Business ability started young

JENNY KEOWN
Last updated 10:42 12/11/2012

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When entrepreneur Corinne Callinan was four years old she pulled all her teeth out to get money from the tooth fairy.

This took her several hours, from when her parents put her to bed at 6pm until 11pm.

Her parents were horrified. However, her aunties and uncles were amused and gave her lots of money for her efforts - exactly what Callinan wanted (who got the idea after seeing her older sister getting money from the tooth fairy).

So she's a strong-willed person? "Obsessive I'd say," she laughs.

Callinan has applied her determined personality into building a successful business career and today runs a hosiery company with 45 staff that she launched to market in 2005.

CXC was recognised by Deloittes in 2009 as one of the country's fastest growing companies. Its StepOut brand can be found in all Farmers stores and 365 supermarkets in New Zealand.

She says her experience in marketing and business management roles in fast-moving consumable firms Heinz and Unilever helped her access the notoriously tough supermarket market.

Callinan saw an opportunity in the market because she though the dominant tights and undergarments supermarket supplier Pacific Brands, which produces Rio, Jockey and Bond, had become complacent with no innovation.

"I probably did something which a lot of suppliers don't do. In the very early stages, when I just had a concept, I went to Foodstuffs and said to them what I was looking to do, and can you give me your views on the category?"

The biggest issue was space, according to Foodstuffs. The introduction of alcohol and the growth of convenience foods in the last 10 years had put more pressure on established categories for space.

So, after also speaking to consumers about what they wanted, Callinan developed packs that were 40 per cent smaller - and she argues - more innovative than that of her rivals.

The hosiery market had been in decline over the last 20 years as women shed tights in preference for bare legs, and started wearing trousers.

Since StepOut has entered the market in 2004, Callinan believes the market has grown strongly.

StepOut tights and socks are designed in New Zealand and manufactured in China. The company is targeting Australia as part of its international growth strategy.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I am inherently an entrepreneur, I don't think it's a choice. I commenced my corporate career at Unilever in my 20s and simultaneously developed my property investment portfolio. Whilst other 20-somethings were skimming fashion mags, I was trawling the pages of newspaper property sections. I developed a portfolio of 10 houses by the time I was 30 and these later financed my hosiery business.

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What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?
I am the sole shareholder of CXC, so cash is always a challenge, especially as we are growing so rapidly. Having a good - and right sort of - relationship with your bank is critical. I knew I required cashflow orientated and the more complex services of commercial banking, so well before my turnover met the banks "standard" criteria, I secured an ANZ commercial relationship.

Name one thing you've learnt while in business?
I came from strategic management roles in large multi- national corporates, to being a one-woman band. So in the early days, I had to switch from creator/developer mode to getting fully immersed in the detail as well. You don't have the luxury of specialising or delegating. You need to able to throw yourself from strategy - to operations - to creative - to picking up the mail from the post box - and excel and be totally focused in all areas - everyday.

What are your business and personal goals?
Being a single mother it is important that I balance work/ lifestyle and this ethos is alive throughout the company. I've been able to attract a very high calibre of women to work for me - many because they appreciate the flexible hours and consideration around family that CXC provides.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?
Get started. Don't wait for the right conditions and time - it is likely they will never come. Now is exactly the right time to step into the unknown and find out just how good you really are.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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