.

Tassie really is Australia’s lifestyle ‘hotspot’.

But not everyone moving to Tasmania is ready to retire. And getting a job can be more challenging than on the mainland.

A few years ago I wrote an article for the Move to Tasmania blog about finding a job in Tasmania. Outside of Hobart, employment options are still limited. If your heart is set on a regional area, you may have to start your own business.

With the above in mind, here on my blog I’ll be publishing interviews with small business operators who have started or moved their businesses to regional Tasmania.

I hope you will be inspired by these stories to make your own Tassie treechange … and glean some useful information to guide you on your small business journey.

What’s your business?
My first interviewee is Liz Smith. Liz runs an e-commerce business called Kitty Kaperz. Liz’s niche is small products for cats: collars, pharmaceuticals, feeding items, harnesses and toys.

In April 2018, along with husband Dave, Liz moved from Queensland to Gladstone, Tasmania. Gladstone is a small town near the tip of north-eastern Tasmania.

It was a huge move. Liz brought with her eleven pet cats and two dogs, as well as housemate, Cheryl. Cheryl lives in separate accommodation under the same roof with her own dogs.

Since the move, Liz has adapted her business model to her new situation. Husband Dave has retired and spends his days working on their new home, The Old School, an iconic building in the main street of Gladstone. Housemate Cheryl runs her own part-time e-commerce business selling dog products.

Liz Smith's Rag Doll cats
Liz’s Rag Doll cats quickly settled into their new home in Tasmania

Cath: Liz, can you tell me what attracted you to Tasmania and the north-east region in particular?
Liz: I’ve wanted to move here since 2004 when we visited. We went back a few times afterwards and I started looking for a place in 2007. However it wasn’t till I linked up with Cheryl and we started talking about how we could find a place that could accommodate all our pets, that I thought it could work.

When I finally found The Old School in Gladstone, I knew it was perfect. The property has heaps of land, and the climate in the area is not as extreme as other parts of Tasmania. Property in northern Tasmania is still a good price.

Moving here meant we could escape the Queensland heat and Dave could retire early. Making the move was a logistical nightmare, but that’s another story!

C: Tell me about running your business. Was it operating before you moved to Tasmania?
L: I used to be a registered breeder of Rag Doll cats. I started my cat product business about four years ago and two businesses ran concurrently for some time. Although the e-commerce side of things has been in place for a while now, I’ve focussed on it since arriving in Tasmania in April, 2018  .

C: Did you do a business plan?
L: It was my startup, so yes. It wasn’t indepth, just a basic outline. It was helpful in terms of finding a direction and forward planning.

I did an eBay course years ago. Writing a business plan was part of the course. Where and how to find a product supplier was another part of the course which has been essential for running my business.

C: What have been the challenges of running your business in regional Tasmania?
L: The biggest problem has been shipping times – getting stock here quickly. There are two couriers servicing our area, but Australia Post is better. It’s more frequent and reliable.

Tassie is a unique place to be … It can provide you with a lifestyle as well as income.

C: What’s your internet like?
L: I signed up with iinet for satellite NBN. It’s been pretty good so far. There have been only two outages so far and they didn’t last long.

I would like more peak data. There is plenty of off-peak data but off-peak is from 1am to 7am which is impractical.

If we run out of data on the NBN plan, our speeds get shaped. I then have to use my mobile phone as a hotspot for more data.

C: What do the locals think about your enterprise?
L: The locals know what I do but there hasn’t been much comment. I was wondering about signage but it may not be worth it.

Cats seem to be viewed as useful for keeping rats off the farm – not as indoor pets. People don’t necessarily have the money for accessories for their pets. Cat food and vet bills take priority.

C: Have you identified any growth opportunities since arriving in Tasmania?
L: I recently had my own product manufactured in China. This is the first time I’ve designed and produced my own product. It’s a new twist on something that already exists. I researched potential customer demand on eBay and went ahead with it. It’s taken a while!

C: What do you enjoy most about running your business in Tassie?
L: Flexibility. There’s no shop front so I can operate it to fit around our new lifestyle. As long as I catch the post in the morning … I can even put the eBay shop on hold when we go on holiday.

In Queensland, half of my sales were face-to-face. As well as selling to local customers, I was travelling to cat shows each month.

My business is completely online now. I can take it wherever I want. I can go to the US or the UK if I feel like a change.

Moving to Tasmania meant committing to the online side of the business completely. It’s transformed how I do business.

C: Did you build your website yourself?
L: Included in the eBay course I completed was a mentoring package and the free setup of my first website.

I have built websites myself before, using Wix. I maintain my current website myself.

Recently I transferred my online shop to a WordPress plug-in called WooCommerce.

C: Have you conducted market research? Who are your customers?
L: I have and continue to research market demand, mainly through a subscription-based service called Terapeak. It gives me all the stats I need for eBay and Amazon.

It means I don’t let emotion get in the way of assessing product demand.

C: How do you interact with customers?
L: I use a bit of everything: email, phone, social media. Back in Queensland, I used to meet customers face-to-face. Nowadays the odd customer rings me, but communication is mainly through Facebook and Instagram.

C: How do people find your website?
L: I have an eBay shop as well as my website and traffic moves between the two. I use Facebook and Instagram for sharing bits and pieces of information with customers. Customers click through to the website if they’re interested in what I’ve shared.

There is some search engine optimisation built into my website. I tried Google Adwords but it didn’t suit my business.

C: Are there any offline or special promotions you’ve tried? What has worked well?
L: I used to advertise in diaries, such as policemans’ or veterans’ diaries. For a few years I also advertised in an annual cat calendar. This was worthwhile so I may do it again.

With every parcel I send out, I include a promotional flyer. I’ve had repeat customers; I recognise them when they pop up again.

Social media has worked very well. I run Facebook competitions which have been good for traffic and sales. I’ve just started with Instagram so it’s early days there.

Moving to Tasmania meant committing to the online side of the business completely. It’s transformed how I do business.

C: Are you ‘lovin’ the lifestyle’? Have there been any negatives?
L: It has definitely been worthwhile. I used to travel to cat shows to sell my products. I had breeder friends which helped my business.

Moving here made me reassess how I do things. I was getting complacent and had lost sight of my direction for my business.

The change in income has been a challenge. However I couldn’t see us living anywhere else. Dave working full-time, having a mortgage – all gone. Business profits get put back into improving our house. Overall, it’s been really, really good.

Liz Smith from Kitty Kaperz sorting her cat products
Liz in her storeroom, sorting cat products.

C: What advice could you offer others wanting to set up an e-commerce business in regional Tasmania?
L: Look at all your options. The logistics of moving here, especially bringing all your stock, it can be a problem. If you don’t have product supply, you don’t have products. Make sure you get all the ducks in a row before you go ahead. Give it a go, but plan and think about it all beforehand.

C: Would you recommend Tasmania to other small business people?
L: It depends on what you want to achieve. Tassie is a unique place to be – I can see huge potential, especially in tourism, e-commerce … plus it’s a great place to live. It can provide you with a lifestyle as well as income. Because Dave is now retired and my business can be put aside for a few days, we can go away for a couple of days, just up and go. We couldn’t do that in Queensland because Dave was working.

C: Thank you, Liz, for generously sharing so much information about your business!

Find out more about Liz’s business:
Kitty Kaperz website
Kitty Kaperz on Instagram

Do you have any questions for Liz? Ask them in the comments section below.

Thinking about starting your own business in Tasmania? Cath offers assistance with a range of business documentation. From market research, business plan development through to website copy and social media management, Cath can help make your new business a reality.

Contact Cath today.

Announcing the release of a creepy new novel!

I’m proud to announce the release of a new science fiction/fantasy fiction novel I recently edited.

Book cover for The Year of our Invasion by Margaret Pearce

The Year of our Invasion is a very creepy young adult novel by prolific Melbourne author, Margaret Pearce. Set in a medieval world, Margaret’s story features a feisty heroine who takes on a horde of disguised alien invaders.

Margaret and I worked on a structural edit of the story. I then went through the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, copy-editing and proofreading it.

We are very happy with the result and the publisher, Ravenswood, have done a great job with the cover.

Find out more about Margaret’s novel on the Ravenswood website.