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How Caroline Wilcher CA Helped Grow a Small Bakery Into a Baked Goods Empire
When Caroline Wilcher CA started working with Rob Stevenson in the late 1990s, his business was primarily a small hot bakery shop in Dubbo. Twenty-odd years later, it's risen to become a baked goods empire.
Mr Stevenson, along with his two brothers, is the co-director of two bakeries and the wholesale baked goods manufacturer Earlyrise Baking, who supply to clients including Qantas and Supa IGA. Ms Wilcher is a director of Boyce Chartered Accountants, who've advised Mr Stevenson for over 20 years. Together, they've made a formidable team.
"They're quite a different business today than they were back then," Ms Wilcher reflects down the line from her office in Dubbo. Back when she first met the Stevenson family, "it was very much a family-owned and operated business," where the brothers worked in the shop or on their fledgling wholesale arm every day. "It was a small business – a bustling small business, but a small business."
Today, that original retail business in Dubbo still stands ("only it's been refreshed a few times since then," Ms Wilcher laughs), alongside another retail bakery in Orange, both called Village Bakehouse. There are plans to open more retail stores "in the pipeline", Ms Wilcher says. But it's their wholesale business that has really taken off.
A small, family-run bakery doesn't become a large-scale manufacturer by accident. Over the past two decades, Ms Wilcher has been there every step of the way to advise the Stevenson family on how to expand their business. As a Chartered Accountant, she's qualified to do much more than just run the numbers.
Earlyrise Baking consult Ms Wilcher and Boyce Chartered Accountants on everything from budgeting to businesses development and structuring. They have guided the Stevenson brothers as they've diversified the business, run due diligence on new businesses they've looked at purchasing and worked with them on strategic planning for the future. They've even helped them develop executive programs for their staff members, assisted on management reporting and sat in on job interviews. It's a truly 360-degree sort of guidance.
Ms Wilcher says there are "two parts" to why working with a Chartered Accountant can be so beneficial for small businesses looking to expand. "One is the numbers part, which is fairly obvious," she says. "But in addition to that, it's the consulting and business advice – so it's helping them make good, considered decisions; being the sounding board for those decisions and working through how it fits strategically into the business. So it's about operating more at a strategic level than a nuts and bolts business level."
Chartered Accountants through their intensive education and training are well-positioned to deliver. "If your accountant is just doing that, then they're not really doing their job," Ms Wilcher says. "That's part of what we see at Boyce as really important – it's not just turning in tax returns and financial statements, but providing all-round business advice to help our clients develop and grow."
Mr Stevenson says the key to Earlyrise Baking's success has been "a lot of hard work". But he and his brothers consider Caroline's guidance invaluable.
"The major key to our growth has been able to understand the metrics of our business. We've got at least 600 SKUs (stock-keeping units), we've got a bread department, a cake department, a pastry department, distribution, maintenance. It is a complicated business when you've got all those different streams," he says. "And, certainly, Caroline has helped us to be able to decipher our costs and all those moving parts so that we can manage the business better."
Would they have been able to do it without her? "No, definitely not," Mr Stevenson says. "No one's good at everything, so you need help... We've been with them for almost 30 years, so we would have left long ago if they weren't coming through with the goods," he laughs.
Ms Wilcher describes growing Earlyrise Baking from a small hot bake shop into a large-scale manufacturer as "more of an evolutionary, slow process rather than a revolutionary process." Sometimes, she says, the job of a Chartered Accountant is to guide the choices that come with growth – navigating the different ways to expand, finding the one that fits best and, ahem, raising the dough needed for new ventures. It's about making smart, considered moves.
"I can remember talking to them about wholesale products and saying, look, they aren't very sexy but they're very good profit makers," Ms Wilcher laughs. "And they've been a good part of their long-term business development."
But Ms Wilcher says that above all, the job of a Chartered Accountant is to be an "enabler".
"We're working alongside them to help guide them and give our advice," she says. "At the end of the day, they're on the ground, they're making all the decisions and they're doing the doing. But we're there to support them and provide guidance."
So how does it feel for Ms Wilcher now to look back and see how far Earlyrise Baking and the Stevenson brothers have come?
"They were really quite young at the time," she reflects. "I don't think they could have imagined what they have today."
Originally published on news.com.au
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