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My life lesson: buy assets, don’t rent

Advice to buy business assets helped Carolyn Creswell take Carman’s into profit, writes Sylvia Pennington.

Twenty years ago Carolyn Cresswell received some advice from a friend and fellow small business owner to “buy, don’t rent and when the time comes to dispose of an asset, sell it for the best price possible”.

This timely suggestion has served the entrepreneur well as she’s built her business from a shoestring operation to well-recognised Australian grocery brand.

Creswell founded the breakfast and gourmet snack food company Carman’s Fine Foods in 1992 when she spent $1000 to take over the small muesli outfit where she worked part time as a university student.

Two decades of toasted coconut and toil later, the Carman’s range is a familiar sight on the shelves of major supermarkets around Australia and in 32 countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

“My friend Paul Fink had a cookie business and I had the muesli business – we both started around the same time and were based in the same place,” Creswell recalls.

“Very early on, Paul said to me, ‘push yourself to buy things for your business.”

This is because even if you have to pay a little more upfront you’ll have something to show for it at the end.

“The conversation started because I was looking to rent a forklift and he said, ‘why don’t you buy it?’. I remember sitting down with him and he said, ‘just really push yourself and do this Carolyn’.”

It is advice Creswell has applied across the board, to her benefit.

“I ended up selling that forklift seven years later for more than I paid for it in the first place and I also went on to buy my own building,” she says.

“I know that’s quite rare, most people don’t buy their head office but because I own the company myself I was able to do that and, for me, it’s been a great investment.”

For Cresswell, instead of renting business assets and her office space for a monthly fee, she decided to purchase these assets and paid off a mortgage.

“You’ll own something at the end – I’ve done that with everything,” she says

It’s a simple approach to finance which works for her, Creswell says: “I’m sure there are other people who do things differently for a whole lot of reasons, but for me I’ve tried to buy things and take care of them and then, when I go to sell them, get the best money I can for them.”

“Some people when they’re getting rid of something, they rush the process whereas I painted the forklift before I sold it!”

This is a series from ANZ Women asking leading Australians to share important financial advice that has changed their life.