Straw Services Australia is a family-owned and operated business in the agriculture industry. In early 2020 they outsourced their bookkeeping to Dream Admin Services, and then made the switch from MYOB to Xero. In this case study, we look at how Dream Admin Services has supported the growth of Straw Services Australia by providing the financial tools and insights needed for strategic decision making and forward planning.
Straw Services Australia is a family-owned and operated business that supplies high quality radiata pine wood shaving for animal bedding. Their customers range from individuals with a family pony, horse trainers and riders with thoroughbred champions, through to small animal breeders (e.g. rabbits and guinea pigs) and large poultry farms.
The business was started 40 years ago by Fran and Anthony Beck, and their son Tim is now also involved in running the business. They have thirteen employees and service customers along the east coast of Australia. Straw Services Australia are now one of the last remaining family-operated suppliers of wood shaving animal bedding products.
For a long time, the business was operating in survival mode. Fran and Anthony needed to know on a weekly basis exactly what money was coming in and going out - to the cent. There were very high levels of competition in the industry, and the nature of the product required a lot of heavy machinery which came with a hefty depreciation burden. So, their bookkeeping needs might be described as pretty high maintenance.
Straw Services Australia has always outsourced their bookkeeping, acknowledging that neither Fran or Anthony had the knowledge, time or interest in managing the business books.
In late 2019, however, they lost both their long time bookkeeper and their accountant within the space of a month. Their bookkeeper moved out of the area and took on a full time job. And their accountant sadly lost his battle with cancer. This left the business in a very difficult and vulnerable position.
Recent industry changes have also led to a reduction in competition and an increase in prices, meaning Straw Services Australia could move out of survival mode and start to think strategically about longer term plans. So, their financial reporting needs were evolving too.
Fran still needed a bookkeeper who would be available 51 weeks of the year, could be hands on in supporting a high volume of business transactions, and efficient in managing the financial data and payroll processing. She didn’t just want a box ticker, but someone who could take their data and turn it into valuable insights for the business.
Through a recommendation from their new accountant Katie Price (Price Perspective), Fran contacted Dream Admin Services. What appealed to Fran about working with Dream Admin was Tennille’s expertise and availability. Plus, her willingness to work from the Straw Services Australia office, which is located within their family home. Fran was also comforted by the continuity and protection of having a team that could back up Tennille if she was unavailable.
And so, Dream Admin Services were contracted to provide Straw Services Australia with the full end-to-end suite of bookkeeping services, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll processing and BAS preparation.
Choosing a bookkeeper is as much about the relationship between bookkeeper and business owners as it is about qualifications and technical skills. Especially in a family business situation, trust and personality are important factors. “Working in the same space gives you a better opportunity to gauge a person and build trust. Tennille is very forthright. She owns her mistakes” says Fran.
After a few months managing the books via MYOB, Tennille made the recommendation for Straw Services Australia to shift to Xero. She saw the opportunity for efficiencies to be gained through the accessibility of real-time data and more sophisticated and customised reporting. But she also realised Fran needed someone to walk her through the different options and make her aware of the possibilities. Always open to new ways of doing business better, Fran agreed to the switch, saying “If Tennille says it will be better for our business and her data entry, I trust her on that”.
The shift hasn’t been without a few glitches, but both parties are committed to setting up a system that works for both bookkeeper and business owner. In particular, Tennille and Fran have collaborated to customise the Xero reports and outputs so they present the information Fran needs in a way that is practical and useful.
“If Tennille says it will be better for our business and her data entry, I trust her on that”
Fran, Straw Services Australia
One of the biggest impacts of the switch to Xero has been the time saved through utilising the HubDoc integration and other elements of the software. “Xero becomes intuitive over time and does a lot of the leg work for us. For example, it can learn to recognise where financial data is on a bill, and then auto populate that into the records” explains Tennille. She estimates that using Xero saves her 1-2 hours a week on data entry and clean up, which equates to a saving of more than $5k over a year. This is either a direct cost saving for Straw Services Australia, or is time that can be put back into the business through additional support and value add services.
“Xero becomes intuitive over time and does a lot of the leg work for us. For example, it can learn to recognise where financial data is on a bill, and then auto populate that into the records”
Tennille, Dream Admin Services
The weekly and monthly reports are key to Fran, Anthony and Tim keeping on top of the business’s financial position. And as their focus has shifted from purely money in/money out and towards future planning, Tennille’s expertise and Xero’s functionality have been able to support the changing requirements. “Tennille gives us the data and tools to make those forward planning decisions” says Fran.
“At the end of the day,” says Tennille, “outsourcing their bookkeeping to Dream Admin is more affordable for Straw Services Australia than employing someone within the business, plus they get access to higher quality information and support and continuity of service”.
An extra benefit of the partnership has been the integration and working relationship with accountant Katie Price. “With both of them being on Xero, at our recent pre-tax planning meeting, whenever Katie had questions Tennille could just shoot information straight over to her. That has got to be gold.” Both Tennille and Katie have also been able to connect Fran with a network of local service providers she wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise, including a local website designer to help them refresh their online presence.
If you are looking to outsource your bookkeeping or start using Xero as your accounting platform you can book in for a free, no obligation consultation with Dream Admin Managing Director Tennille Skelly. Tennille will be able to give you practical advice about your best next steps based on her extensive experience helping small business owners just like you take away the overwhelm of managing their business books.