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Recovering after a bushfire

'We were very lucky to have comprehensive insurance. Without our cover, it really would have been 50:50 if we could have kept on going.'
Kerrie Livingstone, Crumbs Gourmet Biscuits

Top tips

  • Review your business plan
  • Contact existing customers if there are any interruptions to your business or service
  • Ensure you have comprehensive insurance
  • Maintain an up-to-date website or other online presence

The business

Kerrie Livingstone's homemade biscuits have always been a hit at the Livingstone family gatherings. When Michael Tesseyman, husband of Kerrie's daughter Tammie, first tried them he thought they were like nothing he had ever tasted before – and he still loves them.

In 2008, Kerrie, Tammie, and Michael decided that Kerrie's biscuits were too good not to share, and went into business together to create Crumbs Gourmet Biscuits in Marysville, Victoria.

Business devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires

Just 10 months after the business began, the Black Saturday bushfires devastated the region.

Knowing the weekend would be hot; the team had done all of their baking on the Friday. On the Saturday morning Michael did his usual deliveries, later realising he had missed the raging bushfires by just half an hour. When the fire passed through, their industrial kitchen in the Marysville main street was burnt out, with Kerrie's recipe book and irreplaceable 30 year old biscuit cutters inside.

The team was determined not to give up. Kerrie wrote down every recipe she could remember, and Michael personally contacted every one of their wholesalers over the next few days. He let them know Crumbs Gourmet Biscuits would get back on its feet, but that they needed some time. The response was encouraging: 'Everyone was really supportive; I think we only lost one client.' When Michael received the all-clear to access the burnt-out kitchen eight weeks later, Kerrie's recipe book and biscuit cutters were eventually found unscathed amongst the ruins.

How to rebuild a business

Twelve weeks after the fires, Crumbs Gourmet Biscuits accepted a generous offer of use of a kitchen at a local school camp owned by Xavier College, where Kerrie had always worked as a chef. Michael contacted their customers to let them know they were back in business.

A willingness to re-think plans, and unflagging attention to customer relationships, helped Crumbs Gourmet Biscuits turn disaster into opportunity.

The team wrote a new business plan that focused on getting the business back on its feet rather than expanding. 'We realised we actually had an opportunity to focus on some of the things we hadn't got quite right the first time around, such as packaging, branding and the website,' Michael said.

Getting help from networks, and government funds

Michael spent considerable time over the months following the fires traveling around to existing customers, knowing how important it was to maintain that bond. 'We knew it was really important to focus on our existing customers at that time, rather than trying to get new ones.

'The business took advantage of any offers of assistance it received at the time, such as government grants and funding, which have helped Crumbs Gourmet Business purchase a van for deliveries, and hire a trainee whose wages are subsidised for one year.

Finding new opportunities

'The first 10 months were a bit like the blind leading the blind because we were all learning, and so after all the mistakes we’d made we now had an opportunity to start again, with established customers.' 

The business now operates a shop front in Healesville, where the new kitchen is located. It is branching out to hotel mini bars, and is responding to customer requests for specific flavours, gluten free biscuits, and a new range of smaller cookies. It is also introducing new sizes of biscuit packets.

Business insurance is a must

Michael stresses that perhaps the most important piece in the recovery of Crumbs Gourmet Biscuits was that it had comprehensive business insurance, including business interruption and contents insurance.

'We were very lucky to have comprehensive insurance. Particularly as a new business it can sometimes be hard to get business insurance without being able to prove establishment and stability. Without our cover, it really would have been 50:50 if we could have kept on going.'

The result

Since rebuilding after the fires, Crumbs Gourmet Biscuits' sales have improved around 80 per cent.

The business continues to maintain a very personal relationship with its wholesalers, and Michael still does all the Victorian deliveries and sales calls personally, with hand deliveries to Melbourne stockists and a rural run each month.