How free business advice helped this business’ growth plan

Like many great local businesses, Nicolson and Bissett Espalier started with a good idea.

In 2001, Keith Nicolson couldn’t find espalier fruit trees anywhere in New Zealand and he thought, “If I’m looking for them, maybe others are too”.

Espalier trees are defined as fruit trees or shrubs that have their branches trained to grow flat against a wall, supported on a lattice, making them highly decorative or unique.

Over the next six years, Keith experimented growing his own trees. He developed different shapes, learnt when and where to do things, and experimented with different types of fruit trees. He also trialled different methods to lessen the impact of fungus and insects, and different soils types.

In 2016, Keith and his partner Helen decided to take their product to market – literally – by selling their trees at the local Farmers Market in Taupo.

“We wanted to test the waters, but quickly found it to be a great success,” says Helen. “We then expanded to Cambridge and Tauranga.

“Our sales indicated we had a saleable product, so then came a crossroads: Do we stay doing what we are doing, or do we take the leap of faith and go bigger, make a true commercial enterprise out of what we had?”

It was at this point the pair decided if they were to take that leap of faith they would need a helping hand, as neither knew what the next step was.

“We didn’t want to mess it up”.

Helen contacted the Regional Business Partner Network (RBP), through the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce, and was put in touch with Roz, who booked them in for a free business session with the Smart Economy Business Advisor (SEBA) Derek. 

This free business advice session is designed to help start-ups, sole traders and small businesses get off on the right foot, by making sure they have a viable business idea and helping them get the direction they need at those crucial early stages.

“Our first session with Derek pretty much blew us out of the water,” says Helen. “He was so enthusiastic about our business and quickly assured us we had an idea worth pursuing.

“He waxed lyrical about the espalier idea, but agreed it would be in our best interest to get help with the administrative side of the business. We discussed things such as creating business plans, what would be the best platform to market and sell the trees, and who would be the best people to contact if we decided to go online to advertise and sell the trees.”

“I think the thing that we got most out of the meeting was the affirmation espaliering trees was a good idea and more than likely a profitable one.”

Keith from Nicolson Bissett

After their first session, Helen and Keith went away to reflect on and implement some of the advice Derek had imparted to them.

“We made an appointment with the website guru, and started on writing the five-year plan. It was in writing the plan that brought home to me how much we needed help with the marketing side of things. There was just so much we did not know.”

Once they were more established in their thinking and planning, they returned for a second session a few months later to solidify the plans.

“During the second meeting we really got down to brass tacks, and discussed who and where we might go for marketing advice. We also looked at where we might go to get some of the more labour-intensive jobs done as we were going to be producing four times as many trees as we had on our own.

“We also had Derek answer some of the questions that had arisen while writing the five-year plan.”

So would they recommend Derek to fellow business owners?

“ABSOLUTELY! It was the best thing we did – not just for the business, but for ourselves.”

To find out more about the Chamber’s one-hour of free business advice, click here.

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