Featured in Border Living Magazine

Opportunities Beyond The Farmgate

Article below originally appeared in Border Living Magazine in Winter 2013. Written by Erin Corish.

Life is full of unpredictable twists and turns. What can start as a journey in one direction, can turn at the drop of a hat. Going with change and always being open to opportunity is perhaps one of the most primitive forms of creativeness there is; to create new opportunity is all about opening new doors… and for that, everyone needs a doormat.

Article by Erin Corish as seen in Border Living Magazine in Winter 2013 on page 15. 

Images: Must-See Photography and Ann Willis.

For Ann Willis of Bizclean Warialda, life has taken turns in many directions, however with husband Robert, walking down the road of ‘business owners’ has been a step in the right direction. After accepting the dream of ‘farm life’ was unsustainable as the family business, Robert searched for innovative and creative business ideas that could be applied to rural life. Hence Bizclean, a service provider to any business with a door. Retailers, Schools, Government and especially Cafés and Workshops.

Both graduates of Wagga Agricultural college, Ann and Robert have grown up with a love of the land and it was this attraction that saw them marry in 1980. Though originally from Maitland near Newcastle, visits to family farms and the love of the a rural lifestyle compelled them to follow their heart. With a love the for the outdoors, they worked on properties from Warren to Lightning Ridge and Scone until they finally settled in Coolatai in 1987. After 18% interest rates and opting for the government incentive to shoot sheep with the wool market collapse, and despite many off farm enterprises, the family of size moved to Warialda. Robert tried numerous commercial ventures off farm, including one of the first mobile crutching trailers followed by a mobile dipping trailer.

It was during a trip to investigate an off-farm venture, that Robert came across a commercial venture involving the supply of mats to commercial businesses. Mats you ask? Yes mats.

But what makes this venture so different to the normal retail market, is that the mats are replaced weekly. Bizclean remove the dirty mat for cleaning and processing and replace it with a clean mat. Basically, reducing maintenance and protecting floors for the client.

“Research has shown that 70% of dirt and dust is walked in. Plus once a mat is full of dirt it is no longer effective. Regular replacement is essential. These mats also have a static charge attracting dust plus provide a good surface to wipe mud and grease from boots and shoes.” says Ann. “For the businesses who use our mats, it means much less cleaning.”

Hence, Bizclean Mats and Hygiene was established in 1993, and although they have operated under various business names, they still seek to provide one thing; the best service possible.

With the encouragement and support of the Yallaroi Shire Council (now Gwydir Shire Council) the Willis Family were able to more off their parent’s property at Coolatai and set up a mat washing business in an old bakery with second hand machines. In 2001, the business moved to its current location on Hope Street and purchased two new Sailstar industrial washing machines and a huge prehistoric machine, fondly referred to as ‘Bertha’ (it needed the roof to be removed and a crane just to get it into the building. Since then the business has expanded into a variety of services including feminine hygiene and washroom services and overall wash and repair.

From Armidale to Wee Waa, Quirindi to Warwick plus all the places in between including Goondiwindi, Bizclean has established itself with a large clientele across the Border Region.

When asked about working and living in a rural community Ann’s response encapsulates what most people in the Border Region feel, “I love everything the city isn’t. When we moved to Warialda, it was the first time I’d lived in a town other than my childhood. There is so much I love about the country towns; the dead quiet streets on a Saturday afternoon, parking in front of the shop rather than in a parking station; I like that everyone you pass on the road or in the street has a wave or a ‘hello’.” She continues with a laugh, “ I love that they know my life, ‘the good and the bad’. I love the sunrise and the sunsets, I love the little weatherboard homes as opposed to the ugly fenced-in mansions, and I love dawdling across the main street with only the occasional semi to watch out for.”

Each mat, though set in sizes, can be custom designed with logos and colours. With a customer base which includes Mackenzie’s Home Hardware, Border Tyres, and Farmgate in Goondiwindi, Ann is constantly trying to do the best by her customers. She enjoying travelling the region and is keen to work with other business people who are passionate about promoting the area.

“The cross section of characters in country towns and community groups are probably what I find interesting at this stage of my life. I hang onto this business because I feel a responsibility to my employees and to society in general. Employment is a very important part of a cure for many of our social problems – especially in country towns. Besides, it keeps me learning.”