Birdsnest is based in the country town of Cooma in the Snowy Mountains of NSW, and this year, Canberrans are lucky enough to have its own pop-up nest located inside the Canberra Centre until December.
It’s been a long time coming since we wanted to sit down and have a chat with the founder and owner herself, Jane Cay… and well, here we finally are! We asked lots of questions about the business, how it all began and how Jane stays on top of the workload given its fantastic success.
The story of Birdsnest and how you began is pretty incredible! The beginnings –
A career in retail wasn’t always on the cards for me. I was a commerce graduate in an e-business consultant role with IBM when I fell in love with a farmer and moved to Cooma. I was still commuting to Canberra and working with IBM for a while, and then in 2004 we found this great little retail business in town that I could get involved with, which eventually evolved into birdnest.
I guess you could say I sort of fell into it, and it wasn’t until I was working on the shop floor, that I really discovered the notion of retail therapy- and the power the right outfit and support had in making a woman feel confident on the inside and out.
With a background in e-commerce I really wanted to translate this experience to the online space, so we set out to do so, launching online in 2008. Although online shopping in Australia was in its infancy the response was fantastic, we were in the right place at the right time and have experienced significant growth year on year since.
How did you manage to grow a successful business online and from the country?
The beauty of running an online business is that you can run it from an unexpected space, after all Google doesn’t care where you are as long as you’re the most relevant. Cooma is home for me and my family, and I have made a commitment to base the business and its operations here for the long term. I am really proud to have created a workplace that now employs 140 people in a town with a population of 6,500. To give people the opportunity to have an exciting and fulfilling career in a rural setting is at the heart of this business for me. We have found some of the most incredibly talented people across the Snowy Monaro, and as well as local talent we have been able to provide an opportunity for people to make a tree change without giving up their careers.
We think of ourselves as a women’s wardrobe wingbird and our passion for that role is what drives us everyday. We are committed to serving women in what is quite a vulnerable space – coming to find clothes that suit them and that they feel good in. Women are just so tough on themselves and their bodies. We have worked really hard to create a space where women can be really honest with us, and we can work with them to help them to feel more confident within themselves. This is the reason that we have such a loyal customer following – we have focused on building that trust.
We also understand that you constantly need to evolve and innovate in order to stay relevant and sustainable in what is an internationally competitive market of fashion. Our team are constantly thinking outside of the box, discovering new ways to eliminate the pain points of online shopping and serve our customers in new and exciting ways.
How long did it take before you needed a warehouse and bricks and mortar store?
We began as a small bricks-and-mortar store in Cooma, but after four years of being online we grew out of the small office and make-shift warehouse space that was tucked above our shop. We moved across town into an old abandoned supermarket in a shopping complex called The Hain Centre. This became our warehouse space, office space, and home to our much larger flagship showroom. After 6 years as one of the tenants, we have just purchased the Hain Centre and now have the whole space to ourselves. Our store is already a destination for many customers, however, after our planned renovations, we hope that when people do make the pilgrimage to visit us in Cooma, they will be even more delighted with the experience.
Even though I highly value a physical touch point with our customers, I never wanted to have lots of stores because of the challenges around looking after a distributed team. The decision to open the Canberra pop-up store was definitely spontaneous. It was the team enthusiasm for the idea that got me over the line and the fact that we have some amazing birdsnest advocates in Canberra who we would love to surprise with a store even closer to home.
Canberra has always been very close to our heart, we have great support from the ACT through our online store and customers who drive to our showroom in Cooma, and the response has been enormous. We hope that we continue to meet lots of new customers during our stay, who will be excited to visit us just down the road in Cooma in the future.
What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced in business so far?
When you run your own business, it is hard to really have time out so I think there are moments when you simply just burn out. Last year I gave a speech on how to grow your business and stay in love with it because I think that is a real challenge.
I have definitely had to learn over the years to practice what I preach to my team about taking time to nurture yourself and get centred again. I used to think sleep was optional, but the old saying of ‘apply your oxygen mask before assisting others’ is so true, you can’t give your best as a leader if you are worn out. I feel like I understand the limits of my body and mind much better and have much better tools to get back on track – from yoga to meditation to a boogie or simply 8 hours sleep 🙂
It helps to remind me why I’m so in love with this ‘thing’ that I’ve built this. I love the people I work with, and we’ve got a brand now with such beautiful goodwill that we can use to do good with, to communicate with women and send out positivity into the world.
And the best?
I truly love the people I work with and that feeling of being in it together, achieving something we didn’t think possible. We have built a brand and community with beautiful goodwill and have an opportunity to use that for good. The future seems full of possibility.
Who inspires you?
My Dad – he always sees the best in people and encourages them to fulfill a potential that they can’t even see.
Have you acted as a Wardrobe Wingwoman to any celebrities over the years?
You will rarely see birdsnest on the red carpet so to speak. We don’t seek the spotlight, perhaps to our enthusiastic PR teams dismay, we have a very grassroots approach with most of our time spent connecting with everyday Australian women who are looking for a little support to find their perfect outfit.
In saying that, we do work with lots of beautiful influencers with like-minded values who trust us to help them to solve their wardrobe dilemmas and that of their communities.
Describe a typical day in a life:
5:00am – Ideally walk/yoga before the household wakes (OK it happens about 30-40% of the time but great to have the plan!)
6.00am – Farmer and 3 children awake
7.15am – Need to leave the house to catch the bus at 7:30am, now drive 65km on country roads looking out over the beautiful snowy mountains
8:15am – Arrive at the nest
Every day is different but generally involves up to 10 meetings on different topics from team culture to design team direction to marketing initiatives to renovation masterplans to new system requirements or budget reviews. I tend to focus on the ‘new thing’ before it becomes business as usual – we are currently about to open a ‘nest eatery’ so there is lots of time being spent on that – concept, layout, menu design etc.
4:30pm – Nest starts to clear out, time to catch up on e-mails and jobs I need to complete (Luckily farmer can meet the bus and is a domestic king 🙂
6pm – 9pm – Leave the nest sometime between these hours. Our night shift ends at 9pm and when they start to turn the lights out, I know that is my cue to drive home.
10pm – Try to convince myself to go to bed NOW – usually in bed by 11
It sounds like big days but like the rest of the team, I do have complete flexibility if I need it to make it to school concerts or carnivals or any other important family event and so I rarely miss those.
On Fridays I also try to work from home which breaks the meetings up and gives me time to do the bigger picture, thinking type tasks. It also means I can cook and be home for a family meal 🙂 I lay very low on weekends at home with the family.
JANE IN A FLASH
Coffee or tea? Tea
Favourite flowers? Flannel Flowers
Book you’re currently reading? “The Joy of Living” Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Signature scent? IKOU de-stress essential oil (Lavender, Geranium, Lemon, Clementine, Patchouli)
5 can’t live without handbag contents? Panadol, Peppermint oil, A pen, Sparkling water, Blistex