Tracey Topp grew up wearing wool.
She is also grew up learning about the power of technology and as an adult she has combined her knowledge of the two to start up a business from her home in rural North Canterbury.
Tracey runs a successful business selling high quality Merino children’s socks under her label Cosy Toes and as almost all of her business is mail-order, she makes full use of internet technologies such as Facebook, blogs and Twitter to communicate with her clients.
She views Facebook as a free marketing tool upon which she can advertise specials and place photos of her products, but she also sees it as a way of getting to know her customers personally.
Like many of her customers, Tracey is a busy mother, partner and member of a rural community and she adds a personal touch to the Cosy Toes Facebook page by adding photos of family holidays, making her more than a just a figure in cyberspace.
The internet has always been key to her business, because being in a rural area she couldn’t just set-up shop and put a sign at the gate, and the internet has also allowed her to be open 24 hours a day and work the business around her family.
When Tracey set-up Cosy Toes five years ago very few people were using the internet to sell children’s clothing. Now she says, its huge. Hence her desire to utilise social networking tools to stay ahead of the game.
Another big advantage to on-line selling is the lack of overheads, meaning she has been able to keep her prices very competitive.
Such has been the success of Cosy Toes that Tracey was runner up in this year’s Rural Woman Enterprising Rural Women of the Year Award.
During the judging process, chief judge Theresa Gattung commented that Tracey had “reinvented the existing” and this is exactly what Tracey believes she has done.
For her wool is the obvious choice when it comes to children’s clothing, particularly socks and she was surprised that she was unable to find any on the market when her children were babies.
Rather than make-do with cotton, she decided to set up her own business getting children’s socks made in New Zealand Merino wool.
Again working remotely helped as it enabled her to start small, (the customers didn’t know how much stock she had on hand) and build from there.
Much to her surprise, she found that not everyone knows about wool and while she grew up on a sheep farm and was well versed in wool’s unique properties, she believes that knowledge has been lost on an entire generation.
Tracey is now teaching people about the fibre and trying to increase awareness of wool’s qualities. As she says, the Merino wool always does exactly what it is supposed to do and she feels it should be priced like gold.
She is also aware that she is rare positive story in the doom and gloom of a depressed wool industry. “If farmers can see a small opening that has to be a positive.”
Tracey fears for the future of the wool industry and feels there is a lot of knowledge about the industry and wool processing machinery that is on the brink of being lost. “Something needs to be done. “It’s there and there for the world to know about.”
Tracey says the driving force behind Cosy Toes is her undying belief in her product and the quality of it.
The wool used in her socks is spun in Europe and a North Island manufacturer turns them into Cosy Toes socks.
Tracey then does all distribution from her home.
She admits she has to be very organised - something that appears to come naturally to Tracey - as she has rural mail deadlines to meet, as well as the deadlines imposed by school hours.
Once the children, Drew (9) and Logan (6), leave for school, Tracey works on orders before dealing with customer enquiries and all the administration work that comes with running a business.
In building the Cosy Toes business she has enlisted the help of a business mentor through the national business monitoring service and made use of her accountant, on-line small business forums and the Hurunui Business Network, which is co-ordinated by local woman Marina Shearer.
The one thing Tracey has struggled with is coming to the realisation she is a successful businesswomen.
She says she has continually had to put herself outside of her comfort zone in approaching people to help her get the business up and running, diversifying into other products and more latterly, entering the Rural Women Awards.
Tracey’s partner Geoff Topp, who owns and operates a transport business, has been supportive of Tracey’s business and the couple set a time line when they launched Cosy Toes, giving it three years to become a viable business.
It was a success and, for Tracey, it was the repeat custom that was further endorsement she was on the right track.
She has extended her range to incorporate children’s Merino wool clothing as well as socks for adults and will be launching new styles of woollen socks for everyday school wear.
In the future Tracey would like to take interested investors into the business to help it to the next level and drive it in the right direction which, as she points out, was how the successful Icebreaker and Untouched World brands started.
by Sandra Taylor.