71-year-old Nanaprenuer Elaine Mergard, who founded HatAcademy.com with her husband Graham, shares her secrets to success.
HatAcademy.com is the first educational website in the world to offer hat making courses via online video streaming. This unique small business based in Queensland, is owned by master milliner, Elaine Mergard and her husband Graham. Their son, Matthew, a graphic designer specialises in video and web design, is also an integral part of the business.
“The website was launched in 2012. In 2003 one of my peers, a milliner based in Brisbane had cancer and I despaired that if she passed away her skills learnt in the 1960s would be lost forever. I started to seek a way I could share my skills learnt from that era,” says Elaine. Then adds, “Initially DVDs were the answer but by the time the first 10 video lessons were edited streaming was available. The goal of Hat Academy is to create the next generation of Milliners by teaching techniques and enabling each one to develop their unique creativity.”
Q. What are your biggest challenges?
As a 71-year-old Nanaprenuer the technical side of an online business has stretched me. Working together as a family has its challenges but I often say to the team, “It is our business we are in control and if Plan A fails there is always Plan B.”
I love hats so much as they make a woman feel so feminine and so glamorous. As a teenager in the 1960s wearing hats was part of my life. I loved wearing hats to church and family weddings. During my training in the 1960s as a Home Economics teacher the subject of millinery was a requisite and this gave the opportunity to style hats to co-ordinate with dressmaking & tailoring skills we were taught.
Q. Do you outsource anything?
Each member of our team has specific tasks but as the business grows we will need to outsource to maintain growth. Currently one of our younger and successful students writes a weekly millinery blog. We are now leveraging off other Milliners streaming their skills through Courses on Hat Academy.
Q. Do you love sharing your passion?
In my retirement I am passionate about teaching millinery online to a younger generation, having taught millinery for many years at TAFE, USQ and Queensland Museum. These are heritage skills and it is vital that I pass on the tricks of the trade or they will be lost forever. Through the Hat Academy I love mentoring students to help them create a millinery business in their part of the world.
Q. What are you looking forward to next?
We will continue to add to the 80+ lessons offered on the site. Millinery is very innovative and we are currently editing lessons using thermoplastics in millinery, presented by a leading Sydney milliner. With milliners and students creating hats around the world we will add an online marketplace enabling them to sell their hats globally.
There have been hundreds of hats and customers- each headpiece uniquely designed and bringing so much delight. Making hats for Dame Quentin Bryce during her term as Governor of Queensland was a very special privilege, as she has such a sense of style. Seeing the clients faces light up when they see the completed hat that co-ordinates with their chosen outfit has meant so much to me.
Milliners are picture framers, framing beautiful faces with creative headwear. Most importantly, we receive regular emails from students whose lives have been changed by the opportunity to create their own business making beautiful headwear for other people.
Q. Do you go on regular holidays?
Small business must be about lifestyle and we are currently packing the suitcases to head off on holidays to Canada but catching up with students there for a ‘Hat Chat’.
Q. It can be challenging running a small business. What do you do to take care of yourself?
We downsized last year to enjoy sea views beside Moreton Bay but taking our online business with us had no challenges as there is no stock involved. Plus we are members at the Gym and with our fitbits keep ourselves physically active as oldies.
Q. Do you have any tips or tricks to deal with chasing late payments?
The beauty of an online business is it is all paid up front and therefore never any late payments. With the streaming system the student pays via Paypal and the lesson is streamed immediately and while we are asleep, as 70% of the business is international!
Q. What do you wish you had known about small business before you began?
This is not our first business and the success of Hat Academy is based on the tough days was experienced in Tourism in the 1980s. We struggled in those days but learnt that reaching out for help is vital for survival and growth. Before we commenced this business we completed the Queensland Government Business plan and sought advice through the local Business Enterprise Centre.
Q. What do you love the most about working in small business?
I love operating this online small business as I thrive on challenges as we set our own goals, make decisions and take responsibility for the consequences. We religiously have a team meeting every Monday morning to review the past week and stats, plan for the new week and projects for months ahead.
Q. Why do you think there is still such a good market for hats?
The trend of the 21st century is an era where learning traditional creative skills and the art of writing combine on online blogs throughout the world. This decade has seen the greatest resurgence in artistic headwear in the last 30 years. Milliners around the world thank Princess Kate, Lady Gaga, Boy George and the Great Gatsby for this ever evolving trend.
Wearing hats creates self-perpetuating demand. Australians spent $47.2million on fashion in the lead up to the Melbourne Cup and Country Racing is the must attend event in rural areas, with very competitive Fashion on the Field events. Unlike many creative activities, milliners have a variety of markets in which to sell their product for the racing, fashion, bridal/wedding, and entertainment industries.
HatAcademy.com is an innovative and niche business melding the creative and technological needs of a world in love with fashion.
This article was previously published on kochiesbusinessbuilders.com.au