I have known Emma Heke for many years, I have always been hugely impressed with the way she has approached her business ventures and she brings the same enthusiasm and attention to detail to her latest venture, Heke Homemade Herbals.
Heke Homemade Herbals produces a range of outstanding herbal teas with the vast majority made using herbs and flowers she grows at home. The only ingredients she buys are those that don’t grow in New Zealand and come from an organic supplier.
While the teas are fantastic much of the business success can be put down to her going about things the right way; firstly, she has a business she is passionate about and she has the background and business skills to turn that passion into a great business.
Emma’s journey started as an artist with a fine art degree from Dunedin Art School after which she set up her first business, a papier maché venture. People would commission all sorts of custom-made sculptures from lemon trees to mini red Cadilacs!
“I got to make a huge fairyland grotto to go under the staircase in a museum, it was a huge amount of fun and I loved seeing the kid’s reactions.”
After running her small business in Dunedin for two years she moved to Sydney where she worked in a professional photographic lab for the next two years, “I was already really interested in photography and had been teaching myself but learned heaps working in the professional lab”
After Sydney it was off to England, where she was born before her family emigrated to New Zealand when she was seven. “For two years I couldn’t get any type of work that I wanted so ended up working in a bar and a boarding school for a pittance, I realised I didn’t want to live on minimum wages and had to do something with my skills. I just wasn’t selfish enough to give up everything and live life just for me as an artist.”
So Heke returned to New Zealand and spent a year training to be a high school art and photography teacher before she worked at Whangarei Girls High School for 12 years, “I loved it, I ended up being the Check Moderator for NCEA levels 1-3 Art for New Zealand and was probably destined for Wellington and well paid jobs but had my son and everything changed”
“Connor was very ill as a baby he was having allergic reactions to many things so while I tried to go back to teaching I couldn’t do both and gave up teaching. We moved to Nelson knowing it would be a good, safe place to bring up a young boy. It’s been fantastic for both of us”
Heke says she had to reinvent her career, she wanted to have her independence and make her own way in life. When Connor was four she had great ideas for films and saw there was a gap in the market for kids films that weren’t all cutesy, something more with an education focus.
“I also realised if I was going to have a successful business I had to get some business skills too so enrolled in a course at Barbican Training called Small Business Management, one night a week for a year and lots of homework but it changed my life.
“I developed the confidence and skills to know I could succeed. During the course you work on your own business, all facets from business planning to financial planning and marketing, as the course progressed I could see the idea I had could work.”
She had never picked up a film camera until she did the full time six-month TV production course at NMIT while completing the Barbican course.
“My mum, Dawn, came down from Thames and she looked after Connor and took him to kindy while I was at tech, if she hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have been able to do many of the things I have.”
Loaded with business skills and video training Heke created her first film Ours, NZ Nature for Children, “ It was huge for me, it sold really well and Air NZ picked it up for their in-flight entertainment, many early childhood centres bought it and I won a Green Ribbon Award for it.” She then made a second DVD called Our Creative Children about art and creativity using nature as the inspiration. The third film, Our Green Roadie involved a tour around NZ to showcase eco-entrepreneurs and all the films have been available as DVDs until recently when Emma made the switch to fully digital downloads.
This suits the modern market and fits really well with her marketing strategy that has been highly focused on social media, the videos can be sourced at www.facebook.com/redhekeproductions
So how did she get into producing herbal teas? “After Connor and I had been travelling around the country I was keen to do something based in Nelson and wanted to make the space we had really productive. If I could create a business out of a steep south facing section it would also help other people, I wanted to break some myths people have about not being able to do a lot with small, colder south facing plots of land and wanted to create something viable .
“Because I love herbal teas it was an obvious option for me to choose, something I could do at home without needing a huge amount of land but the micro climate of the garden meant I needed to use sturdy plants that would withstand the frosts, it was difficult to buy great organic teas that were affordable, I really wanted to showcase organic produce.”
She started giving the teas to friends and family first and they kept asking for more, “I realised I had a potential business and created a Facebook page to see if there was a demand beyond friends and family, I harvested my herbs, dried them, made my four favourite blends and sold out in two days, two weeks later I harvested that last of my herbs and they sold out in two days as well.
“We dug up all the lawns, planted lots of herbs and haven’t looked back.”
Heke Homemade Herbals now has a range of 32 blends, “I have tried to keep a deliberately low profile so I can grow the business in a controlled way and manage the growth but people have approached me wanting to stock the teas, Morri Street Café have two teas on their winter menu, that have really taken off.”
McCashins successfully used one of her herbal tea in a recent competition, “they used my white tea that I grow, called it Heke Herbal Tea IPA, took it to Auckland and it went down very well so they are keen to experiment further.”
Heke sells her herbal teas at the Nelson Market on Saturdays and a lot of domestic travellers who buy at the market now order online so she has an ever-expanding mail order client base.
She also runs children’s art classes at home and always has pots of herbal tea for them, “kids really get in to it, their favourite is peppermint, they go in to the garden and we make a big pot of it.”
It is time you discovered Heke Homemade Herbals too, they are wonderful teas packed with flavour and made right here in Nelson and can be contacted through www.facebook.com/HekeHomemadeHerbals .