When my kids were babies and toddlers and I wished there was a beautiful space we could go hang out in… that wasn’t painted lime green and purple, didn’t involve chipmunk music, didn’t serve preservative laden food and actually helped me entertain the sweetpeas for an hour or two. Mostly I just wanted to get out of the house, connect with other adults and have somewhere I looked forward to going to so I could stay sane with my kids in tow. Because there’s only so many trips to the library you can make in a week.
Enter Suzanne Acteson and Habitots – her kid friendly cafe, retail store, play space, party venue and creative kid classes – all in a beautiful heritage building in Albert Park, Victoria, Australia.
Suzanne’s leap from adland to retail entrepreneur was seven years in the making. It first involved an online store while she was still employed, and then a popup store trial before fully committing to a loan, retail lease, a building fitout and hiring staff. Taking her corporate smarts and applying them to her own dream was a considered path. And now as a working parent of three young boys she has created a career that works around her lifestyle, and where it’s totally cool to bring your kids to work!
In reading Suzanne’s story you’ll learn that studying away from home as a young adult that planted the idea that she could do anything she wanted. That having children is often the impetus to do that thing you always wanted to do, that sticking to your values show you your way, that courage builds by doing, and that in solving your own problem you solve it for others too. xx
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I envisioned myself with 5 kids (but I’m going to stop at 3) so I suppose I thought of myself as a full-time mum but after high school I thought about going into law. Happy I didn’t.
Also wanted to go to Wimbledon when I was a kid but wasn’t quite that good to make it.
What did/do you study?
I grew up in Canada and the thing to do after high school (where I lived) was to go to university. I had no real idea of what I wanted to do so I started with an Arts Degree in Sociology. University in Canada is almost a rite of passage as most students move away from home, live on campus and the 4 years of university are a social, education and life experiment on whether you can get to the end. I did and loved being a student for what the study taught me but also the freedom to do what I wanted. I realised then that I could do anything I wanted.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
First was moving to Australia however, at the time, I didn’t realise it as I was falling in love.
Second was definitely starting Habitots.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
I was managing an advertising agency in Melbourne and was there for 11 years. I worked my way through the agency (on the suit side) so learned a lot about selling to clients, managing a P&L, cashflow (but this still dumbfounds me) and managing people (equally as challenging).
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My parents. Both very hardworking but from totally different backgrounds in different disciplines. My mum went back to work after 25 years at home with us (4 kids), and I remember being really proud of her for doing that and starting a new career to help support our family.
Cathy Honor was VP of the Department in my first real job. She gave me the confidence to ask for what I wanted and to try new roles I may not have put my hand up for. She probably taught me my favourite saying in business ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.
My first mentor John. John was my boss in a summer job and taught me that a workplace can combine the value of good conversation and friendship whilst still getting lots of work done. He was the person who recognised that I’m always looking for the next rung in my ladder and that sales was a good career route for me…he was right.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
I started Habitots while I was still working at the advertising agency (at the suggestion of my boss!) so in evenings, on planes and in hotel rooms, I started putting ideas to paper. Logos, website designs, product sourcing…I knew I could start the retail portion of the business on the side and work towards the bigger vision of a retail space so I put my toe in the water. I learned about importing goods, promoting them on social media, the financials, GST, duty, all of the ecommerce details – buying, importing, duty, shipping, selling, customer service. I did it slowly but it certainly felt fast at the time with such a steep learning curve.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
The management style of my direct boss contradicted everything I stood for. Nice guy but didn’t know how to get the best out of people so, each month, my dream became clearer and my desire to leave became stronger. I loved what I did at the agency, learned so much and don’t regret any time there but when the time came, I knew I had to make the leap.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
Leaving the agency didn’t quite happen the way I’d envisioned but timing is everything and the time came, so Habitots Part II was born. Because I’d been working on my plans for a long time (7 years as an idea and 2 years as a registered business), by the time I made the leap I’d built up enough courage to convince myself that my idea was going to work.
I think my courage is also a bit innate as I’ve always jumped into things with 2 feet, irrespective of whether I thought I could do it. As a dear mentor of mine said, I’m always looking for the next rung on my ladder, so I’m never happy to exist in the moment. I’m always looking for the next challenge and I get happiness through this. It motivates me and excites me to think of what’s next and what’s possible for me and the business. So actually starting the business and making it a reality made it easier to actually make the final leap.
How did you fund your leap?
I saved some of my own money, had some bonuses I’d accrued at work and also took a loan from the bank to make the final leap. We worked closely with our bank through my husbands’ business so they had the confidence in my abilities and this made getting a loan with them a bit easier.
I helped support my husband while he built up his business and now he’s supporting me and the family, while I start mine. Not planned this way, just the way it worked out.
What other leaps have you made in the past?
I came to Australia for one month in 2001 and left a good job to travel for a bit, before it became too hard. In my one month here, I met Rob and after spending a few days together, I decided I’d come back and give living here a go. Six weeks later, I’d been home to Canada, got my visa to come back and stayed with Rob ‘for a few days’ before finding my own place. I never moved out or moved back to Canada. That was 14 years ago. A fairly big leap to move countries and follow my heart and it paid off massively!
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
I can’t think of any but I’m sure there have been some but I choose to forget about them so they don’t discourage me. Really, I can’t think of any….
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
I’m fearful of not succeeding and disappointing people around me. I have a blind faith that I will succeed though so I tend to ignore the fear and keep pushing along.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
10 – I don’t think I could ever go back to working for someone else.
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Being in control of my own world, having a balance that I can dictate with my work and family and seeing and benefitting from the results of my own hard work, which is a great feeling.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
The buck starts and stops with me so the stress can build up at times and can be hard to manage if I’m not in the right head space. Talking with my husband always helps and what I’ve often built up as an insurmountable problem never feels that way after discussing it and working out a solution.
As we all do, I get caught in the chatter in my own head so making sure to get out for a walk or to yoga helps bring things back into perspective and reduces my stress levels.
What might be your next leap?
Well I just took it and had a third baby! People ask ‘how do you do it all?’ and my answer is always ‘I don’t stop to think about it’. If your heart has a desire, just do it and life will sort itself out around you.
What are your favourite words to live by?
‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’
‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough’
‘To a child, love is spelled T-I-M-E’
‘Sometimes the small things in life are actually the big things’
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Stop talking about it, just do it.
“Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” Christian D. Larson
Right now I’m:
Hearing: Smooth FM
Eating: Dairy-free food to curb a colicky baby’s crying
Drinking: Soy Latte (Wish I was drinking: a skinny latte)
Reading: How to curb a colicky baby’s crying
Loving: My fireplace
Spring is in the air in my part of the world. Everyday I’m taking on a little ‘clearing’ task – cleaning out a wardrobe, decluttering a drawer or clearing a pantry shelf. I find I want to pare down, lighten the load and get to the essential. And mostly refresh my ‘mental’ air. In doing so I’m finding that those things I’ve had on the back burner for a while are starting to come into focus again. I can feel a little leap coming on soon. What about you?