By Luke Voogt
‘Mumpreneur’ Lisa Cowley turned a small, home-based Ebay business into a multi-million dollar operation. She hopes her story will inspire other women to follow their business dreams.
For ‘mumpreneur’ Lisa Cowley, Officer was the perfect “growth corridor” to build a thriving, multi-million dollar business.
Lisa opened her first display centre there in 2013 after finding a niche in the greenhouse market.
“It’s basically the only outdoor greenhouse display centre in Australia,” the 39-year-old said.
“I could give you 20 different greenhouse photos and they would look the same, but they’re not.
“It became very evident… that customers wanted to come in and touch the products. People can actually see what they investing their money in.”
In seven years, Lisa grew Sproutwell from a full-time “Ebay business” in 2011 into what is now “Australia’s biggest greenhouse supply company” with operations in both Officer and Geelong.
“It all started with a product container of about $25,000,” she said.
Lisa’s rapid rise saw her make the final of the St George Bank Mumpreneur Award in 2016.
“It was an amazing experience to be up there with all those fantastic women who built their businesses from nothing,” she said.
“I think there’s still a bit of a perception of women at home with children. But all women can do this – have their own business. I would like to inspire other women to go on and do this as well.”
Funnily enough, Lisa has never been a keen gardener.
“It definitely didn’t come from a passion for growing for me,” she said.
“When I started this business, my sons were aged one and three – I wanted to still be able to contribute to the family’s income.”
Lisa was a new home consultant, while her husband Clayton worked for a construction company.
When the business began, she had to teach herself the ins and outs of greenhouse gardening, as well as how to drive a forklift.
“When we first started my biggest obstacle was freighting and storing these greenhouse products,” she said.
After years of work, her eldest is following his mother’s example.
“He’s keen to produce his own range of scooters,” she says.
“They’ve grown up with a mother who’s always run her own businesses. Although they’re young they understand they can do anything they put their mind to.”
Sproutwell stocks everything from hobby greenhouses to wind-resistant commercial setups for the more serious growers.
“We supply to a lot of restaurant owners,” Lisa says.
“Over recent years, greenhouses have become more about sustainable and organic growing. People don’t have to worry about pesticides.”
The company owns all its unique moulds.
“They’re not a generic off-the-shelf products,” Lisa said.
“No one in Australia can sell these particular structures.
“Months and months went into it. We found there was a real niche for gardens that were looking for that kind of structure.”
The ever-expanding company opened its first warehouse in Geelong in July 2016, which has become the company’s new headquarters.
“Up until that point, we used a fulfilment company for storage.”
The back-to-back winners of the Good Organic Gardening’s outdoor award now employ 11 people.
If Lisa’s dedication is anything to go by, the company will only continue to grow.
“We love it. For every year that passes, I become more excited and passionate about it.”