Sasha Titchkosky's first job was working at a shop that sold all things related to Manchester. In fact, she had to take over the entire store when the owner went on vacation shortly after she started. He called her after the first day of his vacation to see how sales went. He was shocked to find out that 16-year-old Sasha had sold more merchandise in one day than he had the entire previous week. From this experience, Sasha learned the importance of talking to and engaging with customers.
In her formal career after university, Sasha worked at a few large corporations but then started to get jaded. She felt uninspired and didn't feel that there was anyone at her company that she could learn from. So in 2000, with her husband, Russell, they founded Koskela.
Sasha Titchkosky had surveyed the Australian furniture market and discovered a gap for mid-market products that were designed and produced in Australia. She also witnessed tremendous waste in the corporate market. Companies that would do a fit-out would just cycle through another fit-out in five years, regardless if the furnishing were damaged, outdated, or out-of-style. So for Koskela, they focus on the inputs and ensure that their pieces can be reused as much as possible (for example re-upholstered). Furthermore, Koskela collaborates with artisans and manufacturers in Australia and is viewed by clients as having a high degree of ethical conduct along with passion for creating well-designed pieces.
Today, Koskela employs eight full-time staff and six part-time staff. The organization pursues a culture of social ambition and conscience. Their motto is "Follow your heart, trust your judgment, and do it with joy." The company's culture resonates so well with people that when they are looking for new staff members, they only post their vacancies on their blog and Facebook page. Sasha was shocked by the flood of applicants who applied with emotive phrases like, "I love your products. I would love to work in your store." Sasha definitely thinks that their brand and beautiful products are a strong draw for potential employees.
Sasha Titchkosky states that Koskela three most important strategic assets are:
(1) Design Capabilities - Koskela is able to design pieces that resonate with the mid-price market segment.
(2) Manufacturing Partnerships - they've worked with some local manufacturers for over 10 years. So they have forged some great partnerships.
(3) Brand - the company has carefully cultivated a strong emotional response to their product and brand given their mission of creating well-designed, eco-friendly furnishings that are all produced in Australia.
After 11 years, Koskela recently moved into a stunning new retail space complete with artist space and a scrumptious cafe. Given the organization's growth and expansion into a much larger space, Sasha shared the following experiences for other entrepreneurs to learn from:
*Keep True to and Leverage Your Brand- Most other competitors in her market are just reselling an imported brand. There are very few that design and produce their own products. This is something they promote and keep true to that attracts clients and employees to Koskela.
*Cultural Tune-up after Major Company Milestones- After years of growth and planning for their new showroom, Sasha realized that the processes and culture they had when they were smaller need to be evaluated and updated. For example, today there's too much criticism that lacks a constructive angle from some of her staff. They just look at the negative side without providing any solutions. She realizes that she needs to engage these people and assess how to get her culture back on the right track since the company has grown and changed.
*Don't Underestimate Impact of Office Environment- Sasha sees large companies investing in their office environment all the time. But she thinks that smaller companies don't realize how critical an office environment can be to morale and company image. And the kicker is that they don't have to spend huge amounts of money to improve their office environment.
*Conclusion- While having a bite from the yummy cafe during our interview, Sasha remarked that she really admires how well run and efficient the cafe's operations are. Everyone there has a role there that is well-defined and everyone executes their tasks professionally. Given the recent massive expansion in showroom space and given the recent company growth, it'll be interesting to follow how well oiled Koskela's operations will become too.
I have to admit being at the new Koskela space was a really great experience. And if the office space and environment truly do mirror and affect the culture, then I think Sasha has a big headstart in improving her processes and culture.
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