Small goods, big dreams
The success of Rob Beard’s Hawke’s Bay-based salami and smallgoods business pushed him to the edge. But now he has transformed his business, and in doing so he has redefined his idea of success.
The success of Rob Beard’s salami and smallgoods business pushed him to the edge. He suffered a heart attack and hit a wall, mentally. But with the right help and support, he has transformed his business, making it stronger and more resilient, and in doing so he has redefined his idea of success.
Rob Beard grew up in rural Hawke’s Bay, and was always a keen hunter, so it seemed natural to him and his wife Lara to process their wild game into meat products, and share them with friends and family.
Their goods started to get a glowing reputation, which encouraged Rob to step up his hobby into a full-time business, and Wild Game Salamis was born in 2011.
Rob built it up the business from scratch, gradually adding facilities and infrastructure until it was in full production, but the problem was – Rob was doing most of the work himself.
He often worked 12-14 hour days, seven days a week. He’d make the goods, pack them, put them in his car and deliver them himself. He was aiming high, winning awards, and the business was doing well – each month they added more and more stockists.
Then, aged just 38, Rob had a heart attack.
The long hours, loneliness, and being rushed off his feet had taken a toll.
“Starting a business … that’s probably the most lonely existence you can possibly think of,” Rob says.
“Especially when you’re by yourself and your brain just doesn’t stop – how am I going to make this happen? How am I going to spend time with my kids, and my wife? How can I give this business 120 percent? It was totally unsustainable.”
Doctors advised him to take it easy for the next six months, but within two weeks, Rob was back at it, because he had to be.
Rob wasn’t one for slowing down – he and Lara created a new small goods business named after their sons – Beard Brothers.
Around this time, Rob had a chance meeting with business consultant Bill Ritchie, who saw the couple were under pressure, and he agreed to come on as a business mentor.
“When your business grows really quickly, and you don’t have good resources around you and it’s your first foray into your own business, you can reach a point where taking that next step becomes something you have to do, rather than what you want to do,” Bill says.
Then, in early 2020, Covid-19 came along. The team were already busy producing goods for bulk orders, but demand continued to build, almost doubling during that period.
Even after the first lockdown ended, demand was strong.
At that stage, they were still producing bulk orders to be packaged in-store by the butchery department for a fee, so Rob invested in a label machine to do the packing himself.
Rob admits he’s not the best businessman in the world, and perhaps not the best with technology either – his passion is making sausages.
One day, it just got to be too much. Rob went home, closed the curtains, and went to bed – totally and utterly burned out, and experiencing deep depression.
“If you’re sleeping two hours a night for ten nights, which was what I was getting, something’s got to give,” Rob says.
“I should have listened to people like my mates who told me I was working too hard, or too much – I should have done heaps of things but, pig-headedly, I didn’t, and thought I’d be OK.”
As Rob recovered, Bill stepped in as General Manager, and advised Rob that things really had to change this time.
Rob needed to step away from the day-to-day of the factory, and stop shouldering the entire burden of a rapidly-growing company.
This time, Rob listened. He now focuses on marketing and sales, and with Bill’s help, they’ve implemented a neater business structure that spreads the load evenly.
ANZ NZ CEO Antonia Watson is among Rob’s biggest supporters, and first visited Beard Brothers when she was the bank’s Managing Director of Business Banking. She even tried her hand at sausage making.
“Rob’s infectious passion for what he does rubs off on people – he brings people in, and you want to see him succeed, and we’ve certainly done all we can to support the growth of his businesses,” says Antonia.
She applauds Rob’s decision to simplify his business and focus on his strengths.
“You can’t do everything yourself, and being prepared to let things go is actually an important step on your leadership journey,” she says.
Rob says the bank has been “absolutely fantastic”, including through the early days, when it stepped up to provide credit where other banks would not.
Now, things are looking up for Wild Game Salamis and Beard Brothers – they are developing and releasing new products, with their recent pork and puha sausages proving very popular.
“I think we’ve grown 220 per cent in the past 12 months,” Rob says, “and it wouldn’t have happened without getting help.”
“With the right people behind us, it’s just exciting again – and if you look at the time I can spend with the kids and Lara now – that’s real success.”
This year, Rob ran a fundraiser for Mental Health Awareness Week, where 50 cents from each pack of sausages would be given to Lifeline, and raised more than $10,000 for the cause, so even more Kiwis can get the help they need in tough times.
Republished with permission from news.anz.com