“I wanted to change my life”: How Zoe Gordon beat burnout to build Byron Bay Gifts

“I wanted to change my life”: How Zoe Gordon beat burnout to build Byron Bay Gifts

Byron Bay Gifts co-founder Zoe Gordon (Provided)

While burnout can leave us feeling debilitated and overwhelmed, it can also serve as the force that helps drive positive change in our professional lives.

That was the case for Zoe Gordon, who was tired of the monotony in advertising sales and decided to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams 10 years ago, inspired by a trip to the Bangalow Market near Byron Bay. 

It was there she would have the light bulb moment to create Byron Bay Gifts – a hamper company that generated $6.8 million in turnover during FY22 and has shipped 200,000-plus orders across Australia since it was launched in late 2012.

Co-founded with her partner Tony Cox, the site has grown to stock 50 brands, offering a range of gift hampers for personal events, as well as for corporate giants such as Toyota, Woolworths (ASX: WOW) and Suncorp (ASX: SUN).

However, reaching that level of success was no easy feat.

“To start a business, you have to be a little bit naive in some ways. I meet so many people that think that you will launch a product and it'll go viral. But sometimes the business doesn't make money for two or three years,” Gordon told Business News Australia.

“A lot of companies weren't super interested in talking to us [at the start] because we were ordering such small amounts.

“Some people were friendly and nice, but it didn't mean a lot to them. We went to Byron Bay Cookies and were ordering 20 units of product. They would give us that, but maybe they assumed that we would fall by the wayside like a number of companies.”

But closing shop wasn't an option, and the couple would make the move to New South Wales in 2014 to pursue scale for Byron Bay Gifts – a venture that had been operating out of their Brisbane bedroom up until that point.

To stay afloat, the co-founders would take on odd cleaning jobs together for a period of two years. The slog did not deter Gordon, who looked back on those days fondly as she preferred the laborious routine to working in a corporate environment.

“I previously worked in advertising sales, but it started to burn me out so much. After my mum died, I almost gave my notice straight away. I did not want to do it anymore - I wanted to change my life [and was] really unhappy," Gordon said.

"My partner had talked about starting a business - it was a reference point for me to get something going. I visited Byron Bay for the weekend and went to Bangalow Market...I was really inspired by everything that was there.

"I went back to my partner and said: We should start a business - just buy a few little products from there. We had them in the bedroom at home for a while we worked other jobs."

When asked why Byron Bay Gifts started to pick up momentum, she noted the company’s improved product offering drew in customers who found the site via organic search engine hits.

“The website had been live for around four years and you get SEO traction from that - it's more likely that you're going to start showing up in organic searches. You've got more money to invest back in the business because it is making a little bit more money, so you can do more advertising as well,” Gordon explained.

“The good thing about no one seeing your proposition when you first start a business is that you get to make all your mistakes there. You make all your improvements so that by the time people start seeing your product, you have a better offering.

“I've seen some of our local competitors that haven't improved their product offering. That's always been a big focus of ours - pretty much every year when we get into January, we're like: 'What are we going to do this year to make it better?' We always put money back into the business. You have to have to do that.”

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the company has already launched a seasonal campaign that allows customers to select themed add-ons like heart-shaped chocolates and personalised cards for any hamper.

Gordon noted that the majority of orders come from Sydney and Brisbane (taking up 25 per cent each), followed by Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.

But for her, one of the most rewarding experiences has been helping local businesses such as Byron Bay Candles and Byron Bay Cacao survive during the pandemic.

“There's a couple of businesses out there that started at the same time as us and we've been able to give so much business to them. We did help some people get through COVID when their retail sales fell away. It was an amazing thing for us because we've absolutely boomed through COVID,” she said.

“We were able to stay open because we did fall under an essential service category. We're not retail facing, so we didn't have customers coming into the store. It all kind of shut down, but we still worked in the office and sent parcels out so we just boomed over those two years.”

In addition to helping local businesses, Byron Bay Gifts has also partnered with global non-profit Eden Reforestation Project to plant a tree for every sale it makes.

To date, the company has helped plant more than 124,000 trees in developing nations such as the Philippines, Haiti and Ethiopia since it joined the initiative three years ago.

“I feel like the business has improved me as a person in some regards,” Gordon reflected.

“Watching Byron Bay Gifts grow has been really kind of mind-blowing, I definitely think you grow and change with the business.”

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