In life, detours can lead to all sorts of mischief and adventure. In our Gift of Time competition major winner Helen Underhill’s case, it led to a whole new career in the aromatic world of French wine.
In 2009, Helen Underhill and her family were lucky enough to have the opportunity to live in France for six months.
“My husband is an oncologist and he took his sabbatical in Bordeaux,” says Helen. “It was fantastic. Our kids, who were aged 7 and 9 at the time, went to a French school, and we learnt to speak French. We also got to drink lots of French wine.”
When Helen returned home to Australia, she realised that there was a real gap in the market for good value French wine. It led her to reconsider her career options, and she decided to venture down an entrepreneurial route together with her husband and a friend.
“I had worked as a medical researcher for years, even working through every minute of both pregnancies,” says Helen. “I decided it was time to give the research job a break and look for something else to do. That’s how DiscoverVin was born in early 2011, although I didn’t anticipate that it would keep me quite so busy!”
“We spend many hours poring over different wine guides and really try to home in on the good-value-for-money factor,” continues Helen. “We focus on wines that offer authentic French flavour and impressive quality, together with value for money.”
DiscoverVin has gone from strength to strength and is growing each year. The increasing French population in Australia means that the business is very busy around Bastille Day. DiscoverVin also exhibits and sells wine at the Paris to Provence Festival, as well as the Alliance Francaise Christmas market. “It’s such good fun!” says Helen.
With a trip to France every year, an abundance of French wine lying about, and visiting festivals and events all over the country, Helen admits that her business inspires envy in others.
“Many people are very jealous of it, but it is a lot of hard work,” she says. “One of the most important things to know about going into business is that your life isn’t going to be your own anymore.
“A while ago we decided to do the Inca Trail. Five whole days without electronic devices. They were my only real days off in five years!”
Integrating business with family is a continuous effort, says Helen.
“I thought that working from home might mean I’d be distracted, but it turned out to be the exact opposite,” she says. “It’s difficult to find the stop button. The number of hours I clock up weekly is generally pretty phenomenal. I couldn’t get by without the systems I have put in place for busy times.”
Last year Helen was motivated to enter MYOB’s Gift of Time competition when the front room of her house was at the point of full to bursting with all her marketing and events collateral.
“By the middle of last year we had stuff everywhere,” says Helen. “As well as the things we need to store for events, we tend to keep a box or two of every wine we’ve got. We got to the stage that you’d have to move five things before finding what you were looking for, and then having to move everything back. It was a huge time waster.”
Helen’s prize was a huge shipping container that the business uses for storage.
“The shipping container is absolutely fantastic,” says Helen. “It has shelving, floor and skylight and you can see all our equipment, stands, everything really clearly. There’s no more rummaging around for ages!”
Helen’s top 3 time-saving tips
1. “Get your processes in place. I have a book that has all my processes in it so that when I get to the things I only do sporadically, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. I spend quieter times of the year reviewing processes and getting organised.
3. “The other great help is setting up recurring transactions for wholesale clients. That certainly makes that side of things very streamlined.”