Country businesses using city start-ups to grow

Christine D’Mello

When Mark Wilson took over a restaurant lease in Casuarina in north-eastern NSW, he poured in $18,000 to fit the place with equipment and second-hand furniture bought from a local auction.

After six years of running the Osteria restaurant, he anticipates turning over $4.5 million this financial year.

Mark Wilson, owner of Osteria in Casuarina, relies on a Melbourne-based start-up for his tech marketing. Photo: Supplied

Tech marketing

Wilson uses PoweredLocal, a tech marketing start-up that generates word-of-mouth social media referrals, to build an online presence and reach new customer pools.

“When we started to expand our function business, someone we knew with a marketing background set up a Facebook page for us. That showed us the capabilities,” says Wilson, who runs the restaurant with his wife and one business partner.

PoweredLocal chief executive Michael Jankie aims his product at regional towns. Photo: Josh Robenstone

“Then the wedding business really took off and we expanded our focus on that area of the business. PoweredLocal was an extension of that essentially. They allowed to offer a Wi-Fi, which is now pretty much a given in any cafe, to have a social media reach.”

Osteria was able to capture a big slice of the wedding market with its function centre, and now does 150 weddings per year. “That has no signs of slowing down. We look like we will expand to 200 next financial year.

“We were a struggling restaurant that had about 14 staff, and we now have 66, and more than 60 per cent of the turnover is from the function business that was built on the back of that social media platform.”

Wilson hopes for double-digit growth year on year for the next five years as he invests in the venue.

Michael Jankie, general manager of Melbourne-based PoweredLocal, believes there are missed opportunities when start-ups expand overseas instead of looking inland towards rural areas.

“We would happily get 100,000 customers in Australia, without needing to jump offshore. So why wouldn’t you work locally, when there is so much opportunity here before going to the extra expense of jumping off outside Australia?”

PoweredLocal provides a free Wi-Fi solution to businesses that allows them to generate word-of-mouth marketing and build a customer database.

“I saw an interesting statistic about Australians using mobile phone data,” says Jankie. “It said 86 per cent of people actively seek out a Wi-Fi connection in a cafe or a public area when they are travelling domestically.

We were a struggling restaurant that had about 14 staff, and we now have 66, and more than 60 per cent of the turnover is from the function business that was built on the back of that social media platform.

Mark Wilson

“What this means for rural or regional businesses in a place that serves a transient demographic of people — mostly people passing through town or tourists — is that there’s an opportunity to capture a market that is not necessarily looking for the best of 30 pizza joints in a rural town, but somewhere they can have pizza and use the Wi-Fi.”

PoweredLocal conducts dedicated trips to regional areas and has an almost 80 per cent conversion rate on boarding new customers.

It has about 900 small businesses using its product, and aims to have 10,000 signed on by the end of the calendar year. About 20 per cent of these small businesses are regional.


Originally published at www.smh.com.au on April 23, 2017.

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