There's something humbling and profound about family businesses. They transcend profit margins or market shares. They are stories of passion, dedication, and generational aspiration.
In Australia, family businesses are the backbone of our economy. And more than that, they're a testament to human bonds, resilience, and shared dreams. Family businesses hold a special place in my heart.
I've spent most of my career in the bicycle industry. My family distributed the Wisconsin-based bicycle brand Trek in Australia for 20 years. This developed into an exceptional business becoming the number one distributor globally.
My parents Christine and Tony founded Clarence Street Cyclery on May 23, 1975, a dream founded from Mum's love of bicycles from a young age. My father worked for Leighton as a property manager, and had mentioned a retail space on Clarence Street with a tenant who wasn’t paying their lease.
Upon hearing the story my Mum had an idea: "Let’s lease the space and open a bicycle store." Armed with a receipt book purchased from a local newsagency - and an attitude of utter determination - they opened the doors and began what became a legacy.
Clarence Street Cyclery in 1975.
Clarence Street Cyclery came to be regarded as one of the leading bicycle retail stores globally. Described by the president of Trek, John Burke, as one of the three foremost bicycle retail stores in the world.
This business set industry wide financial and operational benchmarks. My mum’s nurturing nature and my dad’s philosophy that the customer comes second were the cornerstones of success.
Long before big corporates tried to adopt the appearance of a “benevolent company culture", my parents had strived to create an environment where their team felt genuinely valued and cherished, cultivating a deep love for their workplace. The flow on effects for customers were obvious.
The cycling industry was founded on the passion of enthusiasts. Entrepreneurs followed their passion in an effort to create a synergy between work life and hobby. Often, it was a family affair. Shops around the country passed through generations with family-orientated small business ethics. This experience ingrained in me principles that prioritise authenticity and underscore that people always come first.
Clarence Street Cyclery in 2018 as a legacy changed hands.
Eventually, my family's own story came full circle. Between 2010 and 2018, Trek Bicycle Corporation bought our wholesale and retail businesses, ready to expand upon the legacy my parents’ dream had started. We had paved the way for the Trek brand to flourish in Australia as it does today, 48 years later.
Overseen by the adept leadership of Philip McGlade, Jason Pye, Jono McCormack and a team of dedicated individuals, there are now 48 Trek owned stores across the country, along with hundreds of independently owned stores, all echoing the legacy of a retail institution - Clarence Street Cyclery.
They persist in their mission since 1976, a reflection of their foundational beliefs: We build only products we love, provide incredible hospitality to our customers, and change the world by getting more people on bikes.
Trek Bicycle Headquarters, Waterloo Wisconsin
As July 2020 approached, I found myself navigating the crossroads of my career. Having devoted many years to my family business, I questioned what lay ahead for me. I pondered whether my unique experience would be relevant beyond the realm of bicycles.
My realisation was this.
It wasn’t just about the product.
It was about understanding relationships, business dynamics, and the fine balance of tradition and innovation.
Fundamentally I had developed a broad range of skills and experience where success was tied to a continuity of values and goals which are typically only found in multi-generational, family-run companies.
As the years had moved on at the cyclery, I'd taken my focus to our digital progression. Developing skills which allowed us, as a business, to transition into the digital age. We had moved faster, adapted quicker, and I came to believe that this could translate to help other families.
Clarence Street Cyclery's website in 2009, an interactive homepage was a revolution at the time.
For more than 15 years, I was more than just a part of my family's businesses; I lived and breathed them.
From the dynamic world of wholesale distribution - working alongside a passionate team of 20 to supply over 200 loyal independent dealers Australia-wide - to the heartbeat of our own retail stores, where every individual upheld the exemplary customer service principles my parents had established.
These were my days, my challenges, and my joys.
I’m sharing my story both as an acknowledgment of bygone days and as testament to how deeply these experiences have shaped my professional journey.
Welcome to Horgans
Responding to a small advert for a part time digital marketing role, a pivot came when I found myself parked on the busy end of Burrows Road South, St. Peters. Boral concrete laden trucks raced back and forth.
What waited inside was an untold narrative. A family-owned furniture and homewares wholesaler with immense potential. Alongside a flash of uncertainty lay a sense of familiarity.
Horgans is a second-generation family business that has been bringing a world of sophisticated furniture to Australian homes since 1983. This legacy began with Marion & Patrick Horgan, a dynamic duo whose vision shaped the brand.
I needn't have worried. For Horgans, I emerged as a missing jigsaw piece.
As an independent consultant, my practice is founded in an ambition to help families through digital change.
I didn’t know it but this was not just a business encounter, but the beginning of a journey that would rekindle my passion and purpose.
A short conversation on marketing objectives evolved into a comprehensive discussion around the many challenges faced by family businesses.
This was a team of outstanding individuals with innovative products and great facilities. They sought guidance and a supportive touch in navigating digital transformation.
The pandemic reshaped the e-commerce terrain for businesses worldwide, highlighting those lagging in digital evolution.
Amid these revelations, I recognised my purpose.
My goal wasn't just to propose technological fixes; it was to know their team and authentically assist a family make a transition.
I found my place.
On my following visit to the Horgans, the atmosphere felt different: the entire family was present. Renee initiated our conversation by presenting two A4 pages. She touched on the marketing advert and set it aside. "You’ve far more experience than this requires, we can find someone else," she said.
Renee focused on the second page, which featured the email I had sent detailing my suggestions. "We’ve been searching for someone to assist us with this for years, unsure of where to look or how to even write something like this to find them. Yet, here you are. When can you start?”
Over the past three years, together with an incredible team, we've reimagined Horgans' digital presence. This has been more than a digital transformation. It has created connections and unlocked a vision for the future.
Horgans had delayed their move to direct-to-consumer to preserve their enduring commitment to supplying retail stores, interior designers and property stylists for close to 40 years. Their integrity and commitment to their industry makes them a beacon to those within it. And now was their time to shine even brighter.
As we unveiled the new face of the Horgans brand last week, the overwhelming emotion was pride. Not just for the outcome, as polished as it is, but for a company - a family - stepping from great to unparalleled greatness.
From a technical perspective, this was a journey that started in 2021. We had begun by launching two new Shopify stores, backed by the introduction of new SaaS inventory and accounting systems.
The first store was a reimagining of the B2B platform, while the second introduced B2C for the first time. There was an uncertainty around how a new direct-to-retail store would be perceived. We were rewarded with praise and the move served as a seamless expansion into a new world of elevating the brand. Since that time I have been involved in continuous improvement to every aspect of the Horgans' business and brand.
On the brand side, I've had a opportunity to lead initiatives to enhance photography, engaging a top Australian digital marketing agency to bolster SEO and SEM, and ventured deeply into the realm of 3D rendering.
I was aware of a developer in Sydney with ties to the cycling industry. His reputation for integrity and expertise preceded him. The key to success in any project lies in partnerships. Richie Tyler, a trusted friend and business associate, was instrumental in this journey.
Drawing from my background in technology and design, I was well-positioned to complement Richie's outstanding (and award-winning) development abilities. We crafted a digital ecosystem that has truly transformed Horgans.
Initially, reward came in witnessing the benefits to the business, both financially and operationally. Even more gratifying was seeing the positive impact on those working within. The staff.
As the next generation stewards of the brand, Sam and Renee Horgan have ensured its vibrancy. They upheld the brand's essence and modernised to resonate with today's consumer.
My mission has gone well beyond digital strategy. By embedding myself within their ecosystem, understanding their aspirations, we have collectively drawn a roadmap for the future.
Last week we took a big further step towards the vision we have all held. What’s a brand without its story told and its aesthetic conveyed? A brand isn't a name or a logo; it's the embodiment of its history, its values, and the aesthetic it represents. Here, Seesaw Studio emerged as a silent hero.
Their exquisite craftsmanship has brought the Horgans narrative to life.
From the defining of the story of Horgans, to the creation of a stunning brand-mark, iconic visuals and a cohesive colour palette, the brand has a strong visual presence set for the future. Lifting people up is what effective branding does.
Businesses are, fundamentally, human endeavours.
And they are as much about ambition as they are heart and soul. Horgans stands as an exemplar of these values. As the family celebrates 40 years, their legacy extends beyond their own achievements.
Countless family businesses across the nation prosper, nurtured by the foundational values that embody Horgans, a trade supplier at heart.
Retailers, stylists and designers alike, all playing a role in gracing Australian family homes with meticulously crafted products - standing as enduring symbols of an unwavering dedication and collaborative spirit.
I want to give thanks to the team at Horgans. First and foremost to Marion Horgan, Renee Horgan and Sam Horgan, who gave me an opportunity and trusted my guidance as we moved towards the vision. To Leanne Pearce and the entire customer service team - thank you for believing, for your incredible dedication and adaptability.
I am grateful, too, to Anita McArthur, Larry Vila Pouca, Jamie Judges and Nikki Johnstone at Seesaw Studio. Thank you for your passion and creativity; a vision realised in these past few weeks. And to Deepak Stevens, Jeffrey Atizado and the SMB Consultants crew for steering us through the seamless integration of new cloud technologies.
An appreciation to Robert Whitehead for your invaluable mentorship across the years - you are a remarkable beacon of wisdom. Additionally, my gratitude to Shane Newman and the talented team at Overdose. Your expertise in ecommerce and all things digital has been an inspiration and an invaluable resource throughout.
To James Cox (Coxy), for your ceaseless support both personally and professionally, a remarkable inspiration in the face of change.
To Richie Tyler, a person of the utmost integrity and talent, thank you for your unparalleled contribution my friend.
From one family to another.
Today Horgans’ stands out not just as a brand.
It stands out as a testament to collaboration and forward-thinking vision.
I feel privileged to have been a piece in the Horgans' transformation jigsaw; for being able to share my love for design and technology.
More than that, however, I'm honoured to be a part of their family, understanding each layer of their journey, and playing my role in letting their legacy shine brightly in digital.
To every other family-owned enterprise out there: your narrative is your most invaluable asset
Celebrate your story, and the future will be luminous.
While technology and systems are pivotal, in the theatre of business it's the human connection, the stories, and those shared dreams that matter the most.
I’m an independent multi-disciplinary designer and digital practitioner, focused on achieving exceptional outcomes across product, brand and design for family-owned and run treasure troves.
If you are contemplating your next digital step, or even confounded by it, I might be the right person to help. Not as someone for hire by the hour, but as someone who truly understands the heart and soul of family business.
Feel free to reach out.
Photography Tom Wholohan, Brett Boardman & Pablo Martin