By Holger Loecker
When you are genuinely interested in your work it’s so much easier to hang in there, to learn new things and provide a good service for your customers. I’ve always had an interested in biology, ecology and the animal world.
I studied Biology and specialised in Entomology, Ecology and Taxonomy in my home country of Austria. I then moved to Orange in 2003, working for the Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
I started Second Nature Aquariums as a maintenance business with a friend in 2009, where we would clean fish tanks and fix any issues clients were having. In 2011, I took over the business and ran it next to working at DPI for a couple of years.
In 2015, I made Second Nature Aquariums my full-time job. I am loving the change! We are still a maintenance business, but now also sell fish, tanks, filters and more. We’ve been in the main street of Orange since 2017, which is great exposure, we have people pop in all the time.
The best thing and worst thing about running a rural small business
The best thing about running a small business is that we’re in a small community. You get to know nearly everyone, and you can make a difference. I like getting to know people and hearing how their tanks and fish are going. They always pop back in for advice, new ideas or supplies.
Being a sole trader, you can make decisions and get things done. You don’t need to wait for somebody to make them for you and tell you what to do. I get to set my hours around my family obligations.
The worst thing about small business is maintaining an online presence. You can find yourself working 24/7 answering questions if you’re not careful. There isn’t much downtime.
The effect of COVID-19 on my business
The shop was open during the initial lockdown, but customer numbers declined. We followed the guidelines and could only have four customers in the shop at any one time. We were unable to visit customer’s homes for maintenance which also had an impact on cash flow.
Since the restrictions lifted, customers are returning, and we have started our maintenance service up again. We’ve also gained some new customers too.
We looked for more viable options during lockdown, so we increased our activity on Facebook. We also offered free delivery in the Orange area in our online ordering system.
Looking after myself and my team
Being a small business owner, my feelings are always up or down depending on sales during the week. During COVID-19, I felt this even more profoundly. Sometimes it was hard to call staff in, as there was not much turnaround, and it was demoralising. There is always work in the shop with water changes and looking after the fish, but without cashflow it made it tricky sometimes. But I tried to provide the same number of hours for staff where possible.
A key thing for me is involving my staff in the processes of running the business. We have lunch and coffee together at the shop and we always have a good laugh. I provide training in different aspects of the business to get staff interested in the work they are doing. It’s been a good method for me to keep positive and keep going. With work I love doing, family time and some alone time with movies and my feet up, I’ll be ok.