The last word: Ginger & smart fashion designers

Originally published in Vive

"Don't forget to blow out the candles"

When Alexandra Smart rushes out of the sleek boudoir-like studio of Ginger & Smart at 6pm, she leaves her creative sister to the peace of after-hours designing.

“She’s always telling me to blow out the candles – I like to have three or four burning at once,” admits Genevieve, the younger sister who designs the luxe resort-style range of products that Ginger & Smart sell in 75 Australian stores and 15 overseas outlets.

“I’m usually here till quite late, so it’s the last thing on my mind when I finally leave.”

The scented candles that Genevieve burns so freely were one of the first products in the Ginger & Smart range, which now includes fashion, belts, bags and other beautiful products that fit under the umbrella of ‘precious treasures’.

Genevieve, a former designer for Lisa Ho, and her older sister Alexandra, a former magazine publisher, set up their brand in 2002 and now employ three staff at their Paddington headquarters in Sydney.

“I am your classic first-born child with an A-type personality,” says Alexandra, who has worked full-time on the business since 2002, shortly before the birth of her first child Ava.

The sisters came up with the idea for the business after Genevieve had a stint in hospital and craved luxe goodies like padded eye masks and scented candles rather than bunches of flowers.

“We realised that luxe was not about the money you spend, but the way things made you feel – so we developed and launched the spa range,” Alexandra says.

The sisters grew up in England and Australia with passionate parents who didn’t own a television and lived in a Tudor Cottage on “a pig farm without any heating or running water”.

“Basically, our parents encouraged us to make our own fun from our imagination – I’m not sure I would have worked in fashion if it hadn’t been for my childhood,” Genevieve says.

“Mum would take us into an Op Shop and have us pick something out that we’d end up chopping and changing or customising it with new buttons.

“They call it vintage now, but back then it was just plain op shop and it was awful.”

Genevieve recalls childhood games of making fairy gardens with sparkly rings nestled in piles of flower petals and a dress-up box “full of amazing vintage clothes and petticoats”.

Alexandra lost herself in books and sport as a child and as she entered her late teens, the sisters fought and bickered as most siblings do.

“It was only as we got into our twenties and later in our thirties that we really came together again as sisters,” Alexandra says.

And now, the business is growing so rapidly that the siblings spend more time talking about “niggly day-to-day business things” than sisterly things.

Of course, Genevieve and Alexandra are close – Genevieve was at the birth of Ava – “Our partners get really annoyed at family events because we are always hoping no-one will notice us talking quietly to each other about what’s going on with the business.”

The two of us: Zohl De Ishtar & Tricia Hanlon

Published in Good Weekend

Designer and post-graduate student Tricia Hanlon, 67, is the oldest of seven children, including twin Zohl de Ishtar, 53, a peace activist and post-doctoral research fellow.

TRICIA:

Of course Zohl is not her original name. I am never allowed to tell anyone her initial name. She would eat me alive. She was originally named for our grandfather, for goodness sake. We presented mother with a written petition when she got home from hospital with the twins. We said you cannot possibly call this twin by that name. That set the scene for Zohl to change her name later.

I was 14 when the twins came. The rest are dumber than you for a long time so you get away with a lot being the first-born. I’d have to bathe the twins, Zohl and Fran, when I got home from work, but I found creative ways of doing my share. I would take off my stilettos and stockings and make the twins wash my feet.

We were stuck in this semi-rural area of Adelaide, so going out with a boy was my escape from the house. This poor boy was trying to be nice to all these children lined up against the wall watching him. Zohl came up and went ‘dah’ and handed him a little marble of poo, which he took willingly. I was mortified.

Dad died six weeks before I got married, and I became loco parentis to the rest of the children. Mother was a young widow with five children still at home. I spent half my life at various schools sorting out those children.

There was the great denim jeans incident. Zohl made a pact with 10 students to refuse to wear school uniform. By the end of the week, she was the only one still holding to the vow. The headmaster wasn’t happy. I insisted she had the right to wear what she wanted. I was a fashion designer, wasn’t I?

I remember Zohl trying to work out what she wanted to do when she left school. I think it was hard for her to be the youngest twin. She had this weight of sisterhood on top of her. Four older sisters and two brothers. She was definitely at the bottom of the totem pole.

But she went on to have marvellous adventures. She built a gypsy wagon -style caravan called Ishtar and travelled Australia. Then she just disappeared. She told me she would see me on Thursday – and she didn’t come back to see me until eight years later. On a Thursday.

We stayed in touch with letters. She went to Greenham Common in England, which is where she came out and realised she preferred women. It never shocked me or worried me. It was not like she had not had more men than me in all my life. In the 1970s, you got to sleep with them; in the 1950s, you could not. She did say to me, years later, that I should have presented lesbianism as an option to her during our ‘Girls Talks’, but it just wasn’t something I ever thought about.

She didn’t have a structured career. Shewas off traipsing the world, doing a bike ride for peace or sitting in the middle of somewhere they were going to drop a bomb. I thought if Zohl didn’t get a qualification, she could just be a burnt out hippy.

When she became Dr Z in 2003, I thought it was just wonderful. She was part of the 1000 Women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Now she’s encouraging me to be Dr T, with my fashion thesis. She helps me navigate the world of academia and research.

I find it fascinating that we grew up in different decades, almost different generations, yet we are surprisingly similar. You should always live your life as a social experiment, and I think Zohl agrees. I inhaled the 1950s and got a smoking habit from Gauloise cigarettes. She inhaled the 1970s, marijuana smoke and all. We are like bookends, really.

ZOHL:

I can’t remember when Tricia didn’t have green hair. I’m Irish-Australian and I always tell people I am proud of that – but my sister is more proud. I mean, she has green hair. She’s not normal by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s always been creative. She says her hair-colour is ‘the thinking woman’s blue rinse’.

We have arguments, of course, but she is my mentor. She has never stopped playing the older sister. Even when she’s wrong, she’s right.

She always gives me books as presents. One Christmas I opened up my present to find three books I had lent to her. She had wrapped them especially. She really did think she had bought them for me.

So much of what I have done in my life has been reflected through deep conversations with Tricia. She knows more about me and what I’m up to than anyone else on the planet.

She even came to visit the remote Aboriginal community where I did my research She gave me a place to live when I wrote my thesis, Holding Yawulyu. White Culture and Black Women’s Law. She even came to visit the remote Aboriginal community where I did my research. There was Tricia dragging a branch behind her, juggling a coffee and a cigarette in her hand. The elders said, ‘Oh your sister, she works so hard’, but my other sister was actually doing all the work building this shed. Tricia gets a lot of credit that might not be hers, but she takes it anyway.

She ran the Ginger Workshop, which was this amazing collective of artists in Adelaide. One of the friends I met there asked if I wanted to go to Nimbin. I was trying to work out what to do with my future, so I turned to Tricia for advice. She sent me a telegram, which I still remember: ‘Don’t pull the lever STOP Let the river flow STOP’. Who knows what that meant? I took it to mean make up your own bloody mind and get on with it. I followed my feet and went to the Aquarius Festival. It was the event of the 1970s and put me on the path to the rest of my adventures.

When I was young, I remember her standing around with a long cigarette holder. She was so beautiful. I mean, she used to be a model. Her room was a treasure trove. I used to sneak into her bedroom when she wasn’t around and play with her stuff. I remember her jewellery, I used to rearrange it all the time.

On Friday nights we’d have Girl Talks. Tricia did talk about sex occasionally and I remember thinking, ‘Nu-uh, I’m not going there’. It was there and then I decided I wasn’t going to have babies.

One of the things that annoys me about being the youngest is that there is a whole life that happened before you were born. All the sisters like to talk B.Z., or Before Zohl, and they do it on purpose to annoy me. See, I don’t know anything about that poo story, and I only found out that a rhinoceros pissed on me a few years ago. I mean, you think you had a bad childhood? I was pissed on by a rhino. Tricia left my pram in front of the rhino cage at the zoo when I was a baby.

I guess the good thing about it is that that's Tricia.

The two of us: Valerie Parv & Paul Parv

Published in Good Weekend

Romance novelist Valerie Parv, 53, is one of Australia’s best-selling international author with more than 25 million books sold around the world. The State Library of NSW has been archiving her papers since 1994. She has been married to her own romantic hero, a former crocodile hunter, cartoonist and layout artist, 79-year-old Paul Parv, for 34 years.

VALERIE

“I think we are an odd couple: Crocodile Dundee meets Barbara Cartland. I’m a bit of a disappointment as a romance writer unfortunately. We don’t live in a fancy house or have a heart-shaped swimming pool. We haven’t even owned a car for 25 years. I get up every day at four or five in the morning and just write.

I was the child bride and he was the cradle snatcher when we got married. It was March 1971, in the registry office in Sydney. I was the junior copywriter at Nock & Kirby’s and he was the senior layout artist.

Our first date was to celebrate that I passed my advertising exams. Paul wanted to take me to his favourite fishing spot, Ashton Park, at the bottom of Taronga Zoo on the harbour. It sounds terribly civilised to say that now, but back then it was wild and you had to plough through bush to get there. We caught a ferry and then a bus and we walked for miles. The papers had reported that a decomposed body had just been found in the park. I was a teenager and here was this man of the world taking me into the bush. As we battled our way through more scrub, I realised that this was the sort of man – and situation – my mother had warned me about.

He’s always been determined to turn me into an outdoor adventurer. We’ve been camping to all sorts of wild places. He used to sleep with a double barrelled shotgun beside us in the tent. It was a monster of a gun. I’d be terrified if he did it now, but back then it seemed normal. I think it even made me feel safe.

Paul is still the most fascinating person I know, even after 34 years. I suppose he is my muse. I steal bits of him for all my characters, but it’s not always the bits you think. A lot of the time it’s the courage he shows. He’s a survivor. He’s been through war, hunted crocodiles. He is larger than life. The romance of his life definitely infects the characters I create.

I don’t regret not having children. To be honest, I was so in love with Paul that I didn’t want any substitutes. That’s the absolute truth. Having an older husband meant there was a good chance I would be left with a child and that would be no substitute for him.

Growing is a good word. We grow together. I have thrown him out on more than one occasion. Relationships always require work, especially to keep romance alive. Very soon after Paul was retrenched from Nock & Kirby’s in the 1980s, he started drinking heavily. There I was at the start of my Mills and Boon career, I had published my third book and my books were starting to earn serious money. Overnight we went from equality to me being a big breadwinner. It was a very hard adjustment for him to make. And painful. I suggested he leave to give us time apart. Naturally he came back and we sorted it out. He’s the only man I’ve ever truly loved.

If there was one thing I could change about him, it would be to make him 20 years younger. It would give us more time together. I don’t want to think about losing him. Six years ago he had a dreadful accident. It was truly frightening and awful. He’s had to use a walking stick since then. We were on quad bikes on a beach in New Zealand and I just looked back and saw him miles down the beach. He was only a blob under a machine. I raced back to him. Adrenaline just took over. I lifted the machine off him. Horrific. He was bruised all over from the neck down. He’s had troubles since then.

He does get jealous. He doesn’t like my affection for William Shatner. I am a huge Star Trek fan and have a collection of Hallmark figurines. I often walk into the room and find that Paul’s arranged Captain Kirk to be in the line of the phasers.

Living romance is more important than writing about it. It’s not just chocolates and candelit dinners. I think you always have to remember what attracted you to your partner. A lot of people forget that and turn into their husband’s mothers. We never let an occasion like an anniversary or birthday pass unnoticed. Paul gives me a Wish Day every now and then. Whatever I want to do, whatever I want to eat, whatever I fancy is all mine. The last Wish Day we had was a hot air balloon ride. We had to be there before dawn, which was fine for me, but not so easy for him to be up so early. Then we had a champagne breakfast afterwards. It was perfect.”

PAUL

“I used to be conceited but now I’m perfect – I think the accident is the only thing that shows otherwise. That quad bike was my own stupid mistake. Being as I am, I took unnecessary risks. It’s terrible to grow old, but it’s better than the alternative.

Now I have to use this walking stick. The stick is the best birthday present Valerie ever got me. It is solid timber with a great handle that has a telescope in it. It has already come in very handy. We were at a book sale the other day in this great big hangar and I lost her. It was a hell of a big place so I just looked around with my telescope and found her at the other end of the building.

I think the best gift I ever gave Valerie is myself. When I first met her, I thought she was a cute chick. Such life in her. I kept saying to myself ‘don’t be so silly’. She is so young and we are from different cultures, a different race. When I first kissed her, it was like a peck from my mother-in-law. I had to tell her to put some feeling into it. She’s improved since then.

I am from Estonia. I arrived in Australia in 1948. I was put into what you would call migrant camps and they gave me a job as a gardener. I tried everything to sabotage that job. So boring. A notice appeared for workers in the Northern Territory to work for the Department of Defence, so I signed up. The contract was for two years, but I stayed for five. I must have liked it.

To me, the Northern Territory was like a huge Disneyland. It was the first time in my life I had seen live crocodiles and buffaloes and snakes. I had a great teacher, Ginger Palmer. Back then I didn’t consider crocodiles animals – to me they were monsters. To my surprise I learned from older crocodile shooters that there was money involved in their skins. This job just became better every day. The Greeks would pay so many shillings per inch of a 10-foot crocodile skin. We would shoot dozens a week and get 10 pounds a crocodile.

The novice hunters would get into scrapes because they would try to hunt in the day. And they would use long shots because they didn’t want to get close. But it was best to go out in the dark, in the dug-out canoes. You would take the torch and shine it in the crocodiles’ eyes. Then you’d shoot them. And tie them to the back of the boat.

It was a great life. I had a dingo friend. Unfortunately I shot his mother and the puppy was left so I took him home and trained him. I called him Dingie. One day the police came knocking. There was a bounty on dingoes and I think you got two pounds for a dingo scalp. The police were going to shoot Dingie. I told them I would do it and I put Dingie on my motorbike and drove to the bush. I said ‘Go, Dingie, Go’. I had to throw rocks at my lovely pet to make him run away. That was one of the rare times in my life I cried. I just took myself off to the nearest pub and got terribly drunk.

I don’t think marriage is hard work. You feel a sort of happiness when you see your partner. If Valerie was to go first, I would buy a gun cheap. I would make a short trip to go up and see the boss. It will be no good living without her.

I read all of Valerie’s work. She gives a lot of talks about writing. I go with her to everything. I am sitting at one of these talks and the lady next to me says ‘Isn’t she wonderful’. I tell her, ‘I know, I’ve been married to her for 30 years’. She turned to me and said ‘oh, you must be Mr Valerie’. So I hit her with my stick.”

The two of us: Wilson da Silva & Alan Finkel

Published in Good Weekend

Wilson da Silva is the editor and creator of Cosmos, a science magazine backed by Dr Alan Finkel. Finkel, the millionaire founder of Axon Instruments, has spent $US400,000 buying tickets for da Silva and himself in the hope of being the first Australian space tourists to fly on Virgin Galactic in 2008.

WILSON

“I had no more expected to go into space than be Secretary-General of the United Nations. I still have to tell myself ‘I’m going into space’ just to make it real.

Alan is a big fan of the Apollo missions and the short version of a very long story is that he bought himself a ticket to get on board the first commercial space flights. He rang me at some hour of the night on my mobile and said, ‘What do you think of the technology, is it safe. Do you think it’s going to work’. He was looking for someone to talk to … someone as enthusiastic about the idea of space as he was. He also asked if I wanted to go into space. I said, ‘Well that would be nice, but I don’t think I can afford it’. So he bought me a ticket.

I met Alan at a science journalism awards dinner back in 1996. He sat across the table from me and was like a laser, focusing on me and asking a million questions. He’s very intense and operates at 120 per cent capacity all the time. I don’t think he ever sleeps.

A few years later, I was flicking through the BRW Rich List and saw a picture of Alan and his wife Elizabeth. They were worth like $215 million and I nearly fell off my chair. I just never pictured them as that wealthy. It surprised the bejesus out of me and I filed it in the back of my mind

Alan got in touch with me again when I was editing a science magazine called Newton. He loved the mag and wanted to buy hundreds of subscriptions to give to his clients. Soon after that, Newton closed and his wife sent me a lovely email saying the publishers had been short-sighted.

In 2004 I wrote an email to Elizabeth along the lines of: if you guys are serious about Australia needing a quality science magazine, then my partner Kylie and I have a proposal for you.

We had a three-and-a-half hour lunch and he grilled us about everything – we just kept talking on and on and on until there was no-one left in the restaurant. I knew I really liked him. We drank red wine and ate pasta. I liked the depth of his mind. He was sharp, sharp, sharp.

Things soon changed from niceties to ‘bang, we are in business’. He got his lawyers to talk to our lawyers but that nearly killed the deal. The lawyers bred a lot of distance between us.

Alan rang me and said ‘Let’s fire the lawyers – if you want to steal my money and take off to Brazil, no lawyer will stop you’. We have had a dream run with him as an investor. He has put up seven figures, a not insubstantial amount, to create Cosmos.

It was just a few weeks later that Alan made the offer to send me to space. But he rang Kylie and asked if I had felt pressured into accepting. Kylie told Alan that he was like a genie to me, which is completely true.

‘Oh genie Alan, can I have a science magazine?’ Yes Wilson.

‘Oh Alan, can I go into space?’ Yes Wilson.

Right now, there are only 444 people in the whole world who have been into space. I am expecting it to be an exceedingly emotional experience. Some people come back and discover religion. One of the guys that came back from the moon is now a Christian evangelical and another is a painter who paints obsessively about the moon, desperately trying to recapture that feeling of intensity that being in space gave him

Virgin Galactic has actually asked us whether they should provide meal service and have a hostie on the flight and Alan’s reaction was ‘Are you kidding?’. Space flights are supposed to be ‘only the brave’ and a hostie asking if you want a Diet Coke would ruin that.”

ALAN

“Wilson and I didn’t come together from friendship. We’d been only the briefest of acquaintances and that has now developed into a business partnership and a friendship.

I wouldn’t say I am any kind of genie because no matter how much Wilson rubs that magic lamp, he doesn’t just get something by putting up his hand.

Space is a gut level desire for me. I am frankly excited about being up in that void and seeing the black sky punctuated by non-sparkling stars. I can’t wait to feel the slow motion of zero gravity.

A private person can go into space today for $25 million. That’s too much to pay. $US200,000, while not an insignificant amount, is an accessible amount. People spend more than that on cars. You see someone in a Porsche and you might envy them but you don’t ask them why they have spent so much money on it?

I prefer not to think of it as $US200,000 for seven minutes in space. I prefer to think of it this way – there are three years of anticipation, six days of training which finish with two days of not eating solid food. The actual flight will be two to three hours of circling up in the mother ship, and then some tense minutes of being launched up into space for seven minutes of weightlessness before descent.

It’s fun to do things with friends. Blokes bond by doing things together. It’s not that I am altruistic, I’m actually entirely selfish. I want Wilson to come along because it’s no fun travelling by yourself. You have no-one to reinforce the memories or reminisce with later.

It’s entirely appropriate for the editor of a science magazine to be on the bleeding edge. He should write about it to bring the magic of space alive for our readers, in the same way it was for me when I was a kid reading National Geographic and Scientific American.

Since I’ve retired, I have had a substantial number of business plans come by me but there are very few that I have invested in. I think Wilson just rubbed the right spots for me on my lamp. I get something out of it too. I love that the Cosmos office has a start-up feel. I love it even more that it’s them and not me. I’ve been there, done that and I can get vicarious pleasure from watching them do it.

Wilson is a little stubborn. He’s got the Brazilian fire which I don’t want to put out. If I was an editor, there are things I would do differently. We definitely have constructive tussles.

If he was not the editor and co-founder of Cosmos, it would never have come up about him going into space. But the gift is his regardless of what happens to the business. It was not like, here are some milestones you have to achieve and then you get your bonus in the form of a free trip into space. Let’s just do it, see it, write about it and enjoy it.”

Sir Terence Conran Rewind & Fast Forward

Published by Sunday Life

I used to be incredibly shy. I could never have envisaged what was ahead of me. My wife, Shirley [whom he divorced in 1962], probably organised the photo. She was my live-in lover at that time and worked in my furniture showroom [for Conran and Company in Notting Hill]. Shirley said, “You aren’t going to get anywhere unless you understand press publicity.” She was right.

I was broke at that age. That’s why I had that hole in the toe of my shoe. I wore a suit from the 50-shilling tailor. I already owned a restaurant in 1954 – a soup kitchen, in fact.

I have been known to take food out of the rubbish bin. I find younger people throwing things away that are perfectly good to eat. During the war we were incredibly hungry and I hate wastage. I’m just mean about it. Or maybe “careful” is a better word.

The Cone Chair I am sitting in became quite famous because it was unusual-looking but remarkably comfortable. We re-did the Cone Chair five years ago but they weren’t terribly great sellers.

I think the furniture world wasn’t ready to embrace the spirit of the 1950s that has worked so well in the fashion world.

I like to bring ideas – whether it’s hotels or restaurants – and recycle them. I don’t like to think of things as being good taste or bad taste. It’s not taste; it’s a style of life.

People do credit me with bringing the duvet to Britain. I had been in Sweden in the 1950s and was given a duvet to sleep under. I probably had a girl with me and I thought this was all part of the mood of the time – liberated sex and easy living.

It was wonderful that when you came to make your bed, it was just a couple of shakes of the duvet. We sold duvets at Habitat [Conran’s first large-scale retail chain] and called them the “20-second bed”.

The secret of my success was the frustration of not being able to sell my ideas. No one would buy any of my early designs so I had to start businesses to sell them to the public.

I have a furniture workshop, Benchmark, just outside my house in the country in Berkshire. I still design by drawing and I hand it to a man who CAD-ifies it for me [CAD – computer-aided design – is a software application used in manufacturing and drafting]. There are 45 employees working with highly computerised machinery.

I design something on a Sunday and have a finished prototype by Friday. We make one-tenth-scale models of everything we design. My office has 400 or 500 models of furniture sitting on the shelves. It’s like being in a doll’s house.

FAST FORWARD

I’ve got more going on now than I’ve ever had. I have work all over the world – architecture, hotels, restaurants, furniture [the Conran Group has eight Conran Shops and more than 20 restaurants worldwide].

I’m about to launch Bath by Conran, a range of towels and bath mats, in Australia.

My fourth wife, Vicki [Davis], has given me three stepchildren. I have five children: Sebastian; [fashion designer] Jasper; Tom, who’s into restaurants; my darling Sophie; and Ned, who enjoys restoring old cars.

I have 11 grandchildren. The moment they arrive, they make their home in a 1950s caravan we found and painted a jolly colour. We put Jasper in the caravan, too.

Sales pitch: the high performing sales people and how they make us say yes

Originally published in Sunday Life

SELLING IS ABOUT HUNGER MORE THAN MONEY

Seventy-nine-year-old Bill Bridges rises at 5am, seven days a week, to practise yoga and then sell homes to Sydney’s wealthy. Bridges, a prestige real estate agent, is neither smooth nor schmoozy. “People know I’m a bit rough but I say, ‘Do you want me to sell your house or do you want an elocution lesson?'”

Bridges has held several records for selling the harbour city’s priciest properties, including the waterfront Altona for $28.5 million. “It won’t be a record for long,” says the pint-sized Bridges. “I will be busting to break it again.” Setting sales records – and collecting his 2 per cent plus GST commission – is a hunger that never wanes for Bridges. The thrice-married father of six says selling isn’t just about getting rich.

“Of course money motivates me. But so does winning. I like to win.”

Melbourne advertising bigwig Harold Mitchell, who made a living nailing hard deals with media owners for more than 30 years, says his own selling technique is simple: go for the kill and crush the opposition. “For someone like me who doesn’t drink, doesn’t gamble and doesn’t smoke, it can be exciting,” he says. “I like to play on people’s fear. I want them to be more scared of me than their boss. I want a deal that’s in my favour.”

John Lombard, the managing director of recruitment company Sales Staff Australia, says salespeople fall into two categories: the hunter or the farmer. “Farmers are the relationship managers. They are about solution selling and knowing that if they can give the customer what they want, they will get their sale. Hunters won’t stop until they get their kill. Farmers protect existing business; hunters get new business,” he says.

He says the farmer is typically a better team player than the “egomaniac hunter” but “all salespeople can be challenging to manage. They all say, ‘Yeah, I can sell and I meet my budgets,’ but we are dealing with chameleons. Salespeople put on a persona and their resume is 50 per cent crap.”

THE TUPPERWARE TYPE

While money seems like an obvious motivator, a truly great salesperson wants more than just cash. Companies such as Tupperware rely on rewards – cars, jewellery and overseas holidays – to ensure salespeople, who are paid commission only, remain hungry enough to keep surpassing sales targets.

Jenny Collina, a 53-year-old mother of three from Essendon in Melbourne, began selling Tupperware in 1991 when she owned a kids’ clothing shop and needed income to “pay the bills that the shop was not paying”.

Within three months, she was achieving the required $17,500 of monthly sales to earn herself a Tupperware-paid-for car. Within another three months, Collina was promoted to manager.

Today, she is a “group leader in qualification”, overseeing a team of 25 demonstrators and earning a monthly performance-based bonus. As one of Victoria’s highest-ranked Tupperware sales performers, she attends three or four “parties” a week. “It’s not pyramid selling,” says the woman who customised her kitchen pantry to fit her own 160 Tupperware containers. “It’s recognition.”

Tupperware trains its sales force in positive selling techniques. “Explaining and demonstrating the benefits of Tupperware is what makes it different to a container you get from a supermarket shelf,” says Collina.

For example, she says, “The Modular Mates have a clear window and the benefit is you can stand back and look at what you have in the pantry before you go grocery shopping.”

Demonstrators handle customers with deft word choices. “Tupperware teaches you how to be assertive, not pushy. You overcome objections by using positive words,” says Collina. So if someone questions the cost, the demonstrator talks about quality. “Tupperware don’t tell you what to say,” she says. “It has to come from you.”

THE SALES TECHNIQUE THAT WORKS

As Harold Mitchell often sits on the other side of the boardroom table from salespeople flogging him space on their television network or in their newspaper or magazine, he is qualified to comment on which sales techniques work and which don’t.

“Those deals where a large group of salespeople come into a room with a lot of charts don’t work. They usually forget to ask for an order.” He says swish PowerPoint presentations don’t sell; saying exactly what you want sells. “One single person intent on doing a deal is the only sales team you need.”

Lombard says good salespeople are hard to find. An average full-time salary is about $60,000 a year plus a car, superannuation and commission.

“Good operators demand $120,000 to $140,000 as a base. People selling in large global enterprises can basically write their own cheque,” he says. “We placed a guy selling data storage and he made nearly $900K last year, $780,000 of which would have been commission on $10 million deals.”

Banks typically pay high salaries to salespeople, as do software companies and professional consulting firms.

King-hitter Mitchell says his success “probably comes down to ego”. Says Lombard, “What drives that ego is the action, the recognition or the money. I’m here to tell you a salesperson’s drive is the No. 1 reason they are any good. You can put anyone through the most advanced, state-of-the-art sales training but if they have no drive, they will fail.”

SALES ALSO WORKS IN CHARITY: MEET SKYE LECKIE

Charity worker and socialite Skye Leckie doesn’t exactly fit the slick salesman stereotype: she has no wares to spruik and no need to earn a cent in sales commission. Make no mistake, though, the woman is a selling machine – last year, she raised more than $3 million for charity in one evening.

As the chair of the Sydney Children’s Hospital Gold Dinner Committee, Leckie co-organised the event that sold a private Silverchair concert to one bidder for $5000 and a private movie screening with critics David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz for $7500.

“The guests know they are there to spend up big,” explains the foundation’s chief executive, Elizabeth Crundall. “Companies want their tables to be the most active and lively.” Charities fall over themselves to recruit social high-flyers like Leckie to their cause, knowing these people become the sales agents for charity donations by bringing cachet and a little black book of connections.

Leckie spends months planning, scamming and roping in freebies from more than 700 businesses. “You do have to pitch all the time. [But] I would prefer to put knitting needles in my eyes than try to sell someone something,” says the 48-year-old wife of Seven Network chief David Leckie.

“You’re selling the cause of helping children, which is not like selling a product. I am always focused on what I am asking for,” she says. “I take a deep breath and hope they don’t run away from me but I am very blunt.”

Leckie sweet-talked former prime minister John Howard into donating time to have lunch with 10 guests, to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Originally, his office offered her a signed photo of Howard. “I said, ‘That’s really sweet of you but it has to be a money-can’t-buy opportunity.'” The PM lunch at Machiavelli raised fierce bidding and $60,000.

Leckie even took off her clothes – figuratively – in the name of a sales pitch for charity, flashing a topless painting of herself on the big screen to auction a sitting with its artist, David Bromley. Leckie shrugs away any embarrassment and points out that the tactic worked – the commission was bought for $20,000.

WHO NEEDS BOOKS?

Bill Bridges’s competitive streak may stem from his years working on the racetrack before becoming an estate agent in 1950. “I never wanted to be anything but a jockey. But then I fell in love with the knife and fork and ate myself out of the saddle,” he says.

Bridges has never read a book on sales techniques and poo-poos the real estate agents “who all hug each other and think they’re wonderful. The only skill that matters is S-O-L-D. Sold. Did you sell it? A house is never sold until the contract has exchanged and the 10 per cent deposit is in the bank.”

Marketing, databases and “relationship management” are the buzzwords of modern sales. Instead of slick websites, Bridges’s marketing tool is one sheet of paper with a list of 45 sales ranging from $1.8 million up to $28 million.

“Some of the agents are like greyhounds; they will hunt but not kill. They’re more interested in pictures of themselves,” he says. “I don’t put up any glossy pictures of me anywhere. I have a picture of my dog because he’s better looking.” And sure enough, there is a picture of a Jack Russell terrier on the sands of Bondi with the caption: “Bill Bridges’s spiritual guru – Quigley.”

“Salespeople know their customers are smarter – 20 or 30 years ago there was this arrogance that you could pull the wool over a customer’s eyes. There were shoddy tricks like the car dealers who would throw a customer’s keys on the roof while they kept them in a room trying to sell them a car,” says Lombard. “Now it’s about the win for the customer. The buyer is buying rather than being sold to.”

Melbourne car salesman Jason Smith, 36, works for Bib Stillwell BMW selling high-end vehicles such as the $364,000 6 Series. His dealership keeps customer records on a database, knowing the average BMW owner “holds” a car for two years and eight months before upgrading. During that period, Smith will contact the owner eight times, usually over the phone.

“People don’t like it when you call them up without a reason but I ask them, ‘How is the car?’ or ‘Has anyone admired your car recently?’ That’s a really good way to get referrals. If they say, ‘Oh yeah, John the neighbour liked it,’ then I ask them for John’s number and I’m on the phone to John,” he says.

Smith may invite a customer to a special VIP night where new models of Rolex watches and BMWs are on display. He may cold-call a customer to offer them a test drive of a new-model BMW. “When you have them face-to-face, you have to build a rapport. You have to be able to read people,” he says. “Eight out of 10 people that walk into a dealer will buy a car. There is a showmanship in selling. The people who aren’t successful fail because they only do things their way. They don’t tailor themselves to the customer.”

So who are the hardest customers to crack? “Accountants and real estate agents,” says Smith. “Accountants always try to get the price down. Those bloody land rats won’t stop negotiating and never give you a chance to close the sale. Salespeople – they can’t stop themselves.”

WHAT MAKES US SAY YES?

“What makes a person say yes is the value proposition – WIFM: ‘What’s in it for me?’ For ‘traditionalists’, it’s all about price, a deal, a discount, function, features and urgency. It doesn’t matter if the salesperson is on the phone, at the front door or behind a counter, those things will drive the sale for 8 million Australians. The ‘neo-consumer’ is more concerned with how it feels and whether the item has a sense of investment or will become more expensive or valuable later on. They are two entirely different sales cases.”

Ross Honeywill, consumer behaviourist and sales trainer, the Centre for Customer Strategy.

When modernist Marion Hall Best made a splash

Originally published in Sydney Morning Herald

Once ridiculed for her bright coloured paint glazes, this 1950s designer

Marion Hall Best was an interior design legend in her own luridly coloured lifetime.

Her legacy, it seems, is beginning to gain value over time. The modernist designer, entrepreneur and artists’ friend has been recognised on the State Heritage Register, with the listing of Wollongong’s Regent Theatre and the foyer she created in 1957.

The foyer has her signature deep pink, chartreuse and aquamarine glazed paintwork, works by artists such as Douglas Annand, Gordon Andrews and her sister Dora Sweetapple, and back-lit rice paper pressed with real butterflies.

Murray Brown, from the NSW Heritage Office, says the listing is the first to commemorate the designer, who did very few commercial interiors.

“The Regent Theatre really was her major piece of work and this is the only such listing,” he says. The Friends of the Regent Theatre, which lobbied to have it protected, say it is the only surviving commercial interior by Hall Best.

Friends member Margie Rahmann says the art deco building was an empty shell throughout the 1940s and ’50s until its owners asked Hall Best to make it “draw the crowd and be a financial success”.

The designer, who is fondly remembered for her wild Woollahra shop, was known to stick to her guns. She proudly proclaimed she could not stand the colour beige and brought bold Marimekko fabrics, colourful Kosta Boda glass and fine furnishings by Charles and Ray Eames to Australia.

She also championed local creative personalities such as Andrews – who designed Australia’s first decimal currency – as well as Clement Meadmore and Grant Featherstone. Her dazzlingly coloured designs were not popular with everyone, and her commercial interiors for the Elanora Country Club and the Elizabeth Arden Salon were redone within 18 months of commission.

Hall Best even wrote: “I used to cry at night about it. They said, ‘Marion puts spinach in the paint.’ I was desperately hurt, but I never doubted what I was doing.” She created a business empire importing international design objects and designing residential interiors for Sydney’s wealthy set.

According to The Best Style, a biography by Michaela Richards, Hall Best studied architecture and was one of the first professionals to call herself an interior designer rather than a decorator.

Bryan Fitzgerald, a mid-20th-century-design collector and part owner of Chee Soon Fitzgerald, says Hall Best was Australia’s first truly international designer.

“Up until she came along, everyone wanted something English. She not only brought international design to this country, but also promoted Australian art and design,” he says. “She was also very well connected in Sydney society, so people thought it was very special to have a Marion Hall Best interior.”

Her little shop in Sydney’s bohemian retail quarter of Rowe Street – which was an adjunct to the large Woollahra store – was once a hive of artistic activity courtesy of the art students she employed to serve customers.

Artist Antonia Black, who now lives in London, but worked in the Rowe Street store in the early ’50s, says: “Ma’am created the most wonderful shoe box of a shop with red wallpaper and white Japanese calligraphy.”

The shop, which she ran with her sister Dora, was next door to the fashionable coffee shop Galleria, “and we had an interconnecting door so we could get our iced coffees”, Black says.

“We had no idea that we were selling such wonderful things – we sold Italian glass, Aboriginal artefacts and painters that became very famous later on. Mrs Sweetie [Sweetapple] commissioned me to do a mosaic mural and I would work on it in the store and serve customers in between – it was all rather amusing.”

Fitzgerald is the vice-president of the Rowe Street Society, which is trying to preserve memories and objects from the section of Rowe Street in Sydney’s CBD, where the MLC Centre now stands. He says Hall Best was an example of someone who could marry craft and design to art. “Rather than it all just being something you sell, it makes it something more. The art is really important,” he says.

The Gateway City Church now owns Wollongong’s Regent, and although the church initially opposed the heritage listing, it is happy for design connoisseurs to pay a visit.

“We want to do the grand old lady justice, and plenty of people are inundating us to come and have a look-see,” church spokesman Jonathan Jooste says.

He says there will be an opening ceremony later in the year – which the public can attend – but everyone is welcome to visit the regular Sunday church services at the Keira Street building.

blueandbrown: designers

Originally published in Central magazine

It’s hard to find a label for Surry Hills designers blueandbrown. Do they create art? Or is it design? Or is it homewares?

Skye Vermeesch and Kirsten Brown have forged a unique design company which creates customised digital art that is affordable and funky yet somehow provocative at the same time.

Skye Vermeesch (the blue) and Kirsten Brown (the brown) design canvasses, which can be coloured and sized to specific requirements, and retail for the same price as many framed prints.

The pair is about to launch their new product called Candiy, which is a new spin on affordable art and is equally hard to label.

“It’s kind of an alternative design solution for walls,” explains Skye. “It’s a self-adhesive design with various organic shapes that can be used to dress up walls and will retail for $99.”

“Blueandbrown have always wanted to create beautiful art that people can use in their house that is also affordable. It was about art that you didn’t have to invest in.”

EXHIBITING IN TOKYO

The pair has been invited to take part in Tokyo Design Week and the designers are creating an exhibition for the Australian Embassy in Japan in October.

“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would be doing what I am doing now,” says Skye.

The designers – who met in Redfern East’s Kepos St park where their small children would play – both felt compelled to create something artistic, but also functional and useful.

Skye, who trained as a graphic artist, and Kirsten, who is a landscape architect, started blueandbrown two years ago to fill what they perceived as a gap in the interiors market.

They have exhibited in Singapore and last year won runner-up at Designex for best new product in surfaces and finishes.

The design idea born in the kids’ playground at Redfern now hangs in homes in Singapore and across Australia, a hotel in the Maldives and is about to be exhibited in Tokyo.

“The designs have found a place all over the world, which is quite bizarre when you think about it – I mean, it’s just something that a couple of Redfern mums dreamed up,” Skye says.

“We are about to go to London and hopefully we can find a place for our work there as well.

“All that homespun stuff about two mums meeting in the park to create a part-time business is just not what we are about anymore. We are as busy as can be and have just had to employ our first staff member.”

CROWN ST SPACE

The pair has just moved into new workspace in Crown St Surry Hills, which is close to their two retail outlets, Atmosphere in Crown St and Interstudio in Darlinghurst’s Bourke St.

There are samples of their customised canvasses on the walls, which have now expanded to include a signature range by artist and photographer Ken Middleton and another new artist Greta Kool.

“We get Ken to create some one-off photos or art for us and he signs each canvas,” Skye explains.

“We set the signature range up after a few people questioned whether what we really did was art or not. For some reason, people seem to think that art has to be brush strokes on a canvas rather than just something that is beautiful or interesting.”

Skye, who trained at California’s College of Arts and Crafts, says she isn’t in the business of being an ‘artiste’ and thinks of herself as an applied artist.

“I am a designer who is used to working from a brief or from a request from a client and I create designs that have a use or a function,” she says.

Skye collects 20th century furniture and ceramics and says the design ideas for the various ranges of canvas designs – which have names like Links, Loom, Optropic and Eucalypso – seem to come from nowhere.

“I think they just ruminate in the back of my head and come out,” she says.

“I always design with a duality which is blue and brown, cool and warm, hard and soft, graphic and photographic or positive and negative.”

Kirsten is more inspired by organic shapes after spending nearly a decade practising as a landscape architect, including some time working in Chicago.

“It’s funny because art is a bit like landscaping in that people always leave it to the end of a project and somehow run out of money by that time – everyone is looking for high impact solutions without spending a lot of money,” she says.

BLUEANDBROWN ON REDFERN AND SURRY HILLS

Best café: Danks St Depot: This was the blueandbrown boardroom before we got our offices. There is only one thing to order – the scrambled eggs with truffle oil, it’s the best.

Best groceries: “St Mina Fruit & Veg on Crown St is the cheapest place to get your fruit and vegetables. A lot of the local caterers buy from there because they know you can get high quality at a market price.”

Best things to do with kids: “Feeding the horses at the police barracks on Baptist Street in Redfern is a good way to pass the time. And blueandbrown will always be grateful for the park in Kepos St.”

Best homewares store: “We are biased but we love Atmosphere for something really unique and different.”

Botched home birth midwife on the run

Originally published in Kidspot

The story sounds like something out of a thriller novel – a home birth midwife is on the run and wanted by police, according to reports in Australian Doctor.

Akal Khalsa, whose website states she is retired but will attend home births overseas, has been ordered to pay $6,606,583.00 to Will Patterson after his tutor Jodi Latter brought proceedings before the court back in 2009.

WHAT THE COURT DOCUMENTS SAY ABOUT THE CASE

The documents tendered to the court say Will Patterson’s mother went into labour on the morning of 21 October 2006 at about 41 weeks gestation.

When Ms Khalsa arrived at about 12 noon, the labour was strong, she detected foetal heart sounds of between 140 and 158 beats per minute. By 2pm, the plaintiff’s mother was fully dilated and the plaintiff’s head was high.

Over the next four and a half hours, the birth was protracted and complex. The plaintiff’s head descended slowly and, apparently, in a variety of positions. The plaintiff’s head was delivered at 6pm, when thick meconium was noted. There was considerable difficulty releasing the plaintiff’s shoulders, and eventually the plaintiff was born at 6.50pm.

At birth the plaintiff was flat, and oxygen therapy was commenced. He was slow to breathe. An ambulance was called, and the plaintiff and his mother were transported by air ambulance to the Royal Hospital for Women.

The plaintiff was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. He was noted to have a right Erb’s palsy. He developed encephalopathy within 24 hours of birth, and upon imaging, changes were reported which were consistent with a diffuse hypoxic brain injury.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE BIRTH

In 2012, Will’s solicitors referred him to a paediatric rehabilitation specialist who diagnosed the six-year-old with a range of conditions, including mixed tone quadriplegic cerebral palsy, microcephaly, epilepsy, moderate intellectual disability and functional independence significantly below able-bodied peers.

On Friday 27 September 2013, the NSW Supreme Court ordered Mrs Khalsa pay the boy $6.6m, which the judge assessed as a reasonable award for the plaintiff’s damages, based on the care he would require, lost earnings and non-economic loss.

The defendant Akal Khalsa did not attend court last Friday and the judge noted that Akal Khalsa elected not to defend Will Patterson’s claim, and her defence was struck out on 23 March 2013. Back in March, the court documents show Akal wrote the judge a letter:

“Please inform Justice Garling that I am withdrawing from these proceedings as I am unable to fund my defence. My previous solicitors have indicated that I was returning to Sydney on March 14th. This is not the case. My present situation is that I have no fixed address and minimal income with little to no prospects in the future, given my age of 68.”

In June, the judge explained he made orders in May to freeze Akal Khalsa’s assets and asked her to provide further information, which she didn’t do.

“When the matter was called on 18 June 2013, there was no appearance by, or on behalf of Ms Khalsa in compliance with that Order, which I am satisfied would have come to her attention. However, for more abundant caution, I declined on that day, to issue an arrest warrant and required the plaintiff to once again serve notice of the Court’s order for the examination which I fixed to take place at 2pm today, 21 June 2013,” the documents said.

WHAT IS THE MIDWIFE DOING NOW?

Akal’s website clearly states she no longer practices midwifery. However, she does spruik her services for overseas births. Her services can be engaged for a fee of between $2,500.00 to $3,500.00 depending on the length of her stay (4 to 6 weeks). She also requires and asks for return business class airfares, travel insurance and visa costs. To secure the booking a non-refundable fee of $1,000.00 is payable to her nominated bank account.

WHO IS AKAL KHALSA?

Akal Khalsa states on her website she is a “Sydney based midwife and provides midwifery services including: homebirths, pre-conception consultations, childbirth preparation, nutritional advise (sic) and breastfeeding support.”

The website also states: “She believes that the way in which a woman births is vitally important. It can have a profound effect on her self-esteem and can be reflected in her ability to confidently mother her children.

Akal says: ‘Giving birth is a very empowering experience. For you as the mother, it will enable you to birth your baby in a supportive environment that will enhance the birth experience’.”