Skip to main content


Looie James doesn’t have a showroom or a fancy office.  Operating from her 4ha lifestyle block northwest of Auckland, she runs a thriving virtual store that sells high-end toys to Australasian retailers.

Four years ago, Looie James was a stay-at-home mum with seven children living on a lifestyle block down a gravel road northwest of Auckland.

The semi-isolation didn’t preclude the still stay-at-home mum from running a thriving export-import business called, which supplies 60 retailers across Australia and New Zealand with toys, handmade comfort blankets and playthings imported from Europe, Asia, Israel and the United States.

Meeting her logistics needs is Rural Post owner-driver Carol Whitelaw, whose personalised service has kept James’ business growing.

James was looking for something to do besides raising a family. “I just felt I needed something else – stimulation away from the family.  This of course was difficult since I have so many children  — they range from 15 years to 18 months. I wanted to find something I loved and felt good about.

“As a child I didn’t have many toys, and with having so many children, I now know quite a lot about toys.  I decided to look at high-end shops — I wasn’t interested in the low-end area of things.  There’s a lot of rubbish out there for kids that is quite damaging to the environment.

“So I started looking at toys created from organic fibre at the high-end of things.”


She looked first to Europe, and started to contact manufacturers.  It was difficult to be taken seriously, but a German teddy-bear maker agreed to supply her and things started from there.

She built a website and started to get her toys placed in high-end stores, such as Smith & Caughey.  “This gave the business some prestige.”

After two years she took on a business partner.  She asked her manufacturers if they would consider her for supply to Australia, too, and all but one said yes.  After going to a trade show in Sydney in February last year, things exploded.

“People loved what we had to offer – but we hadn’t really considered how to get the goods to them.  We needed to look at how to ship things quickly.  I’m a stay-at-home mum with seven kids – I was using New Zealand Post for New Zealand orders, so I contacted them to find out what was available for Australia.  They said they could help with good, competitive rates.”


One issue, James says, is that the orders were getting bigger and bigger. “Taking them to the rural post office was getting to be too much – they were getting too big.  And this is where our local Rural Post woman came in.

“She said she was more than happy to take the packages from my back door.”  James says she now texts Rural Post owner-driver Carol Whitelaw when she has goods to be picked up, or puts a sign on her letter box saying “boxes to be collected”.  She says using this system, her goods get to their Australian destinations in two to three days.

James particularly likes being able to track her parcels.  “In all the time I’ve been using the service, I’ve had only one problem – a box went missing as the store had moved, and it had been delivered to the wrong address.  I managed to track it and it was delivered to the correct address on the same day.”


James says she manages to work out pricing online and over the phone and uses clear big envelopes that she keeps at home for invoicing.  “I’m always careful not to go over A$1000 value on my parcels, as that makes them liable for taxes on the other end.”

She says she has an account with New Zealand Post and pays monthly.  The first year of her business saw $5000 in sales, last year she enjoyed $160,000 in sales, and she is expecting that to double.  “Each year we have doubled our sales.

“It’s looking like at the end of March we will have made $300,000 in sales in a recession financial year.  We have enquires daily from stores.  We have another trade fair to attend in July and are looking at huge volumes of stock in October.”

James says living rurally helps rather than hinders her. “It’s a low-cost business working from home.  We have 4ha and are building a warehouse on one of our paddocks for the business.  It’s time to move out of the garage — it’s supposed to be a playroom for the kids!

“Why move into some industrial park when we can have packages collected from here. That’s what makes the difference.

“We don’t have a showroom, but we do have a phenomenal website where people can look at our products.  We do 97% of our business online and I constantly use email marketing to update our store customers on what’s available.

“There are a few people who don’t like email marketing so for them we’ll post hard copies.  Part of it is learning how stores like to be contacted, but a lot of my business is run on my laptop on the sofa.”

She says she’s finding Australian stores don’t mind dealing with a New Zealand-based distributor, as long as they can pay in Australian dollars and they can phone you on an Australian number.  “It just makes it easier for them.”

She says her older children help with the business.  “My 15-year-old daughter is great at graphic design, so she helps out with that.”  Her husband helps with the spreadsheets.

James says there have been some challenges with the rapid growth of the business.  But the two things that make it all possible are Rural Post owner-driver Carol Whitelaw and her access to broadband.


Dishing up export possibilities

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012

What’s mine is not yours

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012

25 countries… and counting

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012