Welcome, Steve. Great to have you with us today, and we’ve got a lot to talk about. It’s a fantastic brand that you head up and you’re quite a high achiever. And I, and I noticed from things like LinkedIn that your high achievements started at school. And I just wondered where does that, where does that drive come from?
Steve Plarre (01:34):
Yeah. Oh, well, thank you for saying so. It’s not often people call me a high achiever. So like where, where did you get, you haven’t been talking to my mum and dad. <Laugh>. now having said that, actually I, you know, having grown up in a family business, I mean, when, when I was growing up it was a lot smaller than it is now.
But, you know, I had a dad who was always working and doing something. He’s, you know, he’s had plenty of hobbies and he was involved in rotary clubs and public speaking on top of that, when I was growing up, he was doing six days a week. He’d start at three, he’d finish at three. We’d barely see him after dinner before he hit the sack. So he’d always be busy. And likewise, my, my mum worked and played a bit of sport and, and so I think just being around people who sort of rarely did nothing is just sort of the way that I guess my, myself and my brother and my sister have, have landed.
Sarah Stowe (02:28):
Did your mother work in the business as well, or she was working outside?
Steve Plarre (02:32):
She mostly worked outside actually but towards the end where we were needing a little bit of help in the office she would jump in. She’d have, she’d have lots of secretarial roles and from time to time if we needed someone to jump in they decided their marriage would survive that kind of engagement and <laugh>, and it did, which is good. <Laugh>. Yeah.
Sarah Stowe (02:54):
Now Ferguson Plarre is, is not necessarily a particularly well known business in, in all parts of Australia and certainly outside of Australia, but it is an iconic business in Victoria. It’s got an amazing heritage. You said just now as well that the business was much smaller when you were growing up and it’s grown considerably, but you’ve kept it in Victoria, so, so what’s the thinking behind that? Why have you kept it so close to home? Why have you not yet gone national?
Steve Plarre (03:22):
Yeah, so, well, well part of it is, you know, we, we called Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses, and for the majority of, from 1980 till, well, I think it was 2012, it was the Plarre and the Ferguson family came together for that period of time. And the aspirations when, well before I took over, the aspirations were never to go interstate. There was, there was enough growth in Victoria and there’s a lot of sunk cost in doing what we do in another state, potentially.
You know, we’ve got over 80 stores now, but if you were to set up a facility that was going to be providing for even up to 20 stores, one, you’d need to open those doors pretty quickly in, as you said, in in states that don’t, definitely don’t know our brand as well as in Victoria and we make everything. You know, some suggestions are, well, why don’t you outsource it?
Well, I don’t know, every time we’ve really had a good look at that we, our experience of success has been whenever we’ve been in charge of the quality and and yeah, especially with rising costs and what have you, it’s always been our choice to make sure that we continue to buy the right ingredients, get the right people on board. So we have certainly got an appetite for looking at, at that.
And actually about 10 years ago, we sort of tested a bit of a hybrid model into Queensland and it gave us some really good learnings around how we might do that moving forward. The prerequisites now we really need to make sure that if we’re going to be going interstate, we’ve got some some Plarre people from Victoria ready to go up and see those states and make sure that the culture and the values are going to be the same there as they are here, because otherwise we end up with someone else’s.
And we’ve experienced that a bit in the past. So the short answer is we’re, we’re always open to it, but we know that we need the right partners and the right people to help do that along with, you know, capital and a really good strategic plan. And people over the years have reached out to say, Hey, do you want a JV [joint venture] or ‘Here’s an opportunity to do something’. We never shut them down. We always have a good look. But we also know that we’ve still got some really strong growth opportunities here in Victoria which is always our focus.
But I guess in the long term, at some stage you’re going to run out of dirt in Victoria and in 120 years <laugh> that’s, you know, that, that’s the kind of timeframe we look at. So the answer is at some stage we will absolutely be doing that. But we’re, you know, we’re not in a massive rush. If the right opportunity came along quickly, we would be. But we’ve been quite happy to be patient around that knowing that we could really blow everything up if we didn’t do it properly.
Sarah Stowe (05:48):
I mean, it’s interesting really because in some ways it shows to me, a complete lack of ego in sense of the brand and, and kind of leadership is, is, you know, obviously people want to grow their brand and nd they want to go nationally. They want to go international. But you know, sometimes you feel that that sense of wanting to run before you can walk can sometimes kind of push people into the wrong place. And it’s about ego rather than necessarily you know, good business.
Steve Plarre (06:16):
It is. I think just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. And we, you know, we’ve got lots of people who, you know, might be private equity or other investors who might want to come along and, and have a look and, you know, that might be right for us one day, but certainly not right now. And part of the reason is that, you know, we want to, my, my brother and I, who predominantly run the business, get out of bed to make great product and hopefully do it in a way that makes our pastry cooks happy, and our customers and our franchisees happy.
And a guy said to me a long time ago, he said, what’s, you know, what’s your plan? And I said, ah, yeah, we’d love to be Australia’s, you know, largest, best retail bakery business. I said, that may be 10 years ago.
And he said, is it, is it really what excites you? Or do you want to be the best? Because they’re not often the same things. In fact, fast growth means that being the best might be entirely compromised.
And I, I had sort of written him off as one of my dad’s dusty old mates who was just being annoying and he left me with this nugget of, you know what, we do want to be the best. And if being the best results in being the biggest, that that’s wonderful, but there’s a really good chance if we try and be the biggest, we’re not going to be the best. I’m just not interested in that. And nor is the rest of the family.
Sarah Stowe (07:27):
So do you, do you think, if I ask you what your business formula is, what would you, how would you kind of define that? Because it sounds like culture is very important part of that
Steve Plarre (07:37):
Look, it, it really is. It is nice to see that the, you know, at least the Globe’s talking about culture being more bankable than it has been maybe in the past, it really is. So it’s to grow with culture intact and it’s, I mean, you, you look around and there aren’t too many businesses that grow fast and some culture falls to the wayside. And, and that’s, it’s, it’s just simply that. And we don’t want to be slow either.
I mean, we’ve watched lots of businesses really grow much faster and more successfully than us, and they’ve done it with culture intact. So, you know, slow wins the race, you know, I don’t know. It’s, it’s a fine balance. We’re far more at risk of, you’re right, sort of underestimating ourselves and, and you know, going too slow than going too fast. But I think we’re starting to approach a happy medium where we know when to be bold and to be courageous and when not to.
Sarah Stowe (08:29):
And, and that I would imagine is one of the challenges of running a family business is that you’ve kind of got the two sides, haven’t you? I mean, you want to, I assume you want to hold onto that heritage. You want to kind of maintain what it is that has kept the business going for so long, but you also either want to make your own mark, or, or, and, or you want to take it into, you know, new areas, new challenges because that’s what business requires. Now, how do you, how do you balance that? How do you come to your find your way through that and, and work? How do you steer it so that you know that you’re doing the right thing?
Steve Plarre (09:08):
Yeah, look in a family business, it’s really interesting. My brother and I are fourth generation and we, we view our bit of this race as a baton. It’s, it’s our part of the relay really, right? We’re the fourth relay, and what do we want to do in our bit of the race is the way that we often talk about it. So look, for us, it’s, you know, people often say, oh, do you want your kids to take over? That’s just that classic question in family business. And it has happened, yeah, for the last four generations that, that has happened in our family, but far out, I mean, my, my eldest daughter’s about to turn 11 and my brother’s eldest daughter’s about to turn 18. So they’re years and years away from any sort of idea of succession, leadership handover.
They might not want to do it. They might not have the skills to do it. I mean, God forbid we hand it over when they’re not capable. You know, I think that’s really important. We’ve been pretty lucky to get to fourth generations and, like genuinely lucky. So it’s more so, you know, how do we, you know, genuinely build this so that it does support the family, whether it it remains managed by us in future or someone else. And that’s going to be their choice to, to make going forward.
So, you know, for my brother and I, our core is bakers. It’s what we love to do. And so everything around our strategy and our growth sits around that core. And so diversifying, I think’s really important. You know, we’re in a retail space and the pandemic’s been a really, you know, wonderful validation of how valuable it can be to diversify.
I mean, we survived that you know, quite well. We’re out the other side, but not without, you know, some, some incredible costs, just like lots of other food retailers. But you know, we had just launched our Pie Society wholesale pie business. Now, if that was fully fledged and up and running, that would’ve been a much, a much more effective diversification, but we launched that really the year of the pandemic. And so little things like that when the time’s right, and we’ve got a point of difference and the strategy’s right, we are keen to diversify a bit. So diversification is one thing. Growth I mentioned slow growth, but yes, we do, we do want to grow the business you know, build the brand beyond Victoria. We’ve got a lot of heritage in, in the country, but not as much brand exposure.
And then, but to do that growth with, with our values intact and our culture intact, and I think that’s, you know, increasingly bankable. You know, as a business moving forward, we, we’ve also had a really strong sustainability plan. We’ve tried to look after our people, and that’s never been, I mean, it is never been naturally more transparent, but customers have never demanded more that you prove that you’re that kind of business. And we can do a pretty good, pretty good job of that.
And I, I would love it if there were, you know, Plarre retail businesses around Australia where we know the ingredients are good and we, that we looked after all of the people on the way through, and that some of our profits going to making sure the planet’s a better planet like that. That’d be a really proud place for us to land. When we hand over the baton the next time. I mean either because our kids go, gee, your dads and, and mums are good people or whoever, you know, ends up running the business also takes over a business that has grown its brand connected to values knowing that they’ll want to continue to invest in that, because I think it’s an important point of difference moving forward.
Sarah Stowe (12:29):
Now you mentioned sustainability there, and that’s something I think the brand’s been involved in, in for some time. Can you just give a, give us a bit of a highlight of, of how you’ve engaged in that in a very kind of practical way?
Steve Plarre (12:38):
Yeah, so I mean, back in the nineties we, you know, I remember my dad’s office used to sit right on top of all the fridge and the freezer motors. You’d go downstairs and we’d be baking all this stuff and heating up oil and heating up, you know, ovens. And then you were trying to cool everything down, freezers and fridges, and then sitting above those fridge and freezer motors, like all this hot air that used to just blow in the window. You know, you try and cool things down, but you create all this heat. And when that bakery got too small and we had to build a new one, I know it was always my dad’s bug bear, probably because of the location of his office was, you know, surely there’s a way that we can capture some of this heat and, and use it productively as heat.
And you know, what, what are the other things that we can do in the business to reduce our footprint? One, we were terrified of tripling the size of our bakery and having triple the gas and the electricity bill at a pure commercial level. But also in the nineties there was a federal government program called the the Greenhouse Challenge. And someone said, Hey, look, there’s some money available for you to see if you can do things a little bit better. And we started doing that and we found that our people, you know, loved the fact that we were trying to do the right thing and we felt good doing the right thing, and it, it just stuck with us. So between the Greenhouse Challenge, doing a couple of small initiatives, then being able to build the facility in a way that it went on to win some, you know, really big sustainability awards it just became, you know, part of our MO and something that, that what we’ve continued to do, it was really proud to say we did it well before, you know, was as cool as it is now.
And our next challenge is what are the, what are the things that we’re going to be doing moving, moving forward to create some step change in that area?
Sarah Stowe (14:14):
Can you give us any clues as to what, to what kind of things you’d be looking at for that?
Steve Plarre (14:18):
Yeah, look, we’re always testing stuff. I mean, one, we’ve installed solar on the roof. I mean, it sounds like something that everyone does, but in summer we are pulling about 60% of our peak energy straight from the sun, which is great. And we’ve got a facility next door that we’ve made sure that we’ve got control of those roof panels to put more solar panels on next door. So solar, great. Other things, we have, you know, when we’ve got food waste in a facility, the capacity to use something called a bio adjuster to you know, basically that the food breaks down, it creates a gas. And we could either directly use that into gas ovens or sell that back into the sustainability market. We’ve tested some of these things over time, and some of them have been commercially viable and some haven’t.
But it’s that kind of thing. Moving forward, we’ve got a couple of tons of you know, coffee grounds that can be repurposed as fertilizer which I know the retail team are looking at having a lookout at the moment in the short term food waste goes to pig farmers or it goes into bio digesters that create that methane. What we want to do is get to the point where we’ve got enough scale that we can do that onsite and offset directly. And then some side things are offsetting all of our truck emissions, which we do every year through tree planting. Might be some others in there, but yeah, we, we’ve just engaged in the start of the B Corp certification process to really oh, step into that as well as at an ethics and a governance level. Yeah.
Sarah Stowe (15:41):
So can you just explain what, what that, what that is, that kind of B Corp?
Steve Plarre (15:47):
We’re, we are really keen, I mean, all the things I can tell you on a podcast, I’d love to be able to say publicly without any fear of being charged with greenwashing. And that’s really, we’re going to be able to put something on our box and our windows and, and brag with the confidence that people can say, yes, you, you know, you are doing a great job. So there’s lots of certifications, but be caught being one that is a global standard, obviously, you know, sits on United Nations foundations is something that we have started the process on.
Unfortunately franchising right now the certification process for franchisors is in limbo because they’re rejigging that because we’ve got, you know, over 80 franchisees out there who also have to be held to account, that’s a slightly different beast. But regardless, we’re stepping through all the things that require B Corp certification process with the hope that they’ll update those fairly soon. And if that’s not a hoop that we can jump through, then there’s a couple of others. We are actually, you, you asked about sustainability before. We’ve just started our second full carbon footprint analysis of the business. We did one back in 2009, but tier one, tier two, tier three, full carbon footprint so that we know where the low hanging fruit is and where we can put a strategy together to step towards net zero.
Sarah Stowe (17:02):
So the, so the net result of this, I guess, is that you are, you are doing something good for the planet. It’s, it’s, it’s kind of got the feel-good factor, some practical elements to it, but I assume it’s saving you some money as well.
Steve Plarre (17:13):
It, it really does. Yeah. Yeah. Most of these exercises over the years have required someone to be passionate, a bit of brain power but for the most part, you’re right. You end up in a far more commercially viable business. And you’ve got to, you’ve definitely got to have a longer-term investment timeframe on some of this stuff. If you look at it today, it, you know, it might not have payback, but if you know you’re going to be around in 10 or 20 years more often than not after a couple of years that payback accelerates. And our solar panels were a good example when we did that. We knew it was about a seven or an eight year payback, but you were pretty glad we have them on our roof now. Cause <laugh> that’s, they’re about to pay them pay themselves back in about six months where my electricity contract would used. <Laugh>. Yeah.
Sarah Stowe (17:57):
So how, so how far ahead do you work when it comes to, to, to strategy?
Steve Plarre (18:02):
We always have a five, well, we have a, a 10 to 20 year really blue sky, you know, which is far more connected to values and culture than specific strategic things. Sustainability is one of those, to be a genuinely sustainable business. You know, well, well beyond planet type sustainable, but you know, the, the full ESG type componentry we, we set that and then every three years we revisit what the five year plan is. Having had a look at whatever the latest trends are from driverless cars to sustainability and what’s being talked about and then have that filter through to, to one year goal.
Sarah Stowe (18:38):
In all of that, there have to be some failures and there have to have been some kind of failures along the way and, and some challenges that overcome. And I just wondered if you could pinpoint a couple of things that you’ve had to kind of face up to that maybe challenges that have you’ve overcome and maybe some challenges that that just didn’t work out for you and, and how you process that and how you moved on from that as a, as a business owner.
Steve Plarre (19:02):
We have plenty of micros and not so micro ones. And it is the classic, you know, I like looking at this only when I’ve failed that thing on the wall that says, ‘if you’re not failing, you’re not trying enough new things’. <Laugh> like, yes, great <laugh>. So we, we certainly do that. And we talk a lot about fail fast. We try and do that, but we nearly always fail way too slowly. But because you just always, I think everyone does, but we’re getting better at, at trying to you know, make the tough decisions early. I think one of the biggest ones was I mentioned before that we tested an in-state model where we used the core product in our Victorian facility that, you know, that, that, that the bit of the product that you can freeze without it being damaged.
So an unfinished cheesecake, or it might be an unbaked pie or sausage roll that you can transport and, and freeze for a long time and then bake it fresh or decorate it fresh. We, we shipped those interstate and we had some stores in Queensland that would finish those. And we, we, you know, we had, we had five stores there for a while. Two of them were really good, a couple of them, we, we were in a rush, so we got excited cause the first one opened a fantastic trade. And then the next couple we went, ah, this is a sure fire thing. And we didn’t put the effort into the next couple, so the locations weren’t quite right. I also mentioned if we were going to be going interstate to have the right people, well, but didn’t have anyone to move interstate. And we thought we could hire and get the business that we have in Victoria up there.
And it just, it just didn’t work out that way. We found ourselves, you know, flying up once a month and trying to embed the culture and the values and manage remotely, you know, well before we had this video conferencing kind of technology that was, you know, so more readily used. And so the only ones that were really working were the ones where we naturally had a, a franchising entrepreneur running it really well. But of course they would do all their own things and it just wasn’t, wasn’t quite right for us. So we got to end of, end of lease terms and it was either do, do we invest or do we do we just unwind this so we unwound it? You know, not without really, really significant investment. But having said that you know, that that is genuinely an investment in the next time we attempt interstate because we’ve got some really solid learnings. We are better at knowing what not to do. And there’ll be some other mistakes we make for sure. But it’s you know, that has been one of them. But, and that hurt, you know, <laugh> during various conversations at times we’re like, oh, what, imagine what we could have done if we’d invested that down here in Victoria or, or done some other things. Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Sarah Stowe (21:37):
So do you, so from that you kind of talking about lessons learned. Do you think business is something that you, that you learn? Or do you think it, there’s an element of sort of instinct about it that some people are born business people?
Steve Plarre (21:51):
I, I do think they are, but it’s like, not from my experience. I think I’m, I’m not particularly objective cause I, you know, my brother and I have been working in the bakery from the age of eight. So <laugh>, I, you know, there’s a good chance it was, it was hanging around my dad’s and, and you know, that type of business person that that, that we learned from. But if I do look at my, my dad who grew up in his father’s footsteps, his father, my grandfather was, you know, he was just a super passionate pastry cook and it was all about the product. And that meant that the business was actually quite uncommercial at times. And I think that’s reflected by when, when my father took over the business, there were four Plarre’s stores and, you know, when he retired, when he retired there were 50.
And it was far more about, Hey, if we’re going to run this thing and put all this effort in and work all these hours, we need to make some money. And sometimes it means you can’t do the seven layer opera cake with this and that, and the, you know, and it was, well, it was really about, I think recognizing what the customer needs and sometimes they don’t need the things that you, you know, all the different fancy things you want to put on there. So he certainly through instinct you know, knew that. So I, I think it’s a bit of both. Yeah, I think it’s a bit of both.
Sarah Stowe (23:05):
And empathy is something that you’ve talked about in business, and I guess you’ve touched on it a little bit in terms of your staff and franchisees or being part of the culture. Yeah. But I just wonder how you view sort of, you know, empathy in business and, and what other attributes you think a leader should have?
Steve Plarre (23:23):
So my dad has always been a, like a really emotionally connected kind of guy. He’s not a tough macho, I haven’t grown up in, in that kind of environment. And I’m just lucky and he’s just lucky and I’m a bit like him and my brother’s a bit like him. And so you know, we’ve watched him do the right thing. We’ve watched him deal with, you know, emotional situations at work and do what’s right, maybe rather than what you know, might have been commercially the best decision. Now that’s super-hot to trot right now, you know, doing the right thing because one, people can find out about it far easier than they used to be able to, used to be able to, you know, hide that and sweep it under a rug. So one, people can find out.
And two, it’s a really, you know, important promotable thing if you want access to the right to, to the best people. I mean that’s never been more true now with Victoria and Australia’s unemployment rate. I mean, you just being able to attract people and reading that, you know, millennials and you know, newer generation people are looking to work in a place that, that aligns with their values. You know, if you want access to that, you, you’ve got to be able to understand that you’ve got to have empathy, you know, empathy for them. So I think globally there’s a push for knowing that, you know, the world’s going to be a better place if everyone’s just, you know, better at understanding other people’s situation. And I don’t know, we, we, we sort of naturally landed in that space anyway, but I, I think if you’re, if you’re an empathetic person or if you’ve got an empathetic culture, you’re probably going to find yourself working in a business or building a brand that, that has those those attributes anyway, right?
Because I want to come to work and be able to be, you know, honest with people and you’ve still got to be accountable. And sometimes, you know, I think having empathy for people and then having empathy for you sometimes allows you to have tougher, harder conversations then, then if you didn’t. Cause you can see them for what they are. You might say, ‘Hey, look, you’re not going to like this, but you need to hear it’. And them going, ‘yes, you know what? I do need to hear that’. You hear about people who talk about having had bosses who, you know, they really respect and they, like, they were complete pricks, but you know what? I learned so much and they, they cared about me enough to tell me and sort of call bullshit when I wasn’t doing the right thing.
Sarah Stowe (25:47):
I think that’s the great thing is that you can be a very successful business in all, in all senses, you know, with, with that empathy. I think that what you’ve been saying about sort of global trend, people are expecting that more now. It’s not just about, you know, number crunching, is it, it’s not just about the results on the page. Yes. It’s how good is your business all round as a place that people want to be.
Steve Plarre (26:06):
Sarah Stowe (26:09):
Now I just want to touch on something kind of a bit left field because during, during the pandemic you revealed a side of yourself that not all of us knew about <laugh> your musical talents. So you, you put out regularly little spoofs on some kind of popular hits all to do with surviving the pandemic and you know, those of us that got to see it, it was, it was really fantastic. But you’ve got, you’ve got some musical talent, I think you’ve employed for some time <laugh>, is that, is that right? Just tell us the other side of Steve Plarre.
Steve Plarre (26:44):
It’s one of the few enjoyable things about the pandemic, the fact that I got to squeeze my music muscle in a way that I didn’t think I’d, I’d get to again. Yeah. I come from a pretty musical family background. Before they all had to give everything up and do baking my grandfather was in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and my grandmother was an award-winning opera singer, but, you know, you can’t make money out of it now. You certainly couldn’t back then. So they had to give it up and then just run, run the bakery. So there’s always been music. My dad’s a beautiful eighth grade sort of concert pianist in his, you know, in his retirement days now. So I’ve always grown up around that. Mum and dad always put us through put us through music.
And so I’m old enough now to, to admit to my friends that my parents sent me to Johnny Young Talent School for about three or four years when I was in grade five. And so I did a bit of that before I got to secondary school and sort of pulled back from it all because it just wasn’t cool. And then found a, a couple of good mates who are still my best mates. So I’ve been, you know, playing in a band nonstop, I think since Year Eight in some form or rather. And really what I’ve learned is, I mean, music’s my creative outlet, for other people it’s painting and writing and all those things.
And I’ve seen that when I’ve got lots of creative processes going on at work, I don’t play music that much. Because I just know that I’ve got a brain that needs to be creative, and I know that when at various times, a long time ago when I wasn’t involved in strategy at work, I, I just, I just spent lots of time playing guitar and writing music and that kind of stuff.
So anyway, that’s the background. It just happens to be, to be music. And I think, you know, where that all started was, you know, about six or seven years ago, there was a gala night that our team had to put on the performer or the MC canceled and said, look, Steve can you MC. And I said, yeah, look, I’ll, I’ll do that. And I thought, oh, there was this, you know, I used to rewrite the words to well-known songs for a bit of a laugh. I wonder if I’ll be booed off stage or people will think it’s funny. And luckily they thought it was funny and <laugh> and that happens more often than not every year now. And yeah, and then the pandemic hit and I was just desperate to find ways for us to communicate to our customers and get cut through, you know, during these times when they weren’t able to potentially come to our stores and demonstrate that we were, you know, kind of down to earth.
And it started with my daughter and I singing a little parody on an iPhone at home, and it was, it, it made people smile and, you know, my sort of, you bake your happy kind of MO I thought, all right. I checked in with the marketing guys and said, look, you know, are you happy for me to do this <laugh>? Is it aligned to the overall strategy? And anyway, we kept doing that and we just made people laugh. If they couldn’t come and get a smile, a a chocolate éclair or a vanilla slice, then <laugh>, they could have a giggle on Facebook at, at me being a bit silly on online. So yeah.
Sarah Stowe (29:50):
Oh, it was, it was, it was certainly a bit of fun. And, and I would imagine as you, as you’ve said, that that creative side of it helps or sustain your work. Yeah. How else, because you’ve got a young family, as you mentioned. How else do you keep everything in balance and, and keep your drive and the energy that you’ve got, but still have time to be, you know, the dad at home and, and the musician.
Steve Plarre (30:13):
I don’t play much music outside of the little parody things or the performances on stage with them. My kids are just getting to the age where that’s a bit more possible. I can play at nighttime and they’re up a little bit later, which is good. I look at thank goodness for this technology video and computer technology. There’s not much that I can’t do at home that I couldn’t do at work. And as much as I try and show up at work as much as I can, it’s, you know, my brother heading up the manufacturing side of things where we have, you know, big headcount. So like right now you can see it in the background, I’m at home. If I’ve got the chance to race home, do that, and I can pop out. I’ll be taking my daughter to guitar lessons in a couple of hours, come home, do some more work, and just be around for that.
The other thing that I love about the music stuff, and I’m trying to get my kids to get into music is that when they see me practicing, they practice. You know, I really do, at the end of the day, I mean, most people do look forward to coming home, seeing my kids, see my wife and use that as a bit of a stress release. I try and switch off when I can. But, you know, they know they’re going to be times when I’m, I’m running until 11:00 pm or, you know, I’ve got to wipe out a Saturday and a Sunday to get stuff done.
But I, I’m very, you know, I’ve watched myself over a long period of time, you know, do too much, not have a break, be incredibly unproductive and make peace with it. You know, I used to feel really lazy if I wasn’t actively doing something involved with the business. It’s taken me a long time to unwind from that and just, you know, properly be in the moment, chill out, knowing that when I come back to it, that the content of my thinking is just going to be so much better. And was far better than me spending three hours on it over one and a half hour break and then just, you know, so a bit of that really.
Sarah Stowe (32:01):
Just to finish up with, can you, can I ask you what advice you would give a young entrepreneur or a young business owner?
Steve Plarre (32:07):
Yeah, I, you know, you hear lots of people who have an idea and they’ll often say, oh, I had that idea, and then this person went off and did it, and that kind of thing. And it’s like, well, entrepreneurs are people who do stuff right? They get it done. So the first thing is, you know, if you’re not sure how to do it, and I mean, there’s never been a better resource than the internet and your computer to, to find those people is if you’re not sure how to do it, you know, find someone who has done it really well. And, you know, a long time ago, my, my dad said, mate, you’ve got enough money for a deposit on a house, you should invest somewhere. Why don’t you go and speak to this guy who runs a real estate agency down the road and shout him lunch.
And I was like, really? He doesn’t even know me. And anyway, I did that and this guy was just, just verbal diarrhea all over the place, this fantastic advice. And a couple of times I bumped into people at a coffee shop and found out, you know, there was someone who, who used to run Channel nine and someone else, and, and before I’ve left, I’ve said, look, could I shout you lunch? I’d love to hear more about where you started and how you got to where you got to. And nearly all of them just flat out just, they’re like, ‘oh my God, no one’s ever asked me that. Yeah, for sure, I’ll take you out’. I did ask Todd, Todd Sampson once, and his manager said, no, I’m sorry, he just doesn’t do that. But that is the only <laugh>, it’s the only time.
So yeah, go and find someone who’s done it. They’re nearly always incredibly happy to happy to share those kind of things. And then there’s a couple of people who I’ve bumped into who have been really successful, who started in oh, what do they call ’em, sort of incubator groups where they might even share a space in a WeWork space or something. But I’m sure if you go online and you find them, you know, lots of entrepreneurs where they can do that classic startup thinking where they probe and they test each other during the ideation phase of things. So, look, I never did that. That’s the stuff I’ve heard about. If we ever started a new business, it’s, that’s what I would do. Or try and apply that kind of thinking to some of the, the new ideas that we’ve got going on.
Sarah Stowe (34:05):
Steve, thank you very much. It’s been fantastic to have a chat and just get a, a bit of a sense of how you manage focus and Plarre now as the, the fourth generation baker and leader of the business. So thank you very much.
Steve Plarre (34:19):
Hey, no worries. Thanks for having me.
Ferguson Plarre Bakehouses is an iconic, heritage chain of bakeries that now boasts over 85 stores across Victoria with a strong focus on profitability.
Steve was appointed CEO of Plarre Foods Group in July 2012. He’s a fourth generation Aussie retailer and the leader of a business that has now navigated two World Wars, two pandemics, The Great Depression and his own multi-generational family challenges.
After overseeing the buyout of the Ferguson family in 2012 he has helped rebuild the family brand to become an award-winning, sustainable business.
The Ferguson Plarre CEO is also a bit of a muso, with a spoof version of a Mary Poppins song going viral and getting more than one million views during lockdown.
In this podcast Steve reveals what drives him in business, how he balances heritage with innovation, and why sustainability is part of the plan.