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Article: Small Business Life: Coping with Tough Times

Small Business Life: Coping with Tough Times

Small Business Life: Coping with Tough Times

Serenity at Sunset on Magnetic Island

As a small business owner, I understand how difficult it can be to maintain a healthy work life balance. However, I also know that in times like these, it is essential that I make every effort to step back from the demands of running a business and take time out to re-energise and refocus on the things that really matter. 

For me, the best way to overcome anxiety and rediscover my sense of purpose is to surround myself with the people I love, and who love me. I recently spent a few days on Magnetic Island with my husband Denis, my daughter Lucy, her partner Damien and their three children, Jake, Evee and Aria. The island is about a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland city of Townsville, where my daughter and her family live in tropical North Queensland.

“Maggie”, as we call her, is a perpetually sunny, laid-back holiday spot that has long been a favourite place for our family to escape from the rigours of everyday life. We spend our time there hiking through the bush and climbing to spectacular lookouts over the Coral Sea. We swim at secluded bays and snorkel on pristine coral gardens right off the beach. Maggie offers plenty of fresh air, warm sunshine, and a bounty of natural wonders and native wildlife. It is a perfect example of the adage, “The best things in life are free”.    

Sleeping Koala on Magnetic Island

Our recent stay on Maggie was our second visit to the island as a family group this year - and what a year it has been for all of us. Like everyone else, our lives have been forever altered by COVID-19. Our family is fortunate to have stayed safe and healthy, but we know there are many families who have not fared so well. Our hearts go out to those who have been less fortunate, and especially to those who have lost loved ones.

We are acutely aware that COVID-19 is a serious worldwide health crisis that affects everyone of us. Until we are all safe, none of us are safe. The worst for us now is the uncertainty. The biggest unknown is, “How much longer?” No one is sure of what the future may hold, or even if we are yet over the worst of it. We suspect that there may be tougher times ahead and so we are now battening down for a much longer duration than we had first anticipated and hoping that we will all make it through together.  

Like many other business owners in our close-knit hometown of Cairns, Denis and I have seen our Aboriginal art and fashion business, Mainie, take a massive hit from the impact of the global pandemic over the last few months. For us, Mainie is a long-held dream into which we have wholeheartedly invested everything we have - financially, physically and emotionally. The cessation of global travel in the wake of COVID-19 and the closure of Australia’s international borders has dealt a severe blow to our normal business operations.  

Yet it was only a year ago that our uniquely Australian Aboriginal fashion wholesale and retail business was on the rise. As a homegrown small business based in regional Queensland, we directly employed seven people and outsourced a variety of business services to numerous local contractors. We were held up as a local success story – a privately financed, Indigenous-owned business in Cairns that was punching above our weight and effectively competing in national and international markets. After five years in the start-up stage, our substantial personal investment was finally beginning to pay off for us.

Mainie Gallery

Mainie Aboriginal Art Gallery and Showroom in Cairns

By the end of 2019, Mainie’s luxurious pure silk, handmade scarves, kaftan tops and men’s fashion accessories were stocked by over 90 retailers across Australia in mostly high-profile international tourist shopping precincts including airport gift stores and cruise ship terminals. Our best-selling locations were Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Uluru and Cairns, and we estimated that around 80 percent of our sales in Australia could be attributed to international visitors.  

Our proven popular products featured authentic Aboriginal art designs that we had ethically acquired from over 20 artists, the great majority of whom were traditional Aboriginal women artists, who still lived on their tribal homelands in isolated desert communities in Central Australia. Ongoing funds from our artwork purchases and the royalties we paid to the artists from the sales of our products were creating much needed wealth for Aboriginal families and their communities. As our business had grown, so had the level of our investment in other Aboriginal owned enterprises.

In recognition of our role in promoting traditional Aboriginal art and helping to preserve Australia’s unbroken 60,000-year-old Indigenous cultural heritage for future generations, Mainie was  honoured to be selected as the exclusive supplier of Indigenous fashion products to the retail shop in the Australian Pavilion at World Expo 2020 in Dubai.  

We were well advanced with the development of new lines including a stunning collection of Australian merino wool scarves, that was designed to meet the increasing demand for our high-end fashion products in the Northern Hemisphere. We entered 2020 quietly confident that with continued hard work and perseverance, we would surely achieve our vision for Mainie to become an internationally recognised, iconic Australian brand.

 However, here we are just a few months later having to face the possibility of losing everything for which we have worked so hard. Denis and I have had to put all expansion plans for the business on hold and cut our operating costs to the bone. The worst of it is that we have been forced to lay off talented and loyal team members, who were instrumental in the growth of our business.

Denis and I are now working harder than ever to muster the resources we will need to restructure our company. Our main prospect for survival is to pivot from our former reliance on wholesale revenues and establish ourselves as a global ecommerce brand as quickly as we can. We may succeed or we may not, but if we do fail, it will not be because we did not try hard enough. No matter what happens now, we can assure ourselves and the people who matter to us that we will do our utmost best. 

But back to our well-deserved break on our beloved Maggie. Our brief sojourn was a much-needed opportunity for Denis and me to rebuild our reserves of optimism and to reclaim our passion for what we do and why we do it.

Early Morning Adventures on the Beach at Horseshoe Bay

My lasting memory of Maggie will be of the long, leisurely walks I took with my grandchildren each morning before breakfast to explore the sandbars and tidal lagoons on the foreshores of Horseshoe Bay. I am so glad that my grandchildren have inherited my love of the beach. I love explaining to them that it is a special place where the molecules of the three states of matter, the solid, the gas and the liquid - the land, the sky and the sea - come together in perfect harmony.

As my grandchildren frolicked on the beach at beautiful Horseshoe Bay, I was inspired and uplifted by the endless serenity of the views to the horizon in every direction - but mostly I just felt content to know that no matter what happens, my grandchildren will always have happy memories of being with me in a wonderful tropical island setting. I feel truly blessed to be able to leave them such an enduring legacy.

Stay safe everyone. We are in this together.       



Posted by Charmaine Saunders 'Mainie'


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