I’ve interviewed people all over the world in my Baby Boomers Making A Fresh Start series, but I was extra excited to meet Wendy MacManus, as she lives just down the road from me. Relatively speaking, that is – just a mere 40 kilometres away at Tewantin on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.
Wendy worked in accounting for many years, but was feeling stifled and unfulfilled when at the age of 54, she decided to quit her job and pursue a lifelong passion for shoes. After a lot of hard work and research which included trips to Bali and China, she launched her business Wendy & Holly Australia in 2011. She now has over 160 stockists in Australia and New Zealand and is expanding into the international market.
Unfortunately we couldn’t get the technology working to do a Google Hangout video interview, so Wendy answered my questions by email. However, I did make a visit to her showroom in Noosa and treated myself to three pairs of her signature jelly shoes – photo below. They’re comfortable, stylish and very reasonably priced.
Lights, camera, action……
Can you tell me a bit about your previous career in accounting?
I don’t have a degree in accounting. I worked in a couple of accountants’ offices as a computer manager in my early to late twenties. I was offered by one company to go to part-time university and complete a degree to become an accountant, but my family came first and I didn’t have the time to accept the offer. Working in an accountant’s office, I learnt my skills to become a financial controller and this is what I did until I was 54.
What was the thing that spurred you on to quit your job and how long did it take you to make the decision?
Basically I lost my sparkle for life doing the same old thing. The company I worked for in Noosa was sold and it was the perfect time to quit. I actually worked as an accounts person at a resort for 6 months before I finally said enough was enough. My husband was in Sumatra on a surfing trip and I rang him and said, ‘I’ve decided to sell shoes,’ and I quit my job.
What was the attitude of your friends and family to your decision?
My family and friends have been so supportive and encouraged me from the beginning. There are always the knockers. When I bought my warehouse and showroom a year ago, one of my acquaintances said, ‘Oh, so the shoes are going well then?’
I had often said to my husband and son that I was going to sell shoes. Shoes have been a passion of mine forever. My first pay cheque in 1972 was spent on shoes and a handbag to match. I wanted a niche market and I remembered wearing jelly shoes in 1965 and how much I loved them, so jelly shoes it was.
How much preparation and research did you do before you launched your business?
I worked 24/7 for about a year, researching all aspects of the jelly shoe industry and working on a business strategy. Interestingly, jelly shoes were first produced in 1946 by a Frenchman, due to the shortage of leather after WW Two.
What challenges have you come across and how are you addressing them?
In these economic times business is a challenge on a daily basis. I have had so many curveballs thrown at me over the last 4 years. I don’t know what I would have done without the help and support from my husband and son. They both have helped me out in very trying circumstances with their areas of expertise.
I think the biggest challenge happened at the beginning of the business when a shipment of shoes arrived squashed. Tears running down my face, I said to my husband Jim, ‘How can I sell these shoes like this?’ Jim put his arm around me and said, ‘Plastic always remembers its shape, so all we have to do is cook the shoes.’ And that’s exactly what we did.
What benefits do you see in changing direction at this stage of your life?
I was lucky enough to have a very understanding husband when I decided to change direction and enough money to do so. The benefit for me is that I’m doing something I love and I feel alive every day. I’ve learnt so much in my journey and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so.
What advice would you give to others your age who are thinking of changing careers?
You can always change if you put your mind to it, but make sure you do due diligence.
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Even though accounting and shoes seem worlds apart, it was obvious from talking to Wendy that her previous experience in the world of finance has set her in good stead for running her own business.
I’d love to read your comments – could you see yourself starting a new business at 54?
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.