Carly Watterson Managing Director MU Australia started her business in 2003, following a corporate career as a commodities broker working in Hong Kong and Asia. After completing a degree in Business and International Trade Carly moved to Tianjin China to study business and languages at Nankai University.
MU Australia specialises in the brand management and distribution of fragrance, home fragrance, organic and personal care ranges in the Australian and New Zealand markets. The secret to her 15 years of sustained success in business has been a passion for providing exceptional customer service, and a collaborative approach to inventive brand partnerships.
You started MU Australia in 2003, and have a long track record in retail. What are the trends that have shaped the retail landscape recently?
The retail landscape has evolved so much in the last decade, with less importance being placed on shopping at big department stores like Myer and David Jones, and retailers who have traditionally had multiple store locations now scaling back and instead focusing on online. And, whilst retail is continuing to move at a high-speed rate with fast delivery, mass discounting and even talk of AI, I still think that old-fashioned customer service and creating a human connection with your customers is still incredibly relevant – and important. People don’t just buy a product; they buy the feeling that it gives them.
What have you found to be the key to successful brand partnerships?
The key is to always act with integrity and to look after your customers and suppliers as if they were a long-term relationship – not just a once-off meal ticket. The industry is small and at the end of the day you’re only as good as your reputation. We try to provide excellent customers service to the brands we are representing in the Australian and New Zealand markets, and also to our customers. I think that is one of our strengths.
With Demeter we’ve done some really interesting collaborations with corporate and retail brands including LG. For the launch of their twin wash loader we worked with their team to provide a scent that smelled like freshly washed laundry that was diffused throughout and gifted to attendees to take home.
Working in close partnership with Demeter Fragrance Library, we have also been able to provide custom fragrances collaborations to our Australian and New Zealand clients for key product launches and special events, such as fashion launches for World in NZ and for Molten Store for James Street Up Late.
We’re lucky to have incredible access to a wide library of scents so that we can recreate everything from the smell of a new book, your favourite cocktail or even a fireplace in winter – the possibilities are endless! We’re always excited to see the end result after working with those clients from the beginning.
You worked as a commodities broker in Asia and Australia early in your career, and studied language and literature at Nankai University in China. How did these experiences influence your leadership journey?
Fortunately I was raised to take chances and make the most of opportunities when they came my way. This led me to moving to China before it had really opened up to westerners, and following that, I had the opportunity to work in Hong Kong.
The diversity in my early career, coupled with being exposed to a different culture and mindset provided me with the ability to better understand others, to be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and to work well under pressure. Working in a male dominated field also taught me to be less emotional when it comes to business, and to be more direct and straight to the point.
Tell us about how providing your wholesale clients with logistics, marketing and sales support became part of your business model.
Prior to working in Hong Kong I was responsible for moving bulk aluminium ingots on freighters around the world, so I’ve always had an affinity with logistics and shipping. I’m not a natural sales person but I am incredibly passionate about excellent customer service and I always try to find solutions to customers needs. Of course, some days things don’t go to plan but I’ll always go the extra mile where required.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Like many working mothers, my greatest challenge has been trying to find a balance between being running a business and raising my son. I often feel that I’m not devoting enough time to both.
What are you most proud of?
That I have raised a son at the same time as successfully running a long-standing business.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
There are a few things actually.
- Learn how to read and understand your financial statements and how to plan your cashflow. I think that is actually incredibly important for all women both professionally and personally.
- Embrace the new opportunities. Sometimes they’ll push you out of your comfort zone and sometimes they won’t work out, but you may learn a new skill, make a new contact or it may open another door.
- Know that starting your own business if that is the path you choose will be damn hard work but it will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.