At a time when others her age were attending dorm parties and satisfying their wanderlust, 18-year-old Carolyn Creswell was struggling to add a 10th part-time job to her resume, to make ends meet. Studying arts at Monash University, Melbourne, Carolyn’s main income came from a company that made muesli and sold it to cafes and local shops.
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However, this was soon to change. The couple who owned the shop realised that they didn’t have the necessary resources or numbers to keep the business functioning and in a spirit of goodwill, approached Carolyn to give her the news of it shutting down. In a moment of impulse and desperation, Carolyn asked them whether they would consider selling it to her instead. Considering that the couple had no other takers for the business, they agreed to sell it to Carolyn and her partner, Manya van Aker, for a total of 1,000 Australian dollars.
The duo decided to name the new avatar of the business Carman’s, combining the first three letters of each owner’s name. However, now came the tough part.
With a background in humanities, Carolyn was a novice in operating sales and marketing platforms. However, she remained undeterred and picked up the tricks of the trade regardless, through keen observation and questioning.
Speaking to Australian news site SBS, she said, “Some people are embarrassed by silly questions, and I just think, if I don’t know something, I’ll just go and ask someone who does.”
Having bought out her partner within two years of the business’ launch, Carolyn was faced with the intimidating task of making it successful by herself. In fact, for the first decade of the company’s operations, she was the only employee, handling all the different branches that make up a business. Needless to say, she faced more than her fair share of roadblocks. Being a young woman, single-handedly approaching investors and marketers to help the growth of her business, she was faced with a good deal of censure, ridicule, and even sexual harassment. On the other side, she was almost always flat broke and had at one point even resorted to asking her brother to siphon petrol from their mother’s car, so that she could carry out her deliveries the next day. Even after she graduated college, the company was still not making enough money to function as her sole source of income. As a result, she continued to work a series of odd-jobs, even working behind the till at a supermarket.
However, her mental strength always came through in the last minute and she refused to forsake her dream, reminding herself time and again that if it worked out eventually, the struggles would all be worth it.
Her optimism and sheer will-power managed to get her the break she was looking for. In 1997, Australia’s second-largest super-market, Coles, began to stock Carman’s muesli. Sales to independent stores and cafes began to rise due to the recommendations from those purchasing Carman’s products from Coles.
At this point, Carolyn was still the sole employee of the entire company. However, as the sales began to rise through the years, she began to recruit a few people to join her team and assist with the operations of the company.
Today, Carman’s Fine Foods is valued at 83 million Australian dollars, with the company's breakfast cereals and other products being stocked by more than 3,000 outlets across the country, and exported to about 32 other nations.
“People look at Carman's now and think it's been this overnight success, but it's been 20 years, and a challenging 20 years. For the first 10 years I was literally trying to sell enough product to survive,” says Carolyn (as stated by Inc).
However, Carolyn still follows the basic work ethic that she had imbibed at the young age of 18. For instance, the company’s head office in Melbourne is led by a team of only 25 hard working individuals, because to her, the power has always been in quality rather than quantity. She also goes by the philosophy of not having to say ‘yes’ to everything, on setting a good work-life balance system, and pre-allocating tasks for the selected number of working hours in a day.
“We all have the same number of hours in the day. It's about choosing how you spend them,” she says.
Carolyn is now looking to steer Carman’s towards entering the Chinese market, considering the latter’s preference for freshly produced Australian commodities. The move, according to senior food industry analyst, is due to Carman’s promotion of a ‘healthy, rustic lifestyle that people are moving towards’. To Carolyn, this move could entail a business as large and effective as its Australian counterpart.
Rightfully deemed Australia’s ‘Muesli Queen’, Carolyn’s journey just goes to show that no dream is ever too big or scary, if you have the passion to see it through.