Cadenshae is a story about a thriving Northland business, but it’s also about love, family ties and a life well lived.
In the picturesque Northland seaside community of One Tree Point, Nikki and Adam Clarke are building a fast-expanding global business while raising three young children with a fourth on the way.
To boot they employ all four of their parents in the business and have transformed their previous lives as personal trainers and a former rugby professional (Adam) to start a business selling activewear for breastfeeding mothers.
And this three-year-old company is no minion. Cadenshae is on target to turn over $4 million this year – up from the $300,000 turnover in their first year.
The business is named after the couple’s eldest daughter Caden Shae, now aged four. She was closely followed by another daughter Ryan and the couple’s first son Kace, now 18 months old. Nikki was 40 weeks pregnant and expecting a second son any day when NZBusiness spoke to the couple.
It was after Caden was born that the idea for the business hit Nikki. As a personal trainer she’s an active person, loves to exercise and she wanted to return to work quite quickly. Despite several months scouring the Internet, she couldn’t find any nursing bras that suited a young mum wanting to be active and exercising but able to breastfeed as, and when, needed.
And this, she realised, was a major gap in the market – locally and internationally.
Cue 14 months later and Cadenshae was born, with activewear, nursing bras and other garments designed by Nikki and manufactured in China.
They now have three suppliers in China and while it was hard finding the right suppliers they believe that in some ways their naivety worked well. They approached a huge number of manufacturers and had a lot of samples made before deciding.
It was all done by email. Neither of the couple have been to China, as yet. Nikki jokes she has been either pregnant or breast feeding for the past four years so it made a trip impossible, but they have still managed to build up strong relationships and trust with their Chinese suppliers through email and Skype.
Two of their suppliers are smaller companies, which means Cadenshae is a big client.
Nikki is proud that their business means one of the suppliers is doing well enough to now have her children living with her in the city, rather than at home with grandparents in a rural area, as is the case with many Chinese families.
Nikki says their small suppliers are very hands-on and will ring if something has gone wrong.
“You do hear some horror stories, but we haven’t had any issues.”
The nursing bras and other active maternity wear are sold worldwide. While New Zealand is the core market, there’re good customer bases in Australia, Canada (where they now have an agent) and increasingly in the US, UK and parts of Europe.
And yes, Nikki is the model gracing the Cadenshae website. While she had done a little modeling, it was a practical decision because it’s more convenient not having to time the photography and styling around anyone else’s schedule. It also saves money.
A family affair
Both sets of parents now work in the business, with Adam’s parents having moved up from Southland. All three couples live within close proximity and Nikki and Adam have also bought a warehouse just down the road from home.
Adam says all four parents have a good eye for detail and admits they still get bossed around by the parental units. “We say to them, this is the job, you guys do it how you want to.”
Initially the business grew much more quickly than expected and with two young daughters in tow “we were all over the place at one stage,” recalls Adam. They quickly realised he was needed in the business full time too.
Nikki says Adam went from being a professional rugby player, to personal trainer, to chief bra packer in a pretty short period. His professional playing days were spent in his home region of Southland and then in Perth. He returned to Northland after recovering from a broken neck in Perth and, after a stint with the Northland team, became a personal trainer.
Nikki’s career path has included the Army, Airforce, beauty therapy and personal training.
The couple met in August 2012 in Northland. Caden was born the following October and in the past six years they’ve only been apart five days. They somehow managed to squeeze in a wedding last year and love working together and managing the children and household together.
Nikki calls Adam ‘Superman’.
As to marketing, when they started they grew so rapidly they found word-of-mouth was all that was needed. But in the past eight months they’ve started to push the brand out more.
Adam says they are trying to be ‘smart’ about growth, as they had people warn them how important cashflow is in a young business.
Asked about challenges, Nikki says “the kids” in jest. But logistics has been difficult.
As a young mum Nikki knew when you buy something online you want it delivered straight away and that wasn’t happening at first. Sometimes clients waited two weeks for a garment to arrive.
They’ve since brought DHL on board which has a driver going to One Tree Point twice a day to pick up and deliver. The driver will collect the packages in the morning and they’ll arrive in Sydney or Perth the next day. Quick delivery is now another selling point.
Another challenge is ensuring the right stock levels so manufacturing keeps pace with sales.
And being in Northland has been a bonus. They don’t believe they would have been able to get the business off the ground in a larger centre with higher costs and overheads.
“We didn’t know what we were doing and just tried to find the best way of doing things that we could,” recalls Adam.
Nikki advises other start-ups to keep an eye on the end goal and on why you are doing it.
“My main reason was solving a problem for active mums,” she says.
It’s been a steep learning curve. Their first shipment was held up for a long time at the border as Nikki didn’t know about importer codes.
“But if there is a way to do it, in the end if you keep going, you will always get there.”
Adam says it is worth noting too that you can have kids when creating a business.
“Anything is possible with hard work. And having a smart wife helps as well.”