A regional Victorian wool mill has transformed itself into a leading tourism and retail venture, with help from Export Finance Australia.
Located 120km outside Melbourne, Creswick Woollen Mills was established in 1947 by Paul Ryzowy, spending its first 65 years manufacturing fine fabrics and yarn.
In 1956, the mill’s fabric was used in athletes’ uniforms for the Melbourne Olympics, boosting demand for its products. Then, in the 2000s, the mill partnered with retailer David Jones, becoming a household name, and opened its first retail store.
Today, Creswick has nine retail outlets around Victoria, a thriving online store, and a growing export business. The mill also generates significant revenue from tourism, with Creswick Mills a must-see destination – particularly for international tourists.
Attracting international customers
Boaz Herszfeld is Executive Director of Creswick Mills, and the grandson of the original owner. He said that over the past decade, the mill has gone from attracting a small number of tourists, to hosting more than 140,000 visitors each year.
“In 2013 we invested in a museum and the mill, and an increased toilet facility that allowed bus groups and Asian day-tour operators to come,” he said. “So that part of the business started to take off in November 2014.”
Creswick Woollen Mills offers an award-winning interactive exhibition that takes visitors through the history of the mill, and the journey of the fibres from the source to the store, as well as a new café and on-site store.
“There's four parts to the Creswick experience,” said Boaz. “You learn about the history of Australia, through the Australian textiles. You learn about animals – you can feed and touch them. We have a great café, and the largest collection of natural fibre products in regional Australia.”
With around 40,000 visitors from mainland China each year, Boaz said that the company has a deliberate strategy to attract Chinese tourists, by building relationships with Chinese-based travel operators.
“To do that we’re visiting Shanghai two or three times a year and really trying to drum up business that way.”
The Mill Cafe at Creswick Woollen Mills
Boaz said that support from Export Finance Australia enabled the Mill to bring forward the construction of the site’s new café, to help boost visitation and on-site sales.
“While we have a really good relationships with our bankers and a long-term plan on when we use bank funding for capital, we wanted to set up the café earlier and quicker.”
“So Export Finance Australia gave us the flexibility to do that, and bring forward that expenditure, which was helpful.”
Today, around 30% of the mill’s revenue comes from sales to overseas customers, much of that through indirect exporting by tourists.
“We’re a great example of exporting through tourists, and filling up tourists' suitcases with our goods,” said Boaz.
“We’ve even created a private shop where groups of Chinese tourists come in, and everything they buy is exported back to China. It's just not in a container.”