The success story of Fruit and Veg City and Food Lover’s Market is the story of Hamiltons advertising as the two businesses grew together. Founder and managing director of Hamiltons, Lisa Currey, shares her entrepreneurial journey.
Currey started out as a graphic designer for Orange Marketing, a below the line agency in the ’90s. “It was pre-computer age so it was completely archaic. I remember rubbing down Letraset and working with easels and Rotring pens and slide rulers. We made all our own slides. But in hindsight it was the best learning experience I could ever have had, especially from a technical point of view,” she says.
After working with the AEs in the agency, Currey became fascinated with the client side of the business and wanted to learn more about marketing. She enrolled at Damelin, studied at night, obtained her IMM diploma in Marketing Management and then moved into client service working on a fashion retail account.
“I loved working in fashion retail and became client service director, but after a while I realised there were things I wanted to do differently. I wanted more transparency, more honesty, more authenticity and I had this notion to start up my own shop,” says Currey.
Currey opened Hamiltons in 1996 with five people, big dreams, barely any capital and as it turned out, no anchor client.
“I was pretty much running the fashion retail account at my old agency and naively assumed they’d come on board with me. But they didn’t. They wanted me to come across to them and when I didn’t, they preferred to wait on the sidelines before committing to anything.”
Growing the business with Fruit & Veg
But it wasn’t long before Hamiltons pulled in two big fashion brand clients, followed by another fashion retailer. Revenues were up and at this point, mainly generated from below the line advertising.
“We were surviving, but I wanted to grow the business. I started actively looking around to see who, how and where I could sign up new clients,” she says.
Currey came across an ad in one of the community newspapers for Fruit and Veg City. “It was just price and product. One of those ads that looked like burst arseholes all over the page with those big flashes. And I thought no, we can really offer the client something that will work better,” she says.
Currey decided to put some work together with her team and made an appointment to present it to the Coppin brothers, founders of Fruit and Veg City, then a fledgling brand, operating their head office from a caravan at the Epping market.
Currey was rewarded for her initiative immediately. When he saw the work they’d done, Brian Coppin wasted no time in booking a half page ad in The Argus the following week.
Food retail moves fast
“Food retail moves fast, but we delivered, and from one newspaper ad we then moved on and grew to handling the entire Fruit and Veg City Food Lover’s market account,” Currey says.
At the time Fruit and Veg City had six stores and were looking to grow that number. Hamiltons was handling all the advertising through the line and Fruit and Veg City was gaining momentum and opening more and more stores nationally, as well as in neighbouring countries, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola.
“Our relationship with Fruit and Veg City is totally symbiotic and we have grown our businesses together over the last 20 years,” says Currey.
“They have never had a marketing department, so we are their complete marketing partner, providing strategy, creative concept, store branding and design, packaging, merchandising and then taking it through to leaflets, print, radio and TV ads as well as social media content, conferencing, exhibitions, sponsorships and activations.”
Travelling and trends
The Hamiltons/Fruit and Veg City collaboration includes a large amount of travelling together, all over the world, doing research, looking at innovations and new trends inspiring fresh ideas.
It was during one of these world trips that it was decided to upgrade the brand from Fruit and Veg City to Food Lover’s Market. Shortly after that, Caltex approached Fruit and Veg to set up Fresh Stop convenience stores on their forecourts. Hamiltons then worked with Caltex and Fruit and Veg City on creating and rolling out the brand. There are currently 220 Fresh Stop stores nationwide and Hamiltons handles all through the line advertising on this account.
Hamiltons currently employs 37 people and is still growing. “I still like to think of us as a family and I like to be involved in absolutely everything. But the bigger we grow the harder it is to be involved everywhere so I have had to learn to delegate more,” says Currey.
Running a full-service agency with everything under one roof, including a full studio for film and stills shoots as well as post-production, has given Hamiltons a competitive edge. “We operate as a complete marketing arm. Clients can come in and sign off on their press ad while watching the TV shoot happening downstairs in our studio,” says Currey.
She’s excited about the studio that was set up five months ago. It allows Hamiltons to turn around TV ads and social media content from product, to script, to shoot, to edit to packaged and off the stations in 36 hours, while keeping costs down to a quarter of what it would normally cost to outsource.
Although she’s very much aware of being a woman in what is still a male-dominated business (retail), Currey doesn’t feel that she has had to compromise her values or change the way she does business, although she admits she has learned to “toughen up”.
“Of course as women we are emotional and sensitive, which I see as a positive because it helps when it comes to nurturing and retaining staff and understanding other people. But I’m astute enough that no-one will take total advantage of me and I’m lucky that I work with good clients so I’ve never had to be ruthless or hard-arsed,” she says.
Bettina Moss is a writer and speaker.
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