Willie Creek Pearls is a family owned and operated business, based in Broome, Western Australia. It’s a dynamic outfit that operates four distinct business units (pearl farming, tourism, retail and hospitality) all revolving around the majestic pearl. CEO Sally Hollins talked to NEXT about Nexia’s instrumental role in helping a potentially complicated business run like clockwork.
Pearls are to Broome and WA as AFL is to Melbourne and Victoria – but it’s fair to say no one in Victoria has as deep an understanding of all things AFL as the people at Willie Creek Pearls do about WA’s natural jewel.
Western Australia’s pearling industry was estimated to be worth about $67 million only a few years ago so it’s certainly the big ticket in town. And Willie Creek is the go-to for all things pearl, priding itself on offering the complete pearl experience for more than 35,000 tourists a year.
That covers telling the story of history and pearling in Broome, through taking visitors to see harvesting in action, and then wining and dining them in beautiful Broome itself.
What started as a family run tourism operation in regional WA has grown to become one of the state’s biggest and busiest tourism operators. The Banfield family ran busloads of tourists to Willie Creek through the 80’s and early 90’s before the opportunity arose to acquire the pearl farm at Willie Creek themselves. The family’s obvious line of thinking was – we’re tourism experts so why not deliver the tourist experience ourselves?
From there the business has grown exponentially. Not only does it now harvest approximately 20,000 oysters per year for their pearls, it also manages three separate tourism ventures in and out of the area, four retail outlets selling the finest locally harvested pearls, as well as Broome’s finest restaurant, The Zookeeper’s Store – offering oysters and pearl meat on the menu of course.
CEO Sally Hollins suggested that the success of a multi-facing business was finding a central defining principle and building everything else around it.
“Essentially, we’re a retail business driven by tourism. At the end of the day we’re all about letting our customers learn about the value of the beautiful pearls we produce,” Ms Hollins said.
“We take them on a journey from shell to showroom – one that culminates in them having the opportunity to take home a world class product grown in WA by a locally owned and operated family business.
“Once we were clear on that as a central focus, the vision to grow the business through multiple channels became a lot clearer.
“Identifying the market was the first step, and putting ourselves into a position to capture it was the next step, in terms of growth.”
Ms Hollins said that part of that next step was the recent opening of a new retail outlet at Perth’s bustling Elizabeth Quay, with its high volume of tourist foot traffic.
She said that Nexia has been instrumental in not only helping Willie Creek Pearls develop systems and practices that allowed the different arms of the business to work together smoothly, but also in ensuring they were well positioned for growth.
“Transitioning from a small family operated business into a larger operation obviously comes with some logistical and management challenges and getting the right practices in place was essential to making it work,” Ms Hollins said.
“Nexia have been brilliant in helping see the business objectively, from the outside, and helping us implement strategies and processes that make a critical difference to the way different arms of the business operate.
Working with Nexia Perth Managing Director, Mal DiGiulio, had also helped created opportunities that Ms Hollins said would not have existed otherwise.
“Mal and the team help us with insights into the industry, and the way some other jewelry retailers operate; a perspective that we just wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” Ms Hollins said.
“They allow us to take a broader view of the industry and helped with some of the strategic planning that went into the Elizabeth Quay opening.
“I’m supremely confident it’s going to be a real masterstroke decision for the business, given the tourism traffic and the way we have designed our retail offering. I can’t thank Mal and the team enough for their advice and support.
“We don’t aim to compete with other jewellers – like I said we are a retail business driven by tourism – but we need to present an offering that keeps people coming back and I think we’re really building something that our visitors will always remember.
”If you are looking for as good a pearl as you can find, Willie Creek showrooms can be found either in Perth or Broome or Online www.williecreekpearls.com.au