Australian Grace Brennan started her Buy from the Bush campaign to help alleviate some of the economic impact of Australia’s greatest drought in living memory. Today, just 18-months on, Grace and her friends find themselves at the head of one of the most successful community-led recovery programs in the world.
A kitchen table is usually the place to begin an irresistible community groundswell. But for Grace Brennan, founder of the hugely successful Buy from The Bush campaign, the kitchen table in her farmhouse near Warren in north-west NSW was the most natural place on earth to begin a rural revolution.
Grace, 36, was in her kitchen when, a few months before Christmas last year, a friend called on the phone.
“We were chatting about her plans for Christmas,” recalls Grace, a 36-year-old mother of four. “She told me how she wanted some Kris Kringle gifts for her family. She was going to buy them from country businesses to show some support for people in country areas during the drought.”
Right then, in that singular moment, a switch clicked over in Grace’s mind. “I’d already been turning over some ideas about what I could do to help businesses during the drought,” Grace says. “I’d watched my husband come in from the daily grind on the farm, I’d been down to the main street and I’d seen how the local businesses were battling and how stale everything was going under the weight of years of drought.
“So, it had been in my mind for a while. I’d fallen in love with a lot of the beautiful boutiques out here and I knew that if my friends in Sydney could only see them then they would fall in love with them, too. And then when my friend said she would buy gifts from the bush; it just clicked that social media was the perfect platform. It was just a brilliant idea to promote these businesses beyond their local community where the cash flow had dried up.”
By October last year Grace had turned that brilliant idea into a reality by posting photographs on social media of goods for sale from rural businesses with the aim of enticing city dwellers to buy goods from the bush.
“At the same time, I found out that a morning TV show was coming to broadcast from Warren, “says Grace. “We had some Buy from the Bush T-shirts made up and managed to get on the show.” And then everything changed. Virtually overnight, the numbers exploded from less than a few dozen to 80,000.
At its heart, the Buy from the Bush campaign is all about giving people in the city both the opportunity and the knowledge to buy from bush businesses and, in the process, help alleviate some of the overwhelming financial gloom that comes with a rural downturn.
Grace’s friend Millie Fisher came on board to help Grace because she’d seen the psychological effect the drought had on her family and friends during the past five years.
“For the first three years of the drought everyone had a very stiff upper lip and she’ll be right kind of attitude but then as it dragged into the fourth year and the work dried up and the cash dried up with it, you could see that people were starting to lose hope,” says Millie, 34.
“There were darker conversations and a lot of stress and a lot of helplessness. Both Grace and I were born in Sydney and we knew there were plenty of people who wanted to help but didn’t know how. And then grace came up with the brilliant idea of showcases the wares of country to the city via social media.”
Of course, the girls knew there were no guarantees. “I didn’t know that it would work. But I did know that if we got it right then local businesses might get just enough of a lift in sales to make it through some exceedingly difficult times,” says Grace.
Even so, the girls were stunned by their success. Most of those small businesses they featured on the web started receiving orders, first in a trickle and then in a flood.
“I got involved early on,” says Georgie Robertson, director of rural communications company Regional PR. “I called Grace because I heard that the campaign was doing well to see if she would be involved in a state government platform called Buy Regional. At that moment, she was going from one or two followers in the first couple of days to 500 followers a day, then 1000 followers the next and 5000 the next and I said, “I’ll do anything I can to help’. And it all kicked off.”
“It was extraordinary,” says Grace. “Suddenly our businesspeople were on the phone saying that they had been up all night trying to meet orders. One business owner had more orders in a single day than she’d had in a whole year. The rate at which it grew was astounding.”
By November 28, just six weeks after launching, the Buy from the Bush 118,000 likes on Facebook and 120,000 followers on Instagram.
And in that same time, the campaign generated $2.6 million of revenue for featured businesses who reported average increases in visits to their websites of more than 1000 per cent.
Two weeks later, they held a pop-up market in Sydney’s Martin Place with stalls from about 20 businesses selling everything from art and stationery to homewares, clothing and jewellry.
Not only did many of the stores sell out during the 12-hour market, but media attention and public exposure bought an avalanche in both recognition and sales.
Today, the sites have a combined audience of more than 600,000 with an influence that is now beginning to spread across the globe.
“We were concerned that perhaps the momentum might start to peter out after the Christmas rush,” Grace says. “But when we began to consolidate and think about where we might be able to take the concept in early January, the Black Summer bushfires took hold. And we found a new relevance that kicked us along again. When the bushfires finally came under control, up sprang the Corona virus pandemic. But it only gave us an even greater impetus as city people realised that those country people who had just survived the drought and the bushfires were shut down and more desperate than ever.”
Even the pandemic hasn’t stopped people from across the globe reaching out. “A woman called from London about a beautiful pair of handcrafted leather boots that was featured on our Instagram page,” says Grace. “She said ‘I just must have them; they are so beautiful, and I can’t get anything like that here in London. So, she went ahead and ordered them and we’re sending them all the way to the United Kingdom. We’ve had orders from Hong Kong as well as France and Spain, so it seems we’re making an impact globally, too.”
Today Buy from the Bush has generated more than $6,000,000 for rural businesses around Australia with Christmas this year set to raise that even higher.
Grace says they are exploring where to go next. So far, Grace, Millie and Georgie have worked together to start another equally important campaign, Stay in the Bush, which is a parallel program to Buy from the Bush and targets the rural tourism and hospitality sector.
“Stay in the Bush is our new spin off idea and we’re trying to grow it quickly in light of the fact that domestic tourism might boom before the end of the year and before international tourism starts up again. After such a long lockdown, people will want to get out and travel again and rural communities offer a great opportunity for that.
“I had a call from a woman in Yass yesterday and overnight she had 500 new followers for her home stay B&B and a lot of new inquiries. It’s just the loveliest feeling to know we have been able to help out like that.”
Yet, for all the sales generated so far, there’s an even more important outcome that makes Grace smile. “It’s the visibility that we have managed to create right throughout rural Australia,” she says. “It’s powerful, more powerful than I ever imagined it could be. It’s changing the way that people think about the country and the people who live there. It’s changing mind sets about what individuals are like here and what they are capable of.
All of that is the real power of Buy from The Bush, not just selling a few gifts. It’s changing people’s lives.”