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R&D Curtains | Turning a niche business into a major success

Realise Business’s Mastermind Program has given a local business owner the confidence to expand her curtain company and target new markets.

The last five months have been a whirlwind for local business owner Debbie Stokes. Having relocated her company, R&D Curtains to larger premises in Taren Point, she has nearly doubled her staff and increased her client base and orders.

“Having our own workshop definitely makes us unique. We are getting lovely feedback from our customers, especially because we now have a showroom and they can also see the curtains being manufactured on the premises,” Debbie said.

As one of only a few companies across Sydney that manufactures in-house, she is sought out by many interior designers, decorators and loyal customers because of her perfectionism, ability to meet deadlines and competitive prices.

While they do wholesale a variety of blinds, 80% of the business is manufacturing curtains, currently seeing a resurgence in popularity.

R & D Curtains manufacture modern curtains for homes across Sydney

“In the last two years, we have definitely seen curtains come back in vogue, particularly a contemporary sheer look. The baby boomers and those moving into retirement villages want a bit of softness on the windows to make their houses homier.”

After an impressive 36 years in the curtain business, there is no doubt that Debbie’s reputation for quality craftsmanship has been established not only in the Sutherland Shire but across Sydney.

At the tender age of 16, she began as a sewer in a Caringbah curtain shop where her Grandmother worked, because she “quite liked sewing and had no idea what to do after leaving school”.

When that company closed four years later, Debbie took the bold step of going into partnership with a colleague, working from a home workshop.

With her partner’s retirement after nine years Debbie worked out of her various homes for 23 years while raising two children.

In 2014 she opened a small factory unit in Kirrawee where she stayed for 18 months but quickly realised that she was literally “stuck together with her staff and backed into a corner” trying to complete manufacturing and run the business from a single room.

Debbie says that while she was confident in understanding manufacturing, she struggled with understanding how to run a bigger business and what she needed to do to take R & D Curtains to the next level.

Enter Realise Business and Business Advisor, Katherine Blizard who encouraged Debbie to move forward and gave her some “fantastic incentives, points and ideas”.

Katherine also recommended Debbie join the Realise Business Mastermind Program where a group of business owners meet regularly to discuss issues and share advice and experiences.

Despite her initial nervousness about being a “small fry” and not business minded, Debbie found the five members of her Mastermind group were knowledgeable, generous and encouraging.

“I knew I had a good business and I wanted it to be more profitable. My Mastermind group gave me the confidence to expand…At the age of 52, I realised it was a matter of do it now or never.”

Debbie admits she is “still trying to learn the business side of things” and as part of this she is appointing a business consultant and will bravely replace her whiteboards with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to increase operational efficiency.

Sheer curtains are back in vogue, according to R & D Curtains Founder Debbie Stokes

“I am trying to stay off the machines and stick to running the business rather than being the business.”

While much of her work is through word-of-mouth, this year, Debbie will continue working with Realise Business, focusing on marketing to new client areas, as well as the lucrative retirement villages and nursing homes and trying new channels, such as social media.

With her 29-year-old son working as an installer and interested in becoming more involved in the business, Debbie is proud of what she has achieved over the years, from the complicated jobs of fitting out heritage-listed homes right through to creating cushions and tablecloths.

“I am proud that I have a nice successful business with great staff and that we are happy to do any job no matter how big or small. I get a huge kick out of hearing our customers say how they appreciate how beautiful we have made their homes look and how they will be letting their friends know. That’s what is important.”

Debbie’s top 8 points for business success

  1. Find a niche market and focus on meeting the unique needs of these clients.
  2. Embrace technology to assist you with automating systems and processes.
  3. Never give up – Follow your passion and be confident in your abilities.
  4. Seek business advice from others who have different skillsets and experience.
  5. If possible outsource jobs that you are not good at or don’t like doing.
  6. Invest in your staff’s training and then trust them to get on with the job.
  7. View all customers as important – no matter how big or small the job.
  8. Focus on working on the business not in the business.
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