career, career development, inspirational women, life, life advice, mentor, mentoring

Each week SHE‘SAID’ will feature an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. But these women will contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.

Name and role: 

Leandra Coffey, Founder of Fruity Sacks

Tell us about your role? What is it? What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

My role in my business is multi-faceted at the moment. I am responsible for everything – I’m Managing Director, Sales and Distribution Coordinator, Marketing and Promotion, and the public face of my business. Of course, I do out-source (and pay for) assistance with some aspects of the business (such as design work and accounting). As the business is still in the start-up stage, I also work in two part-time positions. The juggling act of looking after my three daughters (aged 2 to 9), my two jobs and working as much as I can on the business all keep me pretty busy.

How/when did you know this what you wanted to do as a career?

I’ve always wanted my own business in something I feel I can be proud of, something that contributes in a positive way to life. I come from a family who talked small business at the dinner table every night, so there’s something about finally making this move into business that feels very right and natural for me. That said, I also feel as though I am on one of the steepest learning curves of my life.

We were living in Yamba, a beautiful seaside town in northern NSW, when I became increasingly uncomfortable with bringing home a handful of plastic bags every time I did the fruit and veggie shopping. I started to think the solution to this would be a bag you could use thousands of times that was very lightweight, see through and washable. It wasn’t too long before I started thinking about the logistics and challenges of a solution – that was really the start of the Fruity Sacks story and me realising that this is definitely where my passion lies and what I want to do as career/venture.

Where do you find your inspiration?

This might sound a little crazy but my inspirations are pretty eclectic – from people like Nelson Mandela, who achieved amazing changes in his country when so many would have thought it was impossible to achieve peacefully, to anyone who has made a big change in their life to do what they really want to do. At the risk of sounding a bit ancient, I love hearing about people who aren’t deterred by their age and take things on no matter how old they are. I also love people who, if they take a knock or two, just dust themselves off, learn from it and have another go.

Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?

In a way, I feel as though I have many mentors although I might not have openly chatted with many of them about this role. For instance, a good friend, Denise Christey, is a business coach and her support and mentoring was incredibly helpful when I felt very stuck in an issue with the business. Ian Hemphill from Herbies Spices is an inspiration to me and has offered me invaluable mentoring. I genuinely feel that there are some strong parallels between my experience of being a parent and having this business. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” also seems to be true for me in terms of building Fruity Sacks into a flourishing business.

I think having turned my idea into a tangible product and showing people that I am determined and passionate about the bags and how they have the potential to contribute to the environment may have influenced people to get behind me in spite of my apparent limited business experience.

Even when I have been showcasing the bags in stores, women I have never met before have come up to me and said they will buy my bags because they think they are a great idea and they want to show me they support me in a concrete sort of way. Many people have offered me advice and support in almost every way you could imagine to help my idea become a reality. Everything from referring me to a fabulous designer for the bags and packaging, recommending manufacturers, providing marketing and sales advice, stocking the bags in stores that I shop at regularly, looking after my girls so I can go to sales meetings, dropping samples off to stores that are local to them, introducing me to the owners of some of the larger chains, taking great pics of the bags and posting them on their Facebook page… and so the list goes on.

What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path, and since then? How did you overcome these?

My own fear of failure was probably my greatest challenge to really making the bags happen. At first I also very much wanted to go on this journey with someone else, whose skills were complementary to my own, to support me and so that they could make up for any areas in which I felt I didn’t have the necessary skills or expertise. As time has rolled on, I have realised that I have plenty of initiative and I am usually good at getting help when I need it. I’m not sure there are many people who do absolutely everything themselves when they are trying to turn their idea or business into a success.

I also wish I could create a few extra hours in every day, at times when I am bright eyed and energised, not at the end of the day when I can flag a bit. As my youngest child gets older I am finding more time is freed up for me to concentrate on this part of my life.

What are your goals for the future?

I would like to see an end to rolls of plastic bags in fruit and vegetable stores. I want to see Fruity Sacks in all these stores in all countries. It is ambitious but it is my goal. Other than that I would love to give our children the security of living in our own home – with a bit of space so that they can run wild… they all have a touch of the wild thing in them!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?

There is a long history of people who have gone before us. They have started with an idea they were passionate about and made a difference, turning their dream into a successful business. I am blown away all the time by the number of people who have offered to help get me and the amount of support that has been offered. Sometimes I feel awkward or self-conscious about asking for help but I do it anyway. I know I love it when I am able to help people so perhaps most of us feel the same way.