The keys to success
By MEL MARTIN
WHETHER it was good business karma or plain hard work and determination is unclear, but for Ross Clayton the end result is the same.
The Vast Interior has made it to the 2005 BRW Fast 100, quite an achievement for a small furniture shop he started in Toormina not so long ago in 1991.
But Mr Clayton is far from surprised.
"People expect me to say I had no idea," he said.
"But we're only 10 per cent of where we're going to be in another five years."
The only furniture retailer to make the list, The Vast Interior made its debut at number 70 of the Fast 100 list, ranking third in the Retail Trade section, with a huge annual growth of 66 per cent.
And while there are now 23 stores nationwide, and his new Vast Homewares concept is already spreading fast, to Mr Clayton the achievement is that this business growth is now reaping rewards not for him, but for the countries he sources his products from.
"Something we've been working on for a while in doing all this is changing the world by one degree," he said.
Mr Clayton is providing funding for a school in India, which has had no ongoing funding other than wages since 1961.
"Already, from our visit, they've had a water bore put in, to supply freshwater to the children during the day, and they're getting new classrooms," he said.
"It's a direct injection of funds, there is no red tape. We want to give them a chance, really."
And there are plenty more to come, with a focus on children and education in India, China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
"I'm a big believer in business karma, and to take from a country and not give anything back is not a good thing," he said.
Part of this business karma is to make sure the products sold in his franchises have been ethically made.
"We're very conscious of how the furniture is made and where it's from," he said.
"We use plantation or recycled timber, and we make sure the products are manufactured by people who are working in a respectful environment."
And then there are the people who own the stores.
"Most franchises are owned by people who used to be customers or friends," Mr Clayton said.
"Chad (Sawtell, owner of Coffs Harbour store) used to be my business manager at the bank, another is the guy who used to mow the lawn here, and there is the guy who worked at the servo.
"The most important criteria for success in this business is hiring the right people to own and run the stores locally.
"Our people are passionate, extremely customer-focused and love what they do."
And Mr Sawtell couldn't agree more, saying the unique supply arrangements the organisation has negotiated with its Asian manufacturers is a key to success.
"We approach all of our supply arrangements as a partnership, and have invested significantly in a number of suppliers to improve the quality of the merchandise and at the same time contribute to the local community," he said.
"It's our conscience."