A rural couple’s decision to diversify into childcare has been a runaway success

Starting up a new business venture can seem daunting but getting the right partners alongside you is key to staying on the path to success.

The path Mike and Gemma Smith have been on has been an interesting one – they were leasing a Lake Hayes farm but their dream of one day owning their own seemed to be getting further away.

The couple, who have two daughters, Libby, and Briar, decided to create some businesses in town to help them get where they wanted to go. “Gemma had a planning company, and all her staff were having trouble finding childcare, so we thought ‘we’ll fix that problem’” says Mike.

Out of that grew Gems Educational Childcare Centre a play-based learning environment that makes the most of Central Otago’s stunning natural surrounds. The curriculum is inspired by the theories of Pikler and Reggio Emilia where the environment is considered the third teacher.

“It’s a wonderful thing being able to provide an insight into the farming world and encourage the young creative minds to embrace the outdoors,” says Mike.

The Childcare Centre really connected with the outdoor living Queenstown community – so much so Mike and Gemma now have three on the go. “Since we got the first one up and running there’s been a substantial growth in the local population, so we just replicated our model and ripped into that as well,” says Mike.

The Smiths are breeding Angus stud cattle “Kincardine Angus” as well as operating the three Childcare Centres and Mike says it can be challenging running multiple businesses. “Time is one of your biggest challenges. We’re very lucky to have worked alongside like-minded and very capable people.”

Mike and Gemma say having a partner like FMG Insurance along the way has been an important part of their success. “They’ve have been outstanding for what we’ve been up to,” says Mike. “From our premium Bull Sale cover, our buildings which are a foundation asset of ours, and leading into our childcare business where there’s a vast array of different types of covers in place. FMG has been there when we needed them.”

Gemma says she particularly appreciated it when she lost a horse. “For me personally the equine care service was second to none. It’s so important to have that support in place when things go wrong.”

“We haven’t yet come across one employee that we haven’t connected with and enjoyed the interaction,” says Gemma. “That speaks volumes about the organisation.”

“They’ve been a key partner for us right across our enterprises and that’s the foundation to success, surrounding yourself with the right people to do the right job” says Mike.

Mike says they’re extremely proud of what they’ve achieved, but ultimately, it’s not just about farm ownership but supporting your community along the way.

“We’re contributing to a huge number of families in a positive way and helping those little minds develop into potentially our future leaders. It says a lot about how far we’ve travelled and what story our shadow will tell.”

This story appeared in the October issue of Air New Zealand’s Kia Ora magazine