Case study: Suzanne & Rob Acteson

Suzanne left her high-profile position as head of the Buchanan Group Australia/New Zealand in February 2014 to take the online Habitots business she’d started in 2013 to the next level – launching a bricks and mortar version of the brand.

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Suzanne Acteson admits she and husband Rob don’t do things by halves, and haven’t been adverse to taking a few calculated risks with their finances over the years to achieve their goals.

That’s certainly been the case over the busy past 18 months for the couple as each juggled their own businesses with caring for their young boys, now eight and five, and completing a renovation of their Victorian terrace family home. Plus, there was the news that Suzanne was expecting their third child, Charlie, who’s now nine months old.

Rob, a former professional soccer player who played for the English team Crystal Palace from 1986 to 1992, is a builder who operates his own small-scale property development business in inner city Melbourne while ex-ad agency managing director Suzanne recently launched her own start-up children’s concept company, Habitots.

Shifting careers

Suzanne left her high-profile position as head of the Buchanan Group Australia/New Zealand in February 2014 to take the online Habitots business she’d started in 2013 to the next level – launching a bricks and mortar version of the brand. The store, which opened in October 2014, offers a range of products and experiences for children including classes in art, dancing and yoga, kids’ parties, apparel and homewares, toys, and a café.

“It was a busy time,” says Suzanne. “Retail was all quite new to me, and this is quite a complex business – it’s like four businesses all under one roof that have to sometimes be marketed a bit differently. So it’s challenging. ”

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Organising the funds to grow

One of the challenges usually associated with launching and running a new business, getting the finances organised, had been smooth sailing thanks to the Actesons’ relationship with their NAB banker Alex Karroum. The couple worked with Alex to help bring Suzanne’s vision to life by using as equity one of a series of townhouses Rob was building in a warehouse conversion project in South Melbourne. The development was on a block adjacent to the Victorian terrace the Actesons had also purchased to be their family home and were renovating.

Suzanne had already tested the Habitots concept with a “pop-up” store she opened in April 2014 and operated for two months. It received an enthusiastic reception from parents and children in the neighbourhood, giving her more confidence to go ahead and find a permanent site. She presented Alex with her business plan, and he quickly came up with a solution to finance the expansion.

“I’d approached Alex before signing the lease to let him know what I was doing, and he was really open to the conversation, I guess because of the relationship that we had and because of the work they’d already done with Rob,” says Suzanne.

The Actesons had been with the NAB for around four years and say one of the big advantages had been the kind of one-stop shop service the bank has been able to provide. “We bounced around with a few different banks, but we ended up with the NAB in the end because of the way they’ve provided that seamless integration between our personal stuff and our business stuff,” says Suzanne.

“And our business bankers have always been terrific, very easy to communicate with and always taking the time to explain things. Our banker at NAB before Alex used to get out the white board! “It’s a great relationship. Alex is in both of our phones. He’s genuinely a nice guy, and we always had a good rapport. It’s certainly helped us having someone like him who understands our situation.”

Suzanne says being able to deal with one banker across both their personal and business banking needs had been a key asset in developing the latest phase of her business. “Hands down I think it has absolutely enabled me to open my business doors,” she says.

“To some people, we would be a bit crazy because we’ve taken a lot of risks along the way. It has certainly helped to have a bank that knows us.”

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