Passion is one of our six traits in the Leaders in Heels Manifesto. It is also an essential element in starting up your own business, and quite often it can be your passion alone that will help drive you to follow your dreams and turn an idea into a product or business. Leaders in Heels interviewed PACKQUEEN founder and MD, Monique Samara, to hear how a love for wrapping gifts turned into a successful business.

Located in Thomastown, Victoria, the PACKQUEEN empire grew from a small-time packaging business to an online store that offers thousands of packaging products and now manufactures a large majority of those products themselves. From gift wrapping, gift boxes, wine boxes and more, this business is aiming high.

Tell us about the PACKQUEEN story – how did you grow to become a leading manufacturer of packaging products in Australia?

Prior to operating my own business, my background was within law and education. I have taken a lot of knowledge from both these areas to successfully apply what I have learnt from both industries to the operating of my own business in an area that I love.

We are not your regular packaging business. At our core, PACKQUEEN is a leader, innovator and manufacturer of packaging products run by a talented group of women. From start-up businesses through to large multi-national corporations, with our simplistic approach we are able to provide a solution to suit any business’ packaging requirements.

I work with an amazing team including 10 talented individuals who are passionate about what they do. Starting as “Specialty Boxes”, the business has grown and evolved considerably over the past few years.

We listened to our customers and from that feedback, we officially relaunched our new brand, PACKQUEEN. Along with our new identity and philosophy we launched our new website on a state-of-the-art platform that will provide a better user experience.

What inspired you to start PACKQUEEN?

Put simply, I love working with packaging and paper. Ever since I was a child I loved stationery and presenting things in beautiful gift boxes and gift wrapping. What evolved as a fun thing to do over the years, turned into a passion and became my business.

My family has been involved in industrial packaging and paper for over 20 years so with business in my blood, it was only a matter of time before realising my true calling. It all started with one gift box and an idea. The idea that I could help other businesses with presenting their products in amazing packaging.

Over the last 5 years, I have strived to provide our clients with packaging products that have helped them achieve successful solutions. We work with the best materials in the industry to provide our customers with high quality products at affordable prices.

Getting started – what research did you do?

I spoke with a lot of different business owners about what they required in terms of packaging. I also read a lot of business books and journals from various experts to expand on my knowledge. I am constantly learning every day and it is important to continue to strive and learn and be diverse and innovative.

How did you find your suppliers? Was it easy building relationships?

We worked hard to develop and continue our relationships with our suppliers. It is important that you treat suppliers as a partner. In any effective relationship, building and maintaining solid supplier relationship is about ‘give and take’.

It is important to respect your supplier as they should yourself. We only work with suppliers that demonstrate and express the same level of respect and understanding that we at PACKQUEEN possess.

How do you market your business and what has been successful in reaching your target market?

As an online packaging business, our primary form of marketing is online. We put a lot of effort into maintaining our online presence so both new and existing customers are well served when they interact with us online. Our new website aims to provide a better user experience based on customer feedback and we also have a blog that promotes hints and tips for our customers to customise our products.

I would highly recommend using a great marketing system such as MailChimp. A great marketing system can help you achieve and promote your products to your target audience.

What challenges did you face in getting your business idea off the ground?

The hardest part of getting our business off the ground was a mixture of challenges including finding the right staff that shared the same vision, implementing systems that work effectively in all areas of the business and developing the right sales and marketing strategy to suit our business goals.

You mentioned innovation is an important part of your business, what innovative products or systems do you use?

At PACKQUEEN, we offer a range of different biodegradable packaging supplies. For example, our fully-recyclable presentation gift boxes come in different sizes and colours. They can also be customised to our customers needs. It is undeniable that eco-friendly packaging has been trending these days. Even the most simple, recycled look for your packaging can become special once you add a creative touch using bright and colourful labels.

PACKQUEEN has come up with these great e-books to help make packaging easy for you. Tailored to specific industries with tips and tricks on things such as tying the perfect ribbons, packaging delicate items and guides on packaging design, you can download PACKQUEEN’s TOP 10 Guide to Designing the Perfect Hamper, just in time for Christmas.

What are your goals for PACKQUEEN now?

The goal for PACKQUEEN now is to expand our Melbourne team and continue to be leaders in packaging with a specific focus on small to medium size businesses. We are continually refining our systems, providing cost effective manufacturing and specialising in custom design and manufacture of packaging solutions to meet our diverse customer’s ever changing needs.

We are looking forward to evolving over the coming years and sharing this experience with our customers, it’s exciting!

Finally, what advice would you give our Leaders in Heels readers thinking of starting their own business?

Research, research, RESEARCH!

It is extremely important to research and understand your target market and the platform you wish to market through. If you are thinking of starting an online business like PACKQUEEN, it is important to understand that there can be substantial set ups costs involved even though it is online.

You can find more information at the PACKQUEEN website

The story behind the Inspiring Beauty Academy out in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs is just as inspiring as its name. It’s the tale of two women with a passion for massage and beauty, of setbacks and injuries and redundancies, and two paths that eventually converged into a successful beauty academy in May this year.

When I talk to Natalie and Robyn, the founders of Inspiring Beauty Academy, the rapport and friendship between them is obvious.

“I haven’t met anyone else with whom I have as much mutual respect towards,” Robyn says when I ask why they partnered with each other.

Natalie agrees. “We clicked. We had the same ideals, and passions. There’s definitely a large element of mutual respect, and I knew Robyn would support this venture 100%.”

Not that it was an easy road. Robyn and Natalie have been working in the industry for years. Natalie started her career in a day spa before being asked if she’d like to give teaching a go. Robyn, on the other hand, started off as a remedial masseuse.

“I loved it,” Robyn tells me. “I always had a passion for massage. Then I was injured, and I wasn’t able to continue.” But there’s a buoyancy in her voice that belies her words. “Natalie and I met when we worked together at a community centre doing training programs,” Robyn explains. “We worked together for two years, until the centre was taken over.”

Natalie’s department was one of the first to be cut. She found herself out of work, with a family to support. Then Kerry Atherton from Answers2Hair rang.

“I actually thought it was for a job as a beauty trainer,” Natalie tells me, laughing. “But it was actually an offer to sub-lease a beauty training school!”

I ask what made her decide to jump in. After all, running your own business can be risky and requires far more work than being an employee.

“I could see there was a gap in the industry,” Natalie says. “There were no other beauty training facilities in the area. The only option was the big institutions in the city, and what I call conveyor-belt training.” She pauses, and with her next words it’s clear how much she truly cares for all those she teaches. “Many of the students who needed that one-on-one attention really struggled. So when Kerry offered me the opportunity, I took it.”

Of course, the first thing Natalie did was ask Robyn if she’d like to partner with her in starting up this school.

It wasn’t an easy choice for Robyn, however. “I was in a stable job, and I had my family to think about. I knew what I wanted to do, but there’s always that fear of the unknown.” After much agonising, she decided to take the plunge. “And having done this, I know I wouldn’t be able to work in a role like my previous job again!” she concludes.

Not that running their own business has been easy. Getting funding was one of their biggest challenges.

“We went to so many banks,” Robyn says. “Some didn’t get back to us, while others wanted a lot more paperwork and detailed proposals.” She laughs. “All we had was a scrap paper of our costs!”

“So it was incredibly encouraging when we talked to Carly from ANZ, and she was genuinely enthusiastic about what we wanted to do,” Natalie says. “ANZ were doing their $1 Billion Lending Pledge to lend to small businesses, and our loan was approved.”

“We were so excited when we heard we got finance, there may have been tears!”

I ask if getting finance was the end of their problems. Their amusement is palpable.

“We’ve definitely had some ‘oh my God’ moments,” Natalie tells me. “There’s also the long hours, not to mention the marketing and getting our name out there.”

“Natalie’s amazing at pounding the pavement and promoting us,” Robyn adds. “I don’t know how she does it!”

But both of them agree that despite some hairy moments, they never had any doubts. “Though these past four months have been a huge learning curve, everything’s flowed really well,” Natalie says. “Sometimes you just have to say ‘It is what it is’. Face the problem, and then move on.”

When I express my amazement at how they’ve managed to make their business such a success in a short four months, they are quick to point out that they haven’t done it alone.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of my family,” Natalie said, and Robyn echoes the sentiment. “They’ve never told me to give up on this, even though we work long hours, six days a week.”

It’s not only their families who are behind them. “Kerry from Answers2Hair also helped us a lot,” Robyn continued. “She’s so experienced, and her support and guidance this whole time has been invaluable.”

Seeing how far they’ve already come on their own journey, I end our chat by asking them where they see themselves in the future. Do they have any plans for growth, to become a more personalised rival to the big academies in the city?

“Not at all,” Natalie says. “We don’t want to be the next big school. Our goal is to keep it small and boutique—but saying that, we want to have students graduate from our academy and have others see them and say, ‘I want to train where they trained!’ And we want to be viable and sustainable, of course.”

“We wouldn’t mind being able to employ another trainer as well,” Robyn adds. “That would leave us free to focus on marketing and compliance.”

“And stop working six days a week!” Natalie says emphatically, and they both laugh. “I miss having normal hours and five-day weeks!”

“Me too,” Robyn agrees. “But you know what? I don’t regret a thing.”

This post was supported by ANZ, who have upped the ante this year and are in market with a $2 Billion Lending Pledge for new small businesses. If you’re also thinking about pursuing your passion and starting your own business, Leaders in Heels is hosting a live Twitter Q&A on Wednesday 29 October at 7pm, with experts from ANZ who can help you on your way. Follow #SBChat to get expert tips.

This article is sponsored by Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited ABN 11 005 357 522 (ANZ). The views and recommendations that are made in this document are those of the author and interviewees, and not ANZ.