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Bringing comfort to meditation

'We were able to step through the specifics of our particular business. The course helped us develop a SWOT plan and a detailed business plan. And we’ve paid separately for four sessions with an independent mentor.'
Colin Steele - Black Dragon

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A unique idea

Long before they started Black Dragon Meditation Seats, Colin Steele and partner Karen Bell were practising meditators, drawn to the Eastern philosophy of mindfulness. But Colin found it difficult sitting or kneeling on the floor for any length of time. Even cushions didn’t help.

'About 10 years ago, I made a little stool to make me more comfortable. Other people showed interest, so I started making more of them. At the time, Colin was working warehouse shifts for a pulp and paper business and soon found his spare time taken up with backyard carpentry meeting the demand for stools from fellow meditators. 

The appeal of Colin’s seats was its unique design, enabling three different heights to suit individual preferences and the different heights of users. The simple design that makes the seats strong, easily adaptable and highly portable was recognised in the 2010 Melbourne Design Awards.

The challenge

The popularity of Colin’s seats meant his hobby became a business and soon outgrew the confines of his suburban garage. In early 2014, after Colin took a redundancy from the pulp and paper company, he and Karen registered Black Dragon as a proprietary limited business, leased a small factory in Wantirna South and brought in some bigger wood-turning equipment.

While Colin makes the seats, Karen maintains their website and Facebook presence, and is working on a direct mail marketing campaign to meditation teaching schools. 'It’s really only the two of us. My niece helps with the book-keeping and Colin’s niece also comes in to help occasionally. Another niece of mine was recruited to be the model for our website pictures.'

Black Dragon sells between 40 and 60 seats a month, with orders coming via their website from as far away as New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, the US and even Brazil.

'We’re now larger and much more serious about the business, but as a consequence have some serious overheads. We’re very happy with the product but our challenge is to get the business side of it right.'

The assistance

Colin and Karen have attended a number of Small Business Victoria workshops and seminars coordinated by Knox City Council, including Understanding Financial Statements and Marketing for Growth. They attended the two-day Business Planning workshop several years ago, and this year decided to refresh their knowledge and re-enrol. The workshop includes 16 hours of practical workshop sessions, along with five hours one-on-one with an experienced business advisor.

'With our Black Dragon Meditation Seats now more established, the Business Planning workshop was far more beneficial. We were able to step through the specifics of our particular business. The workshop helped us develop a SWOT plan and a detailed business plan, and we’ve paid separately for four sessions with an independent mentor from Small Business Mentoring Service.' 

Colin and Karen also appreciated the opportunity to talk with other small business owners attending the same workshop. Whether the businesses were services or manufacturing they all had some useful experience to share. 

What the future holds

Colin and Karen are now confident that Black Dragon Meditation Seats is on the path to success. They are investing in a new website with a better shopping cart facility to enable them to meet overseas orders. Plans to visit a trade fair in the US this year have been postponed in order to focus on better establishing the business at home, ensuring they will have the manufacturing capacity to meet the expected increased demand. They have also temporarily stopped selling subsidiary items to their seats because they weren’t happy with the quality provided by their suppliers.

'Meditation and mindfulness is becoming more popular in Western societies. In February this year, Time Magazine called it the ‘Mindful Revolution’, so we know there’s a market there – we just have to meet it!'

Find out more about Black Dragon.

The result

Long-time meditator Colin Steele needed a stool to help him sit cross-legged for long periods, so he designed and built his own. After selling stools to others, he decided to start his own business. Colin attended the two-day Business Planning workshop to help him establish his new venture, Black Dragon Meditation Seats.

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