BLOG IMAGE Alison Shaw

Alison Shaw, Owner Tambo Teddies

Tambo Teddies is a business that was born during crisis. Forged while drought ravaged Tambo 25 years ago, Tambo Teddies is a genuine case study in creating a business from necessity, and through perseverance and determination growing that business to a global brand. Alison Shaw, Owner of Tambo Teddies shares with us how her award winning business is facing its latest test of resilience, a global COVID-19 pandemic, and the changes they have made to weather the latest test of their mettle.

Tambo Teddies has consistently innovated to service and bring joy to a worldwide market of teddy bear lovers, including junior members of several royal families. Made in Tambo, and Toowoomba, Tambo Teddies are iconically Australian, for those who relish the cuddly comfort of a quality Australian Sheepskin teddy bear.

Tell us how you are engaging refugee and migrant workers in Tambo Teddies’ manufacturing process, to mutually benefit?

Employing migrant workers, some of Toowoomba’s newest residents has been a most rewarding experience for our company. We have managed to meet our needs of increasing our production and at the same time provide employment to refugees in their new country. With limited English and qualifications, refugees often find it hard to secure work in their new towns. Our new workers had been tailors in their home countries and were quickly able to transition their skills to sewing sheepskin teddy bears.

It has been very heartwarming to see how providing these people with a job has made such a difference to their new lives. Having a job provides refugees with a feeling of worth in their new community, enabling them to make a contribution and integrate into their new country.

What lessons of resilience from experiencing multiple droughts and other challenges over 25 years in business can you share with others through these times?

Small business is a tough space and when the external environment throws up extra challenges in the form of droughts and  random viruses Business Owners needs to be ready to be flexible. For us we realised we needed to change the business model as soon as we purchased the business and embarked on digitising as many operations as we could. We have built an extremely strong digital sales funnel, marking our products across Australia which is really paying off during the present COVID-19 situation.

Business owners need to think flexibly about their operation and have some alternate and fresh ideas up their sleeve, and the first step is to consider their market and how they can expand their offering and tap into new markets. We are so fortunate to be in business at the moment with all the digital tools and opportunities available, business owners really need to consider how they can take advantage of technology to improve their business models. 

Tell us how Tambo Teddies have featured in ‘Teddy Bear Hunts’ during Coronavirus social isolation?

The ‘Teddy Bear Hunt’ was just made for us! What a lovely idea and concept and we couldn’t jump on the band wagon fast enough. There are teddy bears all around Tambo and across Australia. Bear hunts create a sense of safety in the community.. With all the panic buying and ridiculousness going on a bear hunt is a positive community activity, a sign that people are looking out for each other, and we just love seeing isolating Tambo Teddies popping online. It has been great publicity for us as newspapers, radio and Australian Made have included us in their promotion of the bear hunt movement.

New Zealand is in level 4 lockdown , I put the call out to family members and friends to get involved and pop their Tambo Teddies in the window. My daughter, Fiona lives with her Tambo Teddy Gartmore Gus in Wellington. Fi sent through photos of Gus squashed up against the window prompting me to comment, ‘he looks like he wants to escape’. Fi quipped back, ‘As do we all!’ 

How have you adjusted your supply chain to keep the business stimulated and growing?

At Tambo Teddies the main raw materials we use are imported from China. To bring the cost of making our bears down to ensure the viability and sustainability of the business we started importing our Australian sheepskins (tanned and dyed in China and then imported back) and our stuffing  in 2017. We arrange a shipment every 4-6 months to ensure we keep supply available. This does take a wee bit of juggling and can be challenging to make sure we have a steady supply of all colour options.

However, importing the raw materials and establishing the sewing hub has seen our business experience substantial growth over the past twelve months. We could see early on that the COVID-19 crisis was going to have a significant impact on our business this year and we took steps to change a few things around to react to the constrictions on our supply chain.

We have secured supply within Australia of most products to tide us over until our next shipment, and we took steps to introduce a new product that is made from a different material (that we can source within Australia). We have been able to ‘slow’ production of our sheepskin products by doing this and at the same time have created demand for our new product, maintaining jobs, production and revenue.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Founder

Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.