Innovation key to big success for local small business

EXPANDING SERVICES: Wade Kent from Ballina’s Blue Sky Outdoor.
EXPANDING SERVICES: Wade Kent from Ballina’s Blue Sky Outdoor. The Northern Star

TWO innovative small regional businesses, Ballina's Blue Sky Outdoor and the Byron Beach Cafe, have been recognised for their success by being shortlisted in the 2014 Australian Small Business Champion Awards.

Blue Sky Outdoor owner Wade Kent said the formula for his camping gear retailer was as much about the fundamentals as innovation.

"We've made a big emphasis over the last few years to try to have the best customer service that we can," he said.

Blue Sky's listing in the national awards didn't come out of the blue. Mr Kent has also worked hard to establish an "e-presence" and recently moved to larger premises in West Ballina.

"We've spent quite a bit of time and energy getting our online presence right, to try to grow the online store," Mr Wade said.

"The retail environment has been very challenging over the last few years, especially with the growth of online business."

In Blue Sky's case, it has been about testing innovative new lines that fit with an outdoor brand, such as a range of workwear and archery products, and a closer focus on watersports.

Perhaps the business's most innovative step was to enter the tourism market, this month introducing kayak tours following years of customer requests.

Mr Kent sees a clear link between selling outdoor gear and providing experiences to go with it, particularly in a town surrounded by stunning waterscapes.

"We've had lots of inquiries and bookings," he said.

Over in Byron, the Byron Beach Cafe, under the ownership of Ben and Belinda Kirkwood since 2007, has continued to take out awards from NSW Tourism and now has national hopes.

The key to its formula is its multi-functionality, transforming from a casual coffee and breakfast cafe - with a separate takeaway kiosk - in the daytime to a destination restaurant as the sun sets over Mt Warning.

With a venue right on the beach, the cafe has taken advantage of its site to host an increasing number of weddings and corporate events.

Add to that a catering arm and the venue is juggling several profit lines and showcasing its brand at the same time.

Topics:  business innovation

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