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How These Four Sydney Small Businesses Are Growing in 2019 and What You Can Learn from Them

Discover how to take your business to the next level with words of wisdom from those who've done it all before.
By Lucinda Starr
August 07, 2019
By Lucinda Starr
August 07, 2019

in partnership with

So, you've launched your big business idea. You've settled into your new digs, sales are going well and you might even have a team to help you run the show. But, how do you know when you're ready to take things to the next level? Expanding a business can feel like entering unknown terrain. The looming fear of what lies ahead can cause many of us to second-guess ourselves and stick to what we know instead.

But with risk comes reward, and pushing the boundaries is how every great business grows and thrives. To give you a helping hand, we've spoken to four Sydney entrepreneurs that have expanded their businesses with City of Sydney's Retail Innovation Program. Read on for their advice to you on doing the same and get prepared to take that next leap.


Trent van der Jagt


For anyone who feels restless and is craving a change from their nine to five, Kate Fellowes' story will resonate. Backed by six years of experience working for a large hospitality group, she decided to put her industry knowledge to use and take over the local cafe that was for sale.  

Fast forward three years and Saint John Espresso is continuing to expand. Coffee and breakfast orders can now be placed online before you arrive, and it also sells a range of full-size cakes — including chocolate and beetroot, polenta and passionfruit and baked ricotta cheesecake — for events. It's also hoping to add a new production arm to the business to boost revenue over the next 12 months and beyond. With the benefit of hindsight, Fellowes' believes the best business advice she has received is often the hardest to hear. It's not just about having a unique idea.

"You need to make sure there is a market for your product or service — whether that's sitting outside your proposed site and counting foot traffic, doing research online about the number of people interested in what your offer is, or talking to others in the industry about what it's really like, research is vital," she explains.

Fellowes' also champions networking as a key part of growth "Find other small businesses to catch up with and attend start-up events...You will find like-minded people who can be a resource for you."


Trent van der Jagtcp-line  


Back in 2000, Rosebery was far from the gentrified hub of food, design and culture that exists today. But co-founders and partners Russel Koskela and Sasha Titchkosky were ready to take a chance, opening the doors of Sydney's premier design hub, Koskela in a 2000-square-metre, 100-year-old warehouse.

The space boasts Australia's largest range of locally made and ethically produced homewares, furniture, lighting and art. Over the past two decades, Koskela has continued to evolve with the retail market, including expanding beyond the original workplace focussed product range. "Innovation is part of who we are. As a small, privately owned Australian company in a really competitive industry, it has to be," tells Titchkosky.

To other businesses, Titchkosky suggests using every digital tool you can to learn more about your customer and keep track of trends. She also recommends shifting your main priority from revenue to profitability, which will allow more opportunities to use funds for other projects. For Titchkosky, that includes committing one percent of Koskela product sales to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.


Luise Brimble


Perfecting any cuisine is a fine art. But for Katie Shortland and Scott Gault, co-owners of Redfern's Japanese noodle bar RaRa, the challenge proved even tougher. On a quest to bring authentic, good quality ramen to Sydneysiders, the pair travelled to Japan to train with seasoned ramen chefs. Language barriers aside, the duo learned to craft traditional broths and recipes from scratch.

Since opening in 2018, RaRa has become a beloved haunt for inner-city ramen-lovers. "As locals who have lived in Redfern and Alexandria for more than seven years, we wanted to create a space that would appeal to locals, have a great, fresh appealing menu, offering local beers and natural wines in a great atmosphere at a reasonable price," Shortland and Gault explain. 

Due to popular demand, the team is currently on the hunt for an off-site kitchen to help them grow their offering. Plus, they're not afraid to ask for feedback from those who know their product best: their customers.

"Thanks to great customer feedback, we have expanded our vegan and vegetarian menu. We now offer a wider range of natural wines and local beers and have started to sell merch following feedback and demand from customers."


Trent van der Jagt


When it comes to exploring a new city, we all like to get off the beaten track. Since launching in 2016, Culture Scouts has been delivering just that, offering a series of curated walking tours exploring Sydney's thriving cultural neighbourhoods. Over the past three years, founder Emilia Colliver has continued to expand and grow her left-of-field tour experiences.

Today, you'll find Culture Scouts running tours across a range of Sydney suburbs from Redfern to Newtown, with the addition of Bondi experiences launching later this year. Plus, its team also facilitates tours to Tasmania's annual Dark Mofo food and arts festival.

But it's not slowing down anytime soon. In 2019, Cultural Scouts expanded its offering to partner with big corporate companies including CBA, Lendlease, Tourism Australia and the City of Sydney. For Colliver, her secret to business success has been investing in building a strong team and creating a unique experience for locals and travellers alike.

"People tell me that eventually, technology will take over, but I disagree. People still want that face-to-face engagement that Culture Scouts offers, as they get outdoors and discover their cities differently."


Learn more about the City of Sydney Retail Innovation Program here.

Published on August 07, 2019 by Lucinda Starr
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