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Jeff and Robyn Smith of I-Scream at their shop.

FEATURE: Our 4 local businesses that do it their own way

Photographer Adam Hourigan showcases four of the Clarence Valley's most successful businesses and share their secrets with readers

1) I Scream - Jeff and Robyn have the business licked

JEFF Smith had a business degree and his wife Robyn worked for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Eight years ago, they decided to open an ice cream shop and IScream was born.

But no person, nor a town can live on ice cream alone - as they soon found out.

"We did it tough for a while," Mr Smith said. "I looked back on the figures and went 'Geez ... we were battling here all day'."

Little by little, they made changes. First hot food, a broader range, and then adding to their 1950s theme with booths.

"It's all about the theatrical experience is what we drill into everyone, we just don't sell ice cream, it's the whole concept, the bright shirts, the old television, the music, Claire on skates and even the booths," he said.

 

Claire Smidt-Thompson delivers some milkshakes with her usual serving stlye - on rollerskates - from I-Scream.
Claire Smidt-Thompson delivers some milkshakes with her usual serving stlye - on rollerskates - from I-Scream. Adam Hourigan Photography

With prices well below their national chain competitors, Mr Smith said it was important to keep it something that locals could keep coming back to.

"Because we're not a tourist town, we keep the prices low to keep the locals coming back," he said.

"We still get people eight years on who discover we're here for the first time, and I think a lot of people see lot of good things in the street, not just us but a lot of great places all along here."

LINK: I Scream ranked in top-10 ice creameries according to TripAdvisor

Mr Smith said the biggest investment they'd made in the business was their time, something that bordered on a necessary obsession.

"Especially in the quiet times we tend to man it a lot," he said.

"But eventually you keep plugging away and keep promoting that it clicked, and it keeps clicking.

"The mobiles have been good, it's taking the ice-cream to the people ... not begging them to come into the shop."

And despite the perception that winter might be slow, Mr Smith said the July carnival was a busy time for ice cream selling and the Jacaranda Festival was their busiest time of the year, with locals and tourists alike coming out and spending money.

And the final secret to success according to Mr Smith?

"Staying open. We're open 64 hours a week, and it's a matter of being open when customers want to be open. This isn't a 9-5 business," he said.

2) Leche Cafe, Yamba - Getting Bigger and Better Every year

 

Owner of Leche Cafe in Yamba Zac Roberts.
Owner of Leche Cafe in Yamba Zac Roberts. Adam Hourigan

THERE'S jazz trumpet in the background, music posters on the wall, and the smell wafting from the kitchen is anything but your greasy breakfast.

It could be Melbourne, with its hip cafe scene, but instead Leche cafe sits back on Coldstream St in Yamba, its relaxed decor opening up to a backyard that inspired owner Zac Roberts.

"When we found this place, I saw it had the backyard, and I'm right into music and I thought 'this is cool, we could put art on the walls and have the music outside the cafe'."

Mr Roberts opened the cafe more than five years ago, and describes the menu as something that he'd like to eat.

"Originally it was vegetarian-based because we didn't have the facilities to cook meat to order, but in the couple of years we've branched out to fish, beef and lamb," he said.

"But we still keep it as fresh and as local as possible."

 

Mr Roberts said that the back area provided an outlet for his passion and hobby and provided local musicians and touring outfits a place to play.

"It's almost more a hobby. At the start we weren't licensed so we'd do a $20 head fee that would go to the artist with BYO, so we weren't making any money, it was just for love," he said.

"We have a whole bunch of posters of bands who've played, and there's some talented that have gone on to play Splendour."

It didn't stop there, and a possible double-booking led to Mr Robert's next idea, the now annual Salty Sounds Festival.

"We had two bands who wanted to play on the same night, and we couldn't fit it here, so I rang the surf club and asked if they could hold it," he said.

"We ticketed it to cover the costs, it was sold out, so I guess it's a success."

And his involvement in the community doesn't stop there, with Mr Roberts and the cafe involved in the food organisation for this weekend's Feast in the Field.

LINK: Feast on the Field Back This Year

"I feel like this year, is our biggest year, but every year is our biggest year.

"It's just gone so quickly," Mr Roberts said.

3) SPAR Maclean - Not your everyday supermarket experience

 

SPAR Maclean Owner Bob Little and some of his staff celebrate the store three national awards, including SPAR store of the year.
SPAR Maclean Owner Bob Little and some of his staff celebrate the store three national awards, including SPAR store of the year. Adam Hourigan

SUPERMARKETS are supposed to be boring, right?

Not according to Maclean's long-time guru of the groceries, Bob Little.

The owner of long-term supermarket SPAR Maclean said that having a point of difference was a critical part of the huge success of the store on the corner.

"Our point of difference is looking after customers, and not just giving them lip service, but giving them true service," Mr Little said.

There is not a lot that is typical about the SPAR supermarket at first glance. The space, the bottom storey of a house has been expertly designed to fit around the old columns, constantly expanding the range and product available.

There are no trolleys outside the doors at all. Staff carry your groceries in a throwback to yesteryear and an almost iconic soundtrack plays over the speakers.

"To me there's an atmosphere in the store, even the music is significant that's its difference. It's not the normal background, it's music people relate to," Mr Little said.

"As for the others, they're all just little add-ons, but they all create that atmosphere."

Mr Little said it was a philosophy of trust in the customer that underpinned everything all the staff did at the store.

"The staff know it doesn't matter what happens, the customer has to leave happy," he said.

"All of us want to be trusted, and we want to believe that the business believes what we say and we drum it in that's how we treat the customer."

The store has been recognised for its approach to business, taking the title of the best SPAR supermarket in Australia for the past three years. Mr Little said last year that the credit belonged to his staff.

LINK : THREE in a row leaves SPAR owner speechless

"I am very proud and passionate about the things I believe in but it's all very well for me to have my standards, but these people have to live and breathe it every day."

"Other business often say where the hell do you get your good staff from? Well, you look after them and treat them well. They are the loyalest staff in any business I know. This is their reward. They are SPAR Maclean."

Mr Little, who along with his wife Judith, has been at the helm for 37 years, said he had no intention of leaving the store anytime soon.

"The record for the longest supermarket is 41 years. It was daunting a while back, but it doesn't seem a long way off now," he laughed.

4) Yamba Bowlo Sports and Leisure - Bowling Club Strikes A Winner

 

Yamba Bowling Club CEO Phil Boughton in front of the four new ten-pin bowling lanes opened at the Yamba Bowling Club.
Yamba Bowling Club CEO Phil Boughton in front of the four new ten-pin bowling lanes opened at the Yamba Bowling Club. Adam Hourigan

BOWLO Sports and Leisure CEO Phil Boughton admitted to being a little concerned about how the members of the Yamba Bowling Club would react to installing a mini-golf, ten-pin bowling and climbing wall facility.

Today? He's a keen league bowler, with a decent top score.

The transformation of the bowling club into the new brand of Yamba Bowlo Sports and Leisure has been one of the Clarence Valley's success stories, winning both local and regional business awards.

And Mr Boughton said that while it was non-traditional areas for the bowling club, the demographics of the area meant it made sense for the investment.

"When we looked at it, what was in Yamba was quite skewed towards older patrons, so the family entertainment centre fits really well," he said.

"It's been hugely positive, and really well received. And while it's hard to put a tangible figure on it, the change in people's perception about what we do and what we offer is dramatic."

The club has also recently purchased the nearby Aston motel, and also acts as a pick-up destination for Hertz rent-a-car, both of which said had been positive moves, and further added to the diversity needed within the club industry.

LINK: Yamba Bowlo buys local motel

"We don't really have a choice. We're in the food and entertainment industry and are also heavily regulated. The government could turn around and say we're not going to allow us to provide a service, and we'd be out of business," he said.

As for the change from outdoor to ten-pin bowling, Mr Boughton said he thoroughly enjoyed the league bowling of a Tuesday night.

"We have eight teams of four in a league and that's been full since the start, and the spirit in which it's played is tremendous, everyone cheers a strike even though it's the opposition - it's great fun.

"I'm telling everyone I've got a 180 and I'm sticking to it," he laughed.