• 24-25 July 2019
  • ICC Sydney

Interview: Caroline McCulloch (FRANKiE4)

By Jade Collins, Femeconomy

Above: Caroline McCulloch, Founder and Designer, FRANKiE4

Caroline McCulloch, Founder and Designer FRANKiE4 is a Physiotherapist and Podiatrist whose shoe venture began because she could no longer bear the distress that the fashion vacuum of healthy shoe options was causing her customers. Like many ‘overnight success’ stories, Caroline has determinedly weathered and overcome 8 years of business challenges to now enjoy FRANKiE4‘s phenomenal popularity, and average 91% revenue growth year on year over the past 4 years.

With a devoted customer base who appreciate stylish supportive footwear options and 2019 plans to expand internationally to Belgium and The Netherlands, continued growth seems assured.

Like many successful women, Caroline is humble and reserved about her business achievements. I however, have no reservations about endorsing her exceptional products that result from her leadership expertise, vision and self belief. As a committed FRANKiE4 brand advocate, I have on more than one occasion found myself removing a shoe mid conversation to demonstrate ‘show and tell’ style their spectacular features to friends, family and strangers.

Caroline’s design genius and business acumen has deservedly been awarded many times over, including 2018 Winner for ‘Fashion’ category in the Australian Small Business Champions Awards, 2017 Winner for ‘Product Of Excellence’ in The Australian Brand Awards, 2017 Winner of the Lord Mayor’s Business Awards, Channel 7 Award For Business Person Of The Year 2017, 2017 Telstra Small Business Award Finalist and 2017 Finalist Telstra Business Women’s Awards.

You have grown Frankie4 over 8 years from 200 shoes to 180,000 per year. What were the key milestones behind this growth?

I’m embarrassed to say I’m terrible with setting key milestones. We never make them because I keep moving the goal posts. Ultimately though, the growth is in strategies that are sustainable. I don’t allow decisions be made that I feel will only give us a short term peak in growth at the expense of long term sustainability. 

Tell us about your leadership style, and the dedicated team you have built at Frankie4

I think my leadership style is ok, but it’s not something I think I should take credit for anymore. I feel this brand has eclipsed me. I’m so proud of my team, I truly feel the success of this company is because of the team effort, it no longer hinges on me leading it. 

I have staff that are competent, clever, efficient, passionate, and enjoy their job; it’s because of their brains that we are doing well. 

Your business navigates fashion, wholesale, retail, marketing, manufacturing and logistics. How have you refined your supply chain and brand message over time?

Due to our orders growing, for us, our supply chain has gotten easier over time to manage. For the first few years we were so small, which came with so many hurdles. 

Growing from the ground up, I could feel the business we are in has a pecking order. The bigger you are, the better service, better rates, better companies/suppliers are willing to do business with you, which all makes sense of course. I have to say though, it’s nice to no longer be at the bottom of that pecking order. 

Our brand message has jumped around a bit over the years. But, to me, that’s ok. We needed to find our feet. We have re-invented ourselves and the range so much that we had to keep refining it until it felt right. Our message is clear now. In a nutshell, ‘we are a healthier option for fashion footwear’. That’s who we are now, that’s what we are providing our customers. 

From a business advisor telling you that you’d have to sell your son’s high chair and were risking the family’s financial security starting Frankie4, to now a beloved brand that’s a favourite with celebrities and tens of thousands of women, what are some key lessons you learned about yourself?

I’m more resilient than what I thought I was. I forget quickly the hurdles, and when I’m reminded of them I sometimes am astonished I kept going. 

Your greatest challenge?

Cashflow was a massive challenge the first few years… that used to keep me up at night. The growth wasn’t exciting because I was so worried we couldn’t afford it. It’s nice to be out of those woods now. 

What are you most proud of?

On a business level, I’m most proud of my team. 

It’s a humbling feeling to look at someone whilst they are saying clever things and I think in my mind  ‘wow….you chose my little FRANKiE4 label as your career path’.  I think it most days actually, how did I get such a crew? 

Advice for future female leaders?

Know who your customers are, listen to them, keep re-inventing.

 

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