Coco Bossard was running a successful wine tour business, combining her French background with her love of Victorian wineries in the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Ballarine Peninsula. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “in mid-March I had to shut down, so it has been six months since my last tour,” Bossard says. Her partner, Lincoln Busby, was struggling to find shifts as a casual high school teacher, adding to the couple’s financial woes.
With no end in sight to the COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria, the couple tapped into their entrepreneurial spirit and came up with what they hoped was a pandemic-resilient new business: La French Box, a subscription service offering French food, wine and other delicacies.
The resolve Bossard and Busby showed in launching La French Box in the middle of the pandemic – and their commitment to work all hours to keep it alive – is indicative of the small business fighting spirit that Don McLardy, CEO of insurance brokerage McLardy McShane, was thinking about when he came up with a new way to offer a helping hand.
McLardy joined forces with his good friend, 3AW morning co-host Russel Howcroft, to offer free 30-second ad slots to small businesses on the top-rated radio station.
“I rang Russel and said, ‘I’m terrified about this whole situation with small business, particularly in Melbourne’,” McLardy says. “The impact on small business is just horrific. In the lockdown part of Melbourne, why don’t we give airtime to businesses that will only survive if they get a bit of traffic now? What if McLardy McShane sponsors 30-second ads for businesses to get on the radio and say, ‘Look, this is what I do. If you want to help me, this is how we do it.’?
”Busby was listening to 3AW, heard about the opportunity and entered La French Box. To the couple’s surprise, their business was selected, and the ad generated plenty of business for the new venture.
“We have had people calling, emailing and ordering boxes,” Bossard says, but she adds that she’s holding out hope that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted by December so she can restart Coco’s Tours during her busiest season of the year.
McLardy McShane’s success has been built on helping the owners of small to medium-sized businesses, and McLardy says stories like Bossard’s strike a personal chord.
“The resilience of small businesspeople is extraordinary,” he says. “People will find a way to survive and will try and come back. That’s what small business is about. They haven’t got the wherewithal of big companies. They rely on nous and surviving week-to-week, and a lot of these people are in survival mode.”
McLardy, who teamed up with good friend Mike McShane in 2007 to form one of Australia’s top insurance brokerages, which boasts more than $170m in written premium income, says the company’s culture is built on supporting the communities it operates in. McLardy McShane sponsors football clubs and community initiatives and has raised more than $2.6m for charitable causes, including the Reach Foundation, to help young people achieve social and emotional wellbeing through workshops and other skill-building activities.
“The resilience of small businesspeople is extraordinary. People will find a way to survive and will try and come back. That’s what small business is about”
With such close ties to the community, McLardy is well aware just how much pain the COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting.
“I think it is underestimated the impact that it has had on businesses and people,” he says. “I am in an area on the Mornington Peninsula. Around Sorrento, Rye and all of the beachside towns an hour out of Melbourne, they are all completely shut down. There are ‘for lease’ signs everywhere. Any small business, aside from a coffee shop, local butcher, local grocery, are all closed. How many of those will get back in business? We’ll find out in time.
“I think there is a horrendous cost here we haven’t yet had to deal with, but we will have to deal with,” he adds. “I’m not sure how that will pan out.”