Challenges present countless opportunities for innovation – often it’s the very place where some of the most creative ideas are born.
Back in 1992, the agricultural sector was in the grip of one of Australia’s most devastating droughts with wool farmers facing crushing financial hardship as market prices crashed.
Stricken by losses and faced with insurmountable challenges, one little Queensland town pulled together to look for solutions that could help the livelihood of their tight knit community.
With a population of just 400 residents, Tambo is the oldest town in central Outback Queensland and thanks to some innovative thinking some 20 years ago, is now home to the famous Tambo Teddies.
During a community brainstorming session, three Tambo women – Mary Sutherland, Charm Ryrie and Helen Sargood – floated the concept of a teddy workshop that could support the local wool industry, encourage tourism and create much needed employment in the region.
Although the idea was initially met with scepticism, the women knew they had cottoned on to something worth exploring, and undeterred, forged forward with planning and designing their beary cuddly products.
By 1993, the first handcrafted Tambo Teddies made from local pelts and stuffed with Tambo wool were ready for market – and before long, the business was not only employing 15 locals on a part-time basis but also attracting curious visitors to their outback teddy workshop.
In 2014, a new chapter commenced for Tambo Teddies with local women Tammy Johnson, Alison Shaw and Kirralee Sanderson taking the business by the reins following the retirement of the original female founders.
New Tambo Teddies Owner, Alison Shaw said purchasing the business was an opportunity for them to re-energise an iconic business that had become part of the fabric of Tambo.
“Tambo Teddies is an icon of our town and when we bought the business, it was just ticking along. We wanted to make it great again, we knew it had the potential to grow and we were up for the challenge,” Alison said.
“We examined all aspects of the business with the goal of expanding, improving efficiency and profitability and of course continuing to support our local Tambo community.
“In 2018, we received an Advance Queensland Small Business Digital Grant and implemented a new Point of Sale system creating a better online customer experience.
“By 2019, we had stitched our 50,000th bear and were opening a bigger regional sewing hub in Toowoomba. The new hub helped us keep up with demand and allowed us to provide much needed regional employment opportunities for local refugees and migrant workers settled in the area.”
Since then, the business has continued to hit milestone after milestone and have been awarded prizes for the Google and RAI inaugural Regional Online Heroes competition and the Queensland Multicultural Award for small business.
This year, Tambo Teddies are expecting to reach $1 million in revenue and in the next 12-24 months they plan on securing B2B contracts for their non-bear products as well as exporting directly into overseas markets in the United Kingdom, Korea and Japan.
As a proud regional female entrepreneur, Alison reiterated the importance of having access to programs that support female founders to succeed.
“We are so proud of taking a cottage industry business and upscaling it without losing the essence of our product, and we know that access to support networks and programs have been vital on our journey,” Alison said.
“There is power in the female economy, and support through mentorship programs for women in business only strengthens this sector.
“Mentorship is a way to focus your thoughts. While you don’t have to take all of the advice given, tapping into external advice often triggers an idea into action.
“We participated in the Female Founders Mentoring for Growth program when our new regional sewing hub was just an idea bubbling away – this session focussed that idea, helped us identify existing contacts and make the connections we needed to bring the idea to life.”
For more than 20 years Tambo Teddies has continued to innovate, bringing their teddies into the hearts and homes of people across the globe, including the Royal Family! We can’t wait to see what comes next for the beary impressive women leading this iconic regional business.