A raw idea to find out what happened to her wool after it left her Richmond shearing shed was celebrated in Brisbane last week when Kerrie Richards blew out the 25th anniversary candles for what has become one of Australia’s leading manufacturers of Merino products.
Starting off as the Matilda Merino woolgrower group in 1993, born out of the same Future Search program that Tambo Teddies came from, Merino Country’s vertically integrated wool supply chain business has since seen Kerrie lunch with Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace and crawl round the inside of army tanks.
To mark the occasion, Kerrie and husband Malcolm Pain, hosted a function at their Shailer Park factory last Thursday, welcoming state agriculture minister, Mark Furner, local MP Mick De Brenni, AgForce president, Georgie Somerset, and CWA state president, Christine King, along with customers, suppliers and many well-wishers.
Fittingly, the AgForce wild dog committee was in full attendance.
Also fittingly for the entrepreneurial enterprise, Kerrie’s well-known brother, Shark Tank member and Greencross pet care company founder, Dr Glen Richards, hosted the evening.
“When we started, it was to show people outside the wool industry how good wool was and get others to use it,” Kerrie said.
“Growers also wanted to know what happened to their product on the other side of the fence, and what you could do with it.
“But I never thought I’d be sitting in Brisbane surrounded by sewing machines 25 years later.
“I guess it just blew out!”
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The sheep to shop machine washable travel gear, active wear, thermals and underwear has proved such an online hit overseas that the business is now poised to make the next 25 years just as memorable.
According to Kerrie, they are investigating the best business model for expansion to the US, whether it be a joint venture or via their own stores.
In addition, Merino Country is working with Blackall Merino sheep stud, Terrick Merinos, and clients, to identify a range as a Queensland product.
Their existing business model sells direct to customers through the website plus wholesale to other shops, complemented by government contracts supplying merino thermals to Victoria Police, the Department of Defence, Customs and Border Control, and capitalises on production capacity to manufacture niche products for other companies.
“We’ve delivered around 200,000 garments to state and federal governments and around 300,000 to our direct retail customers over the years – not bad for a small business started in the shearing shed,” Kerrie said.
Merino Country’s wool undies – Wundies – have been identified as the company product with a point of difference in health and lifestyle markets.
Kerrie has been working with skin specialists and cancer patients developing relevant products, and supports different cancer support organisations including Bowel Cancer Australia through Running for Bums, Cure Brain Cancer, and Dragons Abreast Australia.
She said the business had also helped herself and her husband, a former beef and crop farmer, stay connected with the bush and her beginnings in the shearers quarters on Clareborough Station.