When Nicola Rivett’s son Dane was just six months old he was diagnosed with congenital cataracts. If left untreated, the disease would lead to blindness. An incredibly rare condition, the shocking diagnosis was to change this young mum’s career path and lead to her establishing a small business that has since helped 1000s of families.
Nicola tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) that following surgery, tiny Dane had to deal with contact lens insertion and removal as well as years of patching his good eye to make his weak eye work. It was in the aftermath of wearing one of these store-bought patches, she says, that the idea for Kids Eye Gear was born.
“After paying a fortune for the ugly brown patches available in the pharmacy that would rip his skin and remove his eyebrows, I decided there had to be a better way to make patching more affordable and colourful for Australian families,” Nicola explains.
“So, I sourced our patches and began manufacturing them, then wholesaling and retailing in Australia and New Zealand. Originally the business started just to help other families like ours but I had no idea just how many families needed to patch, so Kids Eye Gear took on a life of its own.”
Passion and purpose are the cornerstones of Nicola’s business. “Without purpose I wouldn’t do what I do,’ she tells KBB.
“We’re really fortunate that Dane has finished his patching journey and has near-perfect vision so I’m dedicating my time and energy to helping other families going on their patching journey. It’s important to me to be able to share my experiences and provide a product that actually makes a difference to people’s lives. I just wouldn’t get any satisfaction from running a business that didn’t have a meaningful impact.”
Sometimes, she says she is surprised by a letter or email from a family whose child has benefitted from her products. Hearing these stories helps Nicola maintain her passion for the business long since her own child has lost the need for a patch.
“I send out orders every day and think about the little kid that’s going to have to patch and never usually hear anything from them. It may seem small and insignificant but every now and then I have an amazing parent call or email me to thank me for doing what I do. The best one was a mum who called to thank me for four years of providing patches as her daughter had just finished her treatment and had ended up with near-perfect sight. Obviously, the result is from her doctors and her dedicated parents but having someone be grateful for my small part in the process is a real success to me and validates all the hard work I put into the business.”
Making glasses and patches fun is all in a day’s work for Nicola, who confesses colour is a vital element of the success of the patch design.
“Because we are a small business and at this time focus on the relatively small Australian market, it’s not feasible for us to create a large number of patterns to be printed on our patches. So instead we have focused on providing a blank canvas of colour, giving kids the opportunity to decorate their patch how they want, either with stickers or their own drawings. This gives them ownership of their patch and the patching process,” she explains.
Nonetheless, Nicola says the day to day running of the business is not without challenges. Setting up her business for online was the first hurdle she had to face and an initial flearning (learning through failure).
“I have a background in marketing, sales and research, however I had no experience with ecommerce. Although ecommerce platforms are readily available now, when we first started it took some time and learning to find an ecommerce solution and build the store. I didn’t think big enough at that stage and tried to incorporate the patches into an online kids boutique that I purchased at the same time. When the patches took off, I closed that store and moved over to a stronger ecommerce platform and haven’t looked back. It was a silly mistake but a good lesson learned.”
Since launching six years ago, Kids Eye Gear has gone from strength to strength and she says there is always something new to learn.
“I’m sure everyone that runs a business will say that there are constant challenges and for me that’s true but I also look at them as learning opportunities. Whether it’s manufacturing in China, gaining Therapeutic Goods Administration approval for my product, trademarking and even developing efficient systems as the business grows, every little thing is a challenge but definitely keeps me on my toes and my brain ticking over.”
She tells KBB she is proud to be chosen as a regional hero and grateful that her business can do so much for so many despite its rural location.
“So many times I have been at trade shows and doctors I’m speaking to just assume I live in Sydney or Melbourne. They’re surprised to find out I live in a regional area – and a little jealous when I tell them it’s the Sunshine Coast. I lived in Brisbane for 14 years before moving back ‘home’ to the coast so I know how important cities are. But regional communities in Australia have so much to offer and I love that these areas are being recognised for the talent they’re home to and the contribution they make to our economy.
“If I can play even a small role in showcasing regional businesses then that makes me very proud of the heart and soul I’ve put into my business. I’m so incredibly grateful to be recognised as part of Kochie’s Business Builders’ Regional Heroes.”
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