Q&A with Gordon Slater, Byron Bay Cookie Company chairman

Gordon Slater, chairman of local manufacturer Byron Bay Cookie Company, speaks to Manufacturers’ Monthly about the company’s transition from hand-made to machine production, and the important role exporting plays in its future growth plans.

What’s the best thing about being chairman of Byron Bay Cookie Company?

The best thing about being the chairman of Byron Bay Cookie Company is getting involved in all aspects of the business, from product development to operations and sales & marketing.

Plus I get to try a lot of different cookies!

How much time do you spend at your manufacturing facilities?

I split my time between our bakehouse in Byron Bay and our new head office in Sydney Chifley Towers which now employs a strategic team of 5 (and growing).

Our cookies are still baked in the original bakehouse in Byron Bay where we bake hundreds of thousands of cookies weekly!

We employ between 50 and 100 staff; this fluctuates throughout the year and we’ll bring on more casuals to cover our peak production periods.

We also have an office in London, UK and a presence in the US.

What’s the one piece of technology/equipment that Byron Bay Cookie Company could not manufacture without?

Over the last couple of years we’ve made sure to put the right equipment in place to remain innovative and ahead of our competitors.

Our cookies were originally hand made which gave us a certain point of differentiation, however limited us in terms of long term growth.

We’ve since made key equipment purchases enabling us to scale up production whilst remaining true to our traditional baking methods.

Byron Bay Cookie Company began in a farm-style kitchen and is now recording 17% year on year growth. Was this the plan from the get-go?

Our plan has always been to manufacture a superior quality product but more importantly, we understood very early on that we had found a niche for a great-tasting treat that can be enjoyed with a coffee and uses natural, locally-sourced ingredients.

As such we were the “original café cookie” and pioneered the concept of cookie jars in cafes and delis across Australia.

Whilst the café market remains at the core of our business, we’ve managed to maintain growth by expanding into the retail market and by acquiring other brands such as Luken & May biscuits and Falwasser crispbread.

How important are export markets to the longevity of your business?

Export markets have been key to our expansion from day dot.

The very first export market we conquered was the UK over 10 years ago.

This was a calculated risk at the time and we learned a lot from it as a business.

We first started shipping our cookies from Australia; however as customer demand grew we made the strategic move to embark into a joint venture with a local bakery so Byron Bay Cookies are now made in the UK for the European market.

The next market on our list was Japan and it’s interesting to see how each market reacts to different products.

Whist the Dotty is our number 1 seller in Australia and in the UK, it’s our Fig & Pecan that tops the list in Japan, and the Triple Choc Fudge in the US.

We’re always on the lookout for new export markets, and as such are planning on increasing our presence at key tradeshows overseas.

Byron Bay Cookie Company is a classic example of what Australian manufacturers do best: quality over quantity. Can you comment on this?

From the very beginning our mission was to bake great cookies using the finest quality ingredients. By enforcing quality through each step of the production process, we managed to create a highly loyal customer following and we grew from there.

The challenge over the years has been to remain innovative whilst maintaining the same quality and taste that took us where we are today.

Do you think the Australian government does enough to help the manufacturing industry?

The Australian government has put in place some great programs which we have taken advantage of over the years.

At the end of the day, it’s up to us entrepreneurs to keep challenging ourselves and continually push for more innovation and creative ways to take the business further.

Which other Australian manufacturers do you admire, and why?

Australian fashion manufacturers have done a tremendous job with growing their brands overseas; Billabong is the perfect example.

A great product will only take you so far; ultimately it’s about creating and nurturing a strong brand that will take us that extra mile and deliver returns.

You are also a practicing orthopaedic surgeon: does your surgery have the best lolly jar ever?

Without a doubt! It’s important for us to put our product forward at any given opportunity.

You know the saying, ‘never trust a skinny chef’? You own a cookie company: how come you’re so slim?!

I have my personal trainer to thank for this!

The biggest challenge is the constant travelling that I do (and the constant product testing!).

It’s all about balance and great time management.

I’ve always been very driven in business and this is something that I apply to my personal life and discipline as well.

 

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