Date posted: 03/05/2019 5 min read

Meet the CA turned wool merchant

Accounting skills helped Janette Osborne CA pivot and rebuild her business, Briar Patch, after Christchurch’s earthquakes.

In Brief

  • After the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes destroyed her office, Janette Osborne CA had to rethink her plans about expanding her Briar Patch business into a cooperative.
  • Osborne says her CA qualification enabled her to work both remotely and locally to put capital into the Briar Patch business.
  • She’s now come full circle – the small business that once supplemented her accounting income now supplements Osborne’s new career path into governance.

By Helen Corrigan

In 2005, Janette Osborne CA bought 4.8 hectares outside Christchurch and set up Briar Patch New Zealand to supply local, ethically grown, “soft-as-a-cloud” traceable knitting yarn to knitters and crafters.

Five years later, Briar Patch had a fat order book of clients when two earthquakes hit Christchurch. The second, in February 2011, destroyed Osborne’s city office and damaged her home.

Osborne – who is also a director of CP Wool and Primary Wool Co-operative – says her CA training helped her get back up when the business literally fell down around her.

Janette Osborne CAJanette Osborne CA

What was Briar Patch’s original plan?

Initially, it was to set up Briar Patch on a decent web platform and then work cooperatively with other small, wool-based businesses. That went well until the earthquake destroyed my office and everything in it. Fortunately, our finished yarn was stored elsewhere, but my plan to expand into a cooperative wasn’t practical without a Christchurch office.

What happened next?

Well, while visiting a Waikato fibre processing mill I met local farmer Kim Osborne who, eventually, convinced me to move the business north to his family’s 1200-hectare station “Te Toko”, near Te Kuiti [80km south of Hamilton].

And you married him?

Yes. Packed up the llamas and sheep, cats, dogs and moved 900km north.

Briar Patch now offers yarn grown on site, as well as fleece from outlets trusted to farm ethically and sustainably.

Has being a CA helped?

My CA qualification has enabled me to work both remotely and locally to put capital into the business to pay for trade shows, advertising and other promotions.

My management accounting experience has been invaluable in improving the station’s production and profitability. For instance, moving to real-time information for financials and for stock and grass, and understanding the entire farming system.

How important is it to be online?

I’d invested initially in a good web platform and that’s meant Briar Patch has been able to tick along in the background with a steady stream of local and international orders. Online promotions can also assist in quick cash flow if needed. But I’m more careful about these now after a Facebook post went viral and got 162,000 viewings. Wonderful sales, but it meant three weeks of 12-hour days packaging orders.

Ironically, things have gone full circle: the small business that once supplemented my accounting income now supplements my new career path into governance, and also allows me to volunteer for good causes in the community.

“My CA qualification has enabled me to work both remotely and locally to put capital into the business to pay for trade shows, advertising and other promotions.”
Janette Osborne CA

Janette Osborne’s tips for CAs launching a business

  • Try to ‘earn and learn’ through complementary accounting roles in the sector you’re interested in. I had engagements with wool supplier H Dawson & Sons, a superfine merino farmer/exporter and a textile mill.
  • New businesses won’t provide full-time income from the get-go, so accounting is ideal for a supplementary income.
  • Accept you’ll be a jack of all trades: take courses, read and fill any knowledge gaps around social media, etc.
  • If your business is internet based, buy the best tech you can afford.