There’s one main force behind Paul’s progress. And that is his own determination to succeed.
Turning risk into sweet success
The doubts of friends and family did little to deter Paul Polly. Rather, they motivated him to take Wicked Sister desserts from a single pot operation to a full-scale manufacturing facility. | View video transcript
Paul’s story of progress
Inspired by a homemade rice pudding, Paul Polly risked everything to launch chilled-dessert business Wicked Sister. Ignoring doubters, he never lost faith in his vision.
At age 28, Paul Polly realised true entrepreneurial progress started with taking a leap – torn between working in the family business and wanting to make his own mark. He decided to step out and go his own way.
“At the time everybody told me it was crazy – but I started my business because of a homemade rice pudding I bought at a takeaway shop,” Polly says. “It tasted incredible and reminded me of the desserts my grandmother used to make.”
“I had a vision of creating sweet treats that would evoke childhood memories. I considered making ice cream or yoghurt, but they were crowded markets.” Polly explains that he saw more avenues to grow in the chilled rather than frozen isle. “Apart from some basic chocolate mousse and creme caramel products, there wasn’t much happening in the chilled premium dessert space.”
Perfecting the recipe for success
Polly used his life savings to buy a 40-litre pot and gas burner and rent a small manufacturing plant in Western Sydney. He spent a year perfecting the recipe for his first offering, a rice pudding. Then, when almost out of money, Polly secured a meeting with a national supermarket chain. After tasting Polly’s pudding, the supermarket executive agreed to trial it in 150 Queensland stores.
Wicked Sister was up and running. But with this progress came two problems – Polly didn’t have the capacity to supply 150 stores, and he didn’t have the money to promote his product. Failure to either deliver sufficient product or meet the supermarket chain’s hurdle rate (the minimum amount of revenue they expected in return for providing shelf space) meant almost certain failure.
“At this point, I was doing everything myself, with a bit of help from my mum,” Polly explains.
For three months, Polly worked up to 20 hours a day, seven days a week to make enough product to meet his obligations. With no marketing budget, he had to hope that adventurous shoppers would try his creation then spread the word if they were impressed. Thankfully, they were.
Progress means taking on debt to grow
While Polly concedes that having demand for your product outstrip supply is a good problem to have, he points out it’s a problem nonetheless.
“We went from supplying a supermarket in one state to supplying that supermarket all over Australia,” he says. “Not long after that we had a distribution deal with another national supermarket. Then other customers came on board. Thanks to NAB, I had the money to put on some staff and invest in more equipment. But we soon outgrew the premises; there were capacity constraints, even with staff working night and day.”
If Wicked Sister was to progress from a small business to a big one, Polly needed to buy a larger facility and kit it out with state-of-the-art equipment. He didn’t hesitate. “I’ve always had an appetite for risk and been willing to back my gut instinct,” he says.
A decade after it launched, Wicked Sister has progressed to a point where it now makes tens of millions of desserts each year. From custards to creme brulee, rice puddings and more, it supplies supermarkets, airlines, aged-care facilities and other customers throughout Australia and New Zealand. For the company’s next phase, Polly is considering expanding his facilities to accelerate business growth.
“I always believed in my vision,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I always believed I could create a viable business based on that vision – there were plenty of times when there didn’t seem any light at the end of the tunnel. But I had no Plan B, which meant I had to make Plan A work. Luckily, I had a bank that understood my vision, understood my business and was willing to partner with me.”
NAB: a vital ingredient
NAB likes to play a role in terms of helping small business make their ideas a reality, by providing them with loans and other forms of finance, says Patrick Xu, Senior Business Banking Manager, NAB.
“Paul approached NAB just after he landed his first distribution deal with a major supermarket retailer,” Xu says.
The relationship truly became a partnership when NAB financed a new manufacturing facility. NAB provided the business loan to buy the building and also the equipment finance to buy new machinery: the new facility has enabled Wicked Sister to produce tens of millions of products per year and has increased production output by a factor of six.
Polly wants to become the dominant premium dessert player in Australia and ultimately in other countries. NAB continues to supply capital to expand his business, but now does much more. Polly receives support on everything from the best way to deal with foreign-exchange issues when buying from foreign suppliers, to his long-term business plans and strategic planning. This support, combined with Polly’s vision, means there’s every reason to believe Wicked Sister might one day be another iconic Aussie brand.