“Not Here To Fuck Spiders”—This framed quote on Rickie Dee’s office wall is a testament to how she lives her life: down to business with a healthy dose of humor. Rickie is the co-founder of New Zealand retail empire Superette. Launched in 2002 with business partner James Rigden, Superette has grown from a single store to five brick and mortar locations across New Zealand, an e-commerce platform, and two brands: Superette (a full clothing range) and Superette Home. Rickie was one of my first bosses, is a mother to three kids under nine, and in the 11 years I’ve known her, I haven’t heard her complain once. Not when she had a hip replacement in her 20s (she would come to the club to dance in her crutches), never about the inevitable challenges that come with a rapidly growing business and family (I once received a cheery work email from her as she was about to be wheeled in for a C-section.) Most people are either really good at working hard or really good at having fun, but Rickie is the only person I know who can do both with equal stamina and success.
“I wouldn’t say that James and I had a vision. It was more of an idea that we briefly chatted over, we had no business plan. We were only 21, so didn’t really know that there was a process we should be following. All we really thought about was that we wanted to do something cool and fun. I think that was the most important thing for us at that age: what will be fun? What can we imagine doing for the rest of our lives? We didn’t look past our first store, we had no idea we were going to grow.
We just kept doing what worked, making a ton of mistakes along the way, learning from them and building from that experience.
Something wouldn’t work out and we’d say, OK, we need to do this differently. When the rent was hiked up on Drake Street (our first location) it ended up being a great thing, because it made us look at things seriously and say: ‘Right, we’re opening a proper retail store.’ It made us grow up and get real about it. From that moment on we started planning a business.
Starting at 21-years-old was a huge advantage. We each took out a $25,000 loan to get started, and never thought: ‘What if it doesn’t work and we have to pay that back?’ It was always going to work. Starting a business young is so beneficial for anybody, because the older you get the more aware you are of risk. My dad is off the charts with that kind of stuff—he doesn’t do anything because he just thinks, and thinks, and thinks. Whereas when you’re young and naive, you feel invincible, you don’t worry about what anyone else is doing; it doesn’t matter. Now, we have to really evaluate our options before doing anything—there’s more at stake. Risk is always in the back of my head—you’re never invincible. We worry about things like: have we got too much stock? How are the staff doing? We rely heavily on the stock we have in store—you’re only as good as your designer’s season is. We’re strong as a business, but if you’ve got a bad season, you’re buggered. That said, I don’t think we have as many challenges as we did when we first opened. When we first started buying for the store we’d buy a whole line, or maybe a whole brand, and halfway into the season would be like, ‘Shit, that wasn’t the best choice.’ Whereas now we know our customer so that side of things is a whole lot easier. We’ve obviously learned a lot more about business as we’ve gone on. But with growth, you need people and it becomes a lot more to manage. Working out the systems and logistics around a team of over 70 people—it’s all the operations and HR that have been the biggest learning curve, as opposed to when we only had a few people working in the shop.
When unexpected stuff happens I try and stay strong and just get on with it.
I don’t think you can plan too much being a business owner. You’ve got to take everything as it comes, often on a daily basis. You could come into work with the whole day planned, but mostly likely something unpredictable is going to happen which you’ll have to deal with on the spot. I’m not super structured in that way— I think being prepared for change is the best way to deal with the unexpected. If you’re planning years and years out and someone throws a curveball, then it’s a lot trickier to deal with. I don’t let too many things faze me, and never really consider anything as too big to handle or too severe. You have to take it on board and decide, ‘OK, this is what it is,’ then straight onto, ‘How am I going to overcome this? What am I going to do?’ Good things always come out of whatever’s going on. Even when something tough happens like losing a good manager, which is a big deal for me, I know that something good will come from that—I’ll get an even better manager. As cheesy as it sounds, positive thinking has a lot to do with it.
If you get wound up all the time you can’t be a good leader.
Your team absorbs that energy. That’s the biggest thing, I think, that I work quite hard at. At the end of the day, my job is to go into work to excite and inspire 70 people. If I’m like, ‘Ugh, we’ve got this big issue,’ then they’re all going to take that on and approach it in the same way. I have to set that example, because they feed off of it. I think being able to keep it together comes down to personality. I don’t like to make a fuss, whether it’s a personal thing or it’s a work thing. I tend hold my all of my hardships inside. I get on with it and I get the job done, which is great most of the time, but sometimes maybe not-so-great. A few years back this led me to having a broken hip—I hadn’t mentioned anything about it until it was broken. Now, on the days when I can’t put on a tough face, I know it’s better that I’m not in the office. I’ll do something else for the day, get my head right and go back in. That saying ‘Not Here To Fuck Spiders’ pretty much sums up my work ethic. It’s something I say all the time, and someone at the office suggested we do it as a print. If you’re going to do something, you might as well get on with it and do it well, and you might as well love what you’re doing. There’s no point in fluffing around, otherwise it’s a waste of time. I work really hard but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a job. If I ever start thinking—Oh god, I have to go to work—that’s when I’ll need to re-evaluate everything. I tinker away and it’s just what I do and who I am. But as hard as I work, I also know how to play. That might be my saving grace. It can be as simple as walking in the door after work and having that one glass of wine to take the edge off.
I think it’s so important to have that even mix of what you love work-wise, and what you love to do socially.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d end up having three kids, I never would have believed them. Onny (my partner) and I have had to change the structure for how we work and handle the kids, but we haven’t completely changed our lifestyle. Our kids are social butterflies; and I think that’s because we like to have friends over, have wine and food and they’re always around when we do that. They get along with all of our mates. There’s not a huge divide from ‘You’re the little kids’ and us—we like to incorporate them into what we do. That’s how I grew up too, as an only child for a long time, I was always hanging with adults. I’m lucky to have Onny—it’s been kind of a role reversal in terms of me working and him being at home. If it wasn’t for him I’d be a loose unit—there’s no way I could do both. I no longer stay at work until eight o’clock at night, I’ve had to switch up how I work. Now I come home, put the kids to bed, and get out the laptop after they’re asleep. I don’t work like I used to on the weekends because that’s my time with the kids. There are days when I come home tired and the last thing I feel like doing is cooking, bathing three kids and putting them bed. But you just do it. Or on the days when I’m really stretched thin, that’s where Onny’s mum is awesome and will take them for a night. It’s not an easy juggle, but I do my best to rise to everything. I think if I had a fourth child the wheels would fall off, because I’m definitely at my limit. I’m fucking pooped!
For me, success for is enjoying what you’re doing.
It doesn’t matter how much money you make if what you do every day sucks. Sure, money helps, but if you love what you do then you’re far more likely to work hard at it—the money is more likely to come. In terms of celebrating what I’ve achieved, I’ve never been one to take that kind of thing seriously and go, ‘Right, we need to stop and celebrate.’ It should be fun anyway! We recently opened a Christchurch store and when we signed the lease, I don’t know if we got out the champagne and did something super serious to mark the occasion. It’s not that I’m not stoked, but maybe it’s just that I feel like I’m always celebrating. Is that bad? Ha! I’m always having a good time, you know?”