JOHN HALL - CACTUS COUNTRY
I grew up at Cactus Country in Strathmerton. It was a great place to grow up, the river is only a short drive up the road. I used to ride my bike into town and play tennis with my friends, when I wasn't helping Dad on the farm. As a kid i tried to avoid this, I just didn't have the motivation back then. Despite this, I always got dragged into some huge project such as building hothouses, getting fields ready for planting and just all the general run-around jobs a kid can do on a farm.
After finishing school in Cobram I decided I should broaden my horizons and move to the big smoke, so after being accepted into Myotherapy I moved down to Doncaster East. After a year I already knew it wasn't for me. I didn't mind living in the city, but the education system wasn't for me. After travelling around the world for a few months I returned to Cactus Country to pay off my debt and just fell into a really challenging role. Over the years I've picked up a few short courses and completed some mentoring type programs to help improve the business. Other than that I've learnt everything on the job and through my interest in business books. I've got some great mentors who have helped steer me in the right direction.
Dad is the Cactus addict, he just loves them. I'm the people person, I love seeing the look on their faces when they first see our collection. There is nothing quite like seeing someone as they come across the desert landscape with thousands of Cacti dotted around.
We have seven staff and between us we maintain the garden and surrounds. It's a huge job at times, particularly when we get some rain followed by warm weather. The weeds grow so quickly, you have to monitor them constantly, getting in at the right time can save days of hard work. On a typical workday, I walk out the back door, head to the cafe and make a coffee and watch something inspirational on Facebook before anyone else has arrived. Then, depending on what time of year it is, I could be driving a tractor, bobcat or excavator, managing the farm, engaging on social media, planning a new project or any range of tasks involved in the garden and farm.
The biggest challenge has been getting people through the doors. We know we have something incredible, we have to communicate that and motivate people to get in the car and drive here. We are about three hours from Melbourne, where most of our visitors come from. Luckily our Social Media following is really strong and cacti are so in vogue at the moment. I think the momentum of that and the way we engage with our customers is a huge part of our success.
When people see the collection for the first time, it's like another world! We didn't create our own tag line, we just listened to what our customers were saying as they entered the ten acre park. It really is a weird and wacky place, we've tried to enhance that by adding some artwork to the landscape. When I was a boy the plants were small and people still loved it, but now that the garden has expanded and we have some huge monster-looking Cacti the place has a real wow factor. More recently we've added the cafe where we serve Cactus Cake, Cactus Ice Cream and Super Nachos. That's been a big hit!
People tend not to do the things in their own backyard, however we have noticed lately that a lot more locals have been coming through the door. It's a pretty exciting time for us really! The business is growing really fast and the feedback we're getting is really inspiring. We know we are on the right track and want to build something that will attract people to the region and also serve our local community as a fun place they can hang out and catch up with friends.
Favourite things to do in the area: After a long day I'll watch something on Netflix and head to bed, having the NBN is definitely a huge positive considering it wasn't that long ago I was using dial-up.... so glad those days are gone! When friends visit we'll go to the river for a walk and a swim, there is always lots to do down there. Other than that we will go to some local wineries or head into our local Cafe 3641. Kaz uses local produce and makes a killer chocolate and raspberry ganache. We are so lucky to have a Melbourne-style cafe in our tiny town!
For anyone thinking of moving here, the secret is to get involved in your local community. Moving to a regional area has its struggles, but if you can put yourself out there and meet new people you'll love living in Strathmerton!