From tough beginnings
A thriving family-owned agricultural innovator today, the Carroll Cotton Company came into being under perhaps the most difficult of circumstances – the sudden death of its founder right at the start of its journey.
Scott Davies, just shy of 18, was away at school when he heard the news that he’d lost his dad. “He’d just been to America and had 40 containers of cotton ginning equipment on the way back to Australia,” Scott remembers. “But once back home, he had a massive heart attack and died."
“We were all grieving, but mum had this decision to make – turn the equipment back or go ahead and make the business work.”
Kate Davies made the decision to take delivery of the containers and continue her late husband’s legacy.
“I’m so proud of what she did,” Scott says. “I see she sort of protected my brother and me from it all. There were no expectations; I was told to go and do whatever interested me after leaving school.”
Taking his mum at her word, Scott went to work in the wine industry in 1995. It wasn’t until 2007 that he and wife Trudy, whose background was in communications, returned to Gunnedah and the Upper Namoi Valley with their first child to explore opportunities in the family business.
But being the owner’s son bought Scott no favours. “I started at the bottom and worked my way up until Trudy and I bought Mum out in 2015.”
Strong family, bright future
The husband and wife team faced a steep learning curve. Scott describes a lot of growing pains, but a respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses has seen them work well together – and Carroll Cotton flourish.
“Officially I’m the general manager, running the business in real terms, and Trudy is the marketing manager, but she’s sort of the glue that holds everything together,” Scott explains. “We lean on each other a huge amount. It’s a partnership with us and the rest of the family and I don’t think we could do it without each other. That’s probably why we’re successful.”
Though Carroll Cotton has enjoyed strong growth, the business hasn’t been immune to troubled times. The drought of the past few years saw its capacity drop to 30 per cent, and it’s been similar during the pandemic.
“But the beauty of being a family business is that you’re more nimble,” Scott states. “You can put processes in place to adapt.”
Today, Scott says they’re looking forward to brighter times. “We’re on track to get back to 100 per cent capacity.”
The expected rebound will be the result of a newly built, state-of-the-art ginning plant built to improve their processes, halve production time and meet increased grower demand in the area. “It’s been specifically designed around our valley, the climate and growing conditions,” Scott explains, adding that his NAB banker was instrumental in helping bring the plans to fruition. “Having a good relationship with your bank is critical if you want to make your dreams come true. If the bank has confidence in you, you know you’re on the right track.”
Once up and running, the plant will double Carroll Cotton’s output to the equivalent of 800 million pairs of socks a year.
Even so, Scott jokes he’s not immune to an all-too-common problem. “We may be able to produce 800 million pairs of socks, but I still can’t find a matching pair anywhere.”
Beyond the immediate partnership of family, Scott explains that the cotton industry is a unique, close-knit community that really does support its own.
“I remember when I started in the business, talking to growers, a lot of whom knew my father,” he says. “Whether you’re on the processing or the growing side, there’s a genuine desire for everyone to succeed. It’s a really collaborative, cooperative and progressive industry that moves forward together.”
Carroll Cotton embodies that supportive relationship. “During the drought, we really felt our role was to be there for the growers,” Scott says. “They were the ones walking out the front door every day and seeing no rain.”
Generations to come
This neighbourly closeness also brings its reward in watching the next generations come through, says Scott, a father of three who’s heavily involved in his local community.
“I know all my customers by name, I’ve seen their kids running around at local rugby. And seeing those sons and daughters come back into their family businesses and that succession planning – that’s the most rewarding part of what I do,” he explains. “That said, there’s no pressure on my own kids to take on the business. I think you have to make sure those opportunities are there if they want to be a part of it, but there’s no expectation.”
His eldest daughter Molly already shows an interest, though, spending school holidays stocktaking and raking up cotton. “They’re not the most exciting jobs,” Scott admits, “but it’s helping her understand the value of money and what everyone has to do in the business.”
As for mum Kate? She’s enjoying her retirement, Scott says – with one caveat.
“She phones me daily to find out what’s happening with the weather, who’s got cotton in, if there’s a hail storm on the way. She may not have a financial interest in the business any longer, but she still very much has an emotional link!”
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