Delight is what led us to our guest, Corinne Noyes, founder of the delicious and delightful Madame Flavour Teas. A sample of which goes out to all of our new Accelerate members. as a way of encouraging you to take a minute to yourself with a hot and invigorating cup of tea. Corinne's business story is phenomenal, a shining example of the power of possibility and hard work.
Carrie Kwan (01:11):
Delight is a big part of our value system here at Mums & Co. It's an expression of the way we encourage all of our members to invest in their wellbeing by finding moments in their day to make themselves a priority.
Lucy Kippist (01:23):
Delight is also what led us to today's guest, Corinne Noyes, founder of the delicious and delightful Madame Flavour Teas, a sample of which goes out to all of our new Accelerate members as a way of encouraging you to take a minute for yourself with a hot and invigorating cup of tea. Corinnes's business story is phenomenal, a shining example of the power of possibility and hard work. And Corinne, we are delighted to have you with us at Mumbition today. Welcome.
Corinne Noyes (01:52):
Thank you very much. Lovely to be with you.
Carrie Kwan (01:56):
Now, we're passionate about telling women's stories and I know that you have a good one that started in your spare room about 15 years ago. Could you please share your story with us?
Corinne Noyes (02:09):
It's an oldie but a goodie. 15 years, it does feel like the most dramatic elements were a long time ago and I felt more alone with it maybe, like there weren't necessarily such great communities as this in the day. But yeah, I was a marketer for 20 years in corporate environments and decided that I had my own strong feelings and views about how products should be.
And decided to go out on my own, create a tea company in the spare room, to try to bring a different feeling which was really about genuine care. A smaller business creating blends from places where I'd visited the tea estates myself. Literally being in the Gippsland kitchen with piles of different teas and flowers and fruits, combining concoctions to find the one that was most delicious. And to some extent, things really haven't changed so much except that I have a team now. We've been doing things for a long time and so things have become a little less chaotic than they used to be, but still a little chaotic.
Carrie Kwan (03:35):
Yes. We like to spice things up every now and then, don't we? So it sounds like Madame Flavour's been through several evolutions since it began, and I know you simplify it. It's a phenomenal business. I'm interested to know, what's something that you've actually had to stop doing in order to make business and life work for you?
Corinne Noyes (03:56):
That's an interesting question. Definitely, for me, I'm very particular and I love to have my finger in all the pies and in all the emails and all the things going on. And for me, a really key piece has been to trust my team and just let them do their job and just back off from having to feel involved in everything, because it just wasn't useful for me or them.
So, I think that's a really key piece, has been trusting team and trusting people. And I now have a beautiful team who have been with me all for several years. We're coming up to one long service leave for a couple. And at the end of the day, it's the joy when you get to that point of the business being able to run not totally without me, but certainly significantly. Other than, of course, I still love to do the blending, the creative pieces.
Lucy Kippist (04:59):
Yeah. That trust piece is something we hear a lot in terms of where our members start to grow, and it makes sense, doesn't it? Because you built this. You created this thing. It's like another baby, and you watched it grow and then you put it out into the world and then you've got to trust that there's a team around you to support you. But as you say then, as time evolves, then that allows you to do the creative bit, the part that got you here in the beginning. It's a beautiful evolution. You live in a really beautiful part of the world, in Gippsland, in rural Victoria. I was just wondering, in what ways... You just mentioned there your love for that creative process with the tea. But in what ways does that environment, that beautiful place that you live in, influence your sense of your own wellbeing and groundedness?
Corinne Noyes (05:49):
It's critical, absolutely critical. It is very remote, a small community of just a couple of hundred people. I'm on 50 acres in a rammed earth house, which means it's very quiet inside and it's bird song basically, outside. So I completely reset when I'm there. When I'm there by myself in particular, it gives me time and space to feel myself, literally. When I'm in Melbourne and it's phone calls, it's meetings, it's an issue here, it's an opportunity there. And then of course, it's my home life and my daughter, friends, family. It's a lot.
I think it's easy to be unaware of how much we're dealing with. So for me, Gippsland is the place where I can just be, I can listen to the wind in the trees. I can open the door with my cup of tea and wander round looking at the progress of the garden. The lemon trees, the herbs, the lemon myrtle, the mountain pepper, which grow there and which really inspired me as well to use Australian natives in my blends. So everyone, I think it's just going to nature, spending time in nature is just so important for us.
Lucy Kippist (07:20):
Absolutely. Yeah, those smells are so evocative and even for you naming them, aren't they? That lemon myrtle is just the most wonderful smell, in my opinion.
Corinne Noyes (07:29):
And I literally... I rub my fingers on the leaves and smell it. And there's something that's connected to the tea experience, the sensory. One of the ideas with our blends is when you open the packet and you have that aroma, it's almost like aromatherapy and it's very grounding. It's reminding you of the real world around you and getting you out of your head.
Lucy Kippist (07:52):
Absolutely. And we all need that little reminder in our day, several times a day, often. As Carrie mentioned before, Madame Flavour's obviously evolved in lots of ways since you started. What aspect of the business do you find yourself really in love with the most right now?
Corinne Noyes (08:11):
It's particularly, I think, the creative pieces. It's really interesting because yes, I have built a business from the spare room. We're in several thousand supermarkets around Australia and airlines and in hotels. And we've provided hundreds of millions of cups of tea. So it's a substantial business. And I can even hear my tone when I start talking about that, I go into business mode because 20 years of marketing before that, it's what I knew to do and it's what I know to do. And it is really satisfying to build and to manage, but I think the creative piece, for me, is the really rewarding one.
So whether that is creating blends or whether it's working with our team to create a beautiful piece of packaging or a gorgeous new gift card, or all of those little, small ... Write some beautiful words for a note. I love those things and it's a luxury to be able to spend some time doing those things. More of that and less of the... As I say, crisis management, particularly coming out of a couple of years which has been super challenging, right?
Lucy Kippist (09:25):
Carrie Kwan (09:26):
And your daughter is a teenager now and has grown up with you and the business. What do you think have been the most important transferable skills between business and motherhood for you?
Corinne Noyes (09:38):
I thought you were going to ask me, "What have been the most important skills she's learned?" And I was going to say, "I often get her to do secretarial duties while I'm in the car". It's like, "Can you just send an email to this person and write a text to that one."
Carrie Kwan (09:49):
I love that too. I'm happy to…
Corinne Noyes (09:53):
I said to her, "You could probably be an executive assistant at this point and do quite well."
Carrie Kwan (09:59):
I would not underestimate how much of an influence and role model and skills that she has observed from you as being a business woman. I was talking to another investor. It was actually a dad, but he was saying, "My kid can actually talk about a term sheet now." So it's-
Corinne Noyes (10:20):
Carrie Kwan (10:21):
Terms that they just pick up.
Corinne Noyes (10:23):
And really they do. Life is just one twisting, turning, integrated path between the two. And one of the beauties of running your own business is that you may have a lot to do, but you do have some flexibility. I have flexibility with my time. So transferable skills, being able to juggle, of course. Listening, being present. You need to be present with your child and being able to be present, being able to hear people, being able to reflect, I think are really critical skills as a parent and as an employer. But also with our customers.
Carrie Kwan (11:03):
Yeah. I think when I'd listen to you, you're describing the empathy and the humility that you need to listen to whether it's your staff member or it's to a vendor or it's to your customers. Actually putting yourself in their shoes all the time to understand what their needs are.
Corinne Noyes (11:21):
It makes all the difference. I think, because I have been the salesperson at Madame Flavour for quite a long period of time, I was doing that. And really the first question is, "Well, what do you need? Tell me about your business. What do you need?" As opposed to, "Hi, I'm here, and I'm here to sell you some tea." It's really that and then thinking about "What can I provide?" And sometimes saying, "I don't know that we're the best option."
Carrie Kwan (11:48):
And you've been listening very well, knowing that you've got some amazing clients from major airlines to all your supermarkets that you've mentioned, it's been phenomenal to see. Restaurants and hotels and…
Corinne Noyes (12:05):
And long-term is the thing I really love. Most of those customers have been with us for a lot of the journey or 10, 12 years of the journey, and including post-COVID. Food service, all of those hotels, airlines, cruises, just disappeared. And I wasn't sure what would happen afterwards, but we're back, they're back, we're back together. It's good.
Carrie Kwan (12:32):
And speaking of your daughter. I would love to hear about what else makes up your co around you? In Mums & Co we describe that as obviously our community of family, partners, clients. Who are your co that support you in your business?
Corinne Noyes (12:51):
My direct team for starters, they're amazing. We've been together for so long that it's a friendship equally. And they care about me and encourage me to take time off and vice versa and it's really beautiful. And I love that I've created that. My daughter, absolutely. She gets excited about ideas, inspires me, gives me advice sometimes. She's very wise. My ex-husband, we have a fantastic relationship, which is part of what works in terms of shared care and being able to be flexible with teenage things.
And then I have a beautiful friendship group. Actually, I had my 55th birthday last month when we were due to speak. And I thought, "You know what? I am going to get some friends together. Haven't done it for a long time." So, I had a group of 15 or so to dinner. And it was almost like looking at my wedding again, of these are the people I love most in the world. I've known virtually all of them longer than my daughter, more than 15 years, some from school.
And so even though sometimes, I can certainly feel quite lonely with some of my decisions and overwhelmed, but the reality is I have a significant friendship group that I can turn to and that provides support and vice versa. And then, I do have two or three more business-specific people that I sometimes turn to, less these days. But certainly still do sometimes.
Carrie Kwan (14:29):
Amazing, fascinating to hear. And it is very much that I think women are very brave to step into the unknown. But we need to have almost like these personal advisory boards and these friendships to look after our wellbeing and of course our family, I think that's... When we start a business, it's not just us going into business. It's this ecosystem of business relationships.
Corinne Noyes (14:52):
Yeah. My daughter Sienna, was one when I started Madame Flavour. In terms of integrating, often she's been involved with, whether it's tea festivals in Sydney, whether it's coming to Sri Lanka, where our packing and a lot of the sourcing and growing happens. She's been with me to Sri Lanka so many times. The team know her all from when she was just a little, probably three year old girl. So every time we do a Zoom... The last couple of years it's been Zoom, they're like, "How is Sienna, how is little Madam?" And I say, look, "She's not little anymore." And I'm showing photos. So she's very integrated with and a big part of the Madame Flavour story.
Carrie Kwan (15:35):
That's beautiful. And I'm not sure if you were on Mat Leave in that year that you launched your business.
Corinne Noyes (15:42):
Yes I was. Wow. That's fascinating. Interesting fact, we did a survey of almost 1,000 business owning mums across Australia and three in 10 launched their business whilst on Mat Leave.
Corinne Noyes (15:55):
Yeah. It actually provides a really great, again, mental space out of the wheel that you're on to support you to do something like that. I think I certainly found that. I'd been wanting to get out of corporate for a while.
Lucy Kippist (16:11):
Yeah. That's a great way of putting it. And I also wonder if it's part of that... Our innate creativity as obviously humans, but also as women, creating a child is fairly epic achievement and makes the possibilities perhaps more real in terms of life. It's a beautiful answer. It's so interesting Corinne to listen to you talk about that business journey. And a couple of times you've mentioned a sense of loneliness at times. And we know that that's something that our moms share with us a lot in terms of not only being a mom, but also in terms of the beginning of that business journey, when you can feel a bit isolated. I'm wondering what your advice would be then maybe in regard to that, for anyone listening to this today, thinking about starting their big idea. What would you share with them in regard to that?
Corinne Noyes (17:07):
Yeah, I think now there are so many great communities, so there's definitely many around. And people love helping people, people love to help. So the connection, support of others and sharing a bit of your journey and your questions and concerns in an online come environment can be really powerful. As well as talking to the people in your life just to get the energy to take the first couple of steps. But also as you start to... The monkey mind happens, you start thinking... Generally or tends to be, we talk ourselves down into a bit of a spiral, don't we? So yeah, I think that that piece is really important, but also there are practical things that you need to have and know to start a business and make it less stressful particularly the financial side of things.
So again connecting through forums with people who can give you some advice there or even reaching out to business owners and just asking specific help, asking questions. I think is critical learning, just profit and loss and about cash flow. Those kind of things are really key for reducing stress and knowing where you are with your business.
Lucy Kippist (18:27):
Certainly reach out for... Just to talk through someone... Often I find that someone, maybe that's one step ahead of, you just want to reach out and go, "Okay, what did you need to look out for at this point in time?" Or work through a challenge, just talking through. You probably have some ideas on how to address it, but it's always just that sounding board that you need to get a little bit more advice and know what also not to worry about. I think you can spend a lot of time focused on the wrong thing.
Corinne Noyes (18:58):
Yes. Yeah. In fact, that was one of the things I was thinking about before, this is, how I and we probably, as a business have become a little more focused on a handful of key measures that are really critical drivers for our business. And we are doing less of that minutiae, getting too close to things. We're really... So even when it comes to ordering or changing our focus for how much stock we might need. We're now looking more three, monthly and really if the change doesn't look significant, we don't make it, we just leave it. So, yes, I think getting a handful of other people who are either a step ahead of you or in a similarish space and setting up that simple agreement around asking questions.
I certainly have that. Again, not so much now, but in earlier times, just literally, I'm trying to work out pricing. Do you know what I should be allowing for margins? Or I need to borrow, but I'm not sure where to go. Do you know anything about angel... Or whatever the thing is. And it doesn't even need a huge... Once you've got a set up of a smallish trusted group, you don't need to do a big, "Hi, how are you?" You can just get straight into, "This is the thing I need."
Carrie Kwan (20:24):
Yeah. I love that. And we have some ideas around that with our group expert sessions and experts.
Corinne Noyes (20:31):
Carrie Kwan (20:31):
So let me dive into a bit about the industry that you're in. So the food manufacturing industry comes with a new level of complexity when we think about risk. So what are some of the processes that you have in place or considerations to protect yourself and your business?
Corinne Noyes (20:48):
This is a really key piece. First because I come out of a corporate environment. I was lucky to know a reasonable amount about things like... And have followed through with, a monthly meeting, a key performance indicator meeting. And we've had these since day one for 15 years. At first, it was PowerPoint slides of presentations. And now we've got it down to probably 30 minutes on the phone almost. But it still comprises of a review of our, again, profit and loss, a review of our cash flow or review of our sales, any key issues with customers, key projects, stock and supply and people. And so each person who's accountable for something or in the days where it was me plus one, we still did it. The discipline to know where I was because you've got to know where you are to know what the risks are.
For us, there are a handful of drivers of risks. So it might be how are the key customers doing, what's the mental space, how's it feeling with them. Exchange rate, what's happening to the exchange rate. As I said, how much cash is in the bank or what's our product margin. But there are a handful of things that we keep very close too and that's one piece. A second piece from a risk perspective is... Through COVID when we lost all of that food service business, it was major for us. That was 40% of the business disappeared overnight. So I'm in the habit of having a very bird's eye understanding of the business.
I do five year... Just quick forecasts of how's it looking like, it's going to be over the next five years, again, just firstly at a P&L. Profit and loss level. What are the potential risks here? What would I do? So not getting angsty about it, but just getting some facts in front of me so that I understand what I can do, what could happen. And in a COVID environment where things are so much more dynamic than they've been, for us, a couple of things we've done is building up some cash reserves, which is really hard as a small business. Cash flow, I think is always the really critical one. But in a sense, it doesn't matter the size of your business. Building up cash flow might just be doing a little bit less whatever, lunches or reducing your ad spend online by 10% or something like that just to build it up a little, that gives you a little bit more breathing space.
Another thing that we've started to do in the last couple of years, which I found really useful when we budget. Because we do create a budget for each year, again, it's less time consuming than it used to be, but we still do it. We put in a contingency. So in case something goes wrong, we will allow a certain amount of dollars each month that... If nothing goes wrong, that's great. It just falls through the bottom line. But often something happens, a ship doesn't go via Sri Lanka these days, we have to air freight, whatever. The exchange rate drops below what it should have been so things cost us more. Having that contingency amount so that I know... It's a buffer and it's been a really powerful thing for us to do.
Lucy Kippist (24:24):
A really important area, I think, because this journey that we're on is amazing as it is. It is exposing us to different levels of risk. I know you probably feel it all the more being at times when you might have been doing it by yourself, and then you also have your family to consider. So I think this is all really prudent in terms of thinking of different scenarios, thinking of planning, thinking of contingencies and making that a weekly activity to look through that. So thank you for sharing. We know from your Instagram page that you frequently visit the farmers that make Madame Flavour tea. Why is this important to you? And do you think that this aspect of business is important for every product business owner?
Corinne Noyes (25:07):
For me personally, it is really the juice of the business. I love to see where the tea comes from, the herbs and just to be at source to know that these tea leaves are grown by these people. That's what you're drinking. For me, it's a really critical piece that I'm a foodie. I love to know where my things came from. So if I'm drinking milk, I want to know if it's Gippsland Jersey cows, that makes me really happy. I've been going to Sri Lanka, buying from the same estates for 15 years. And that's a really different model where we name the estates versus generally with tea it's auctions that blend a whole lot of different tastes from around the world to a price. And it changes every blend. So being able to literally go online and look and see if this is where it came from, our customers love that personal connection and personal touch. And for me, it's really part of the experience of running and owning Madame Flavour.
Lucy Kippist (26:14):
We absolutely do business with people, so amazing. Now in the spirit of women supporting women who are the mumbitious. And we define mumbition as the unapologetic blending of motherhood and ambition that you would like to say hello to.
Corinne Noyes (26:30):
I would love to say hello to a group of women that I worked with for many years. And we've stayed in touch with dinners every couple of months together. They are gorgeous, powerful, inspiring women, Christine Khor, who is co-founder of a coaching business called Peeplcoach, which is doing amazing things. Kate Beatty, who is running her own marketing consultancy and has had some fabulous senior roles in industry. And Melissa Jones, who's had a beautiful journey, post-corporate into motherhood with two girls that are the joy of her life. And I love you all. Hi.
Lucy Kippist (27:21):
We hope you enjoyed today's podcast. If you'd like to follow Corinne Noyes, you can find her at Madame Flavour.