Sandrine Gaymard, Ecoline – Soaring to new heights
- Resilience, passion and visionary thinking are key traits of the entrepreneur.
- Innovators overcoming obstacles to build what is now a multi-award-winning company
- Do something you are passionate about. That way you’ll always be motivated and excited to go to work.
WITH AN INFLUX of tourists hitting the Central Coast over the summer holidays, Central Coast tourism operators like TreeTop Adventure Park at Wyong Creek have just experienced one of their best seasons on record. More than 5,000 visitors over 5 weeks enjoyed the adrenalin rush adventures on offer at TreeTops, including their newest innovation, the Crazy Rider (the world’s first and longest rollercoaster zip line) with similar numbers expected over the remainder of January. TreeTop Adventure Park and its parent company Ecoline Pty Ltd founders and directors Sandrine Gaymard and her husband Frederic Galimard first came to Australia from France as young tourists in 1996 with a hunger for adventure and inspiration. They found both in abundance and two years later returned to embark on a quest to fill a gap in the Australian market for quality, unique and widely accessible outdoor activities and the safety systems to enable this to happen.
True innovators and entrepreneurs, Gaymard and Galimard have successfully combined their shared passion for the environment and adrenalin-fuelled activities through the company they founded in 1998. This followed a “challenging ride” trying to convince the government and the banks that their ideas were legitimate and safe. It took another 10 years before the couple opened TreeTops on the Central Coast, Australia’s first tree-based high ropes course open to the general public.
Since 2009, Ecoline has won a string of awards, including back to back wins from 2013 to 2015 of the Australian Business Award for Innovation and a Highly Commended Regional Exporter accolade in the 2016 Premier’s NSW Export Awards on the back of significant overseas interest in their unique eco-adventure systems, most notably EcoZip®, their patented zip line rollercoaster system. Designed and built by Galimard two years ago, the Crazy Rider allows participants of all ages and physical abilities (even those who are normally wheelchair-bound) to soar through and around the trees at great height and speed. The first YouTube video released by Gaymard of the Crazy Rider went viral worldwide and the Central Coast site has since seen a marked increase in overseas visitation. Gaymard and Galimard have also received numerous expressions of interest from overseas tourism operators to have the system built on their sites.
Exporting and building the system internationally for the last eight months, the couple’s first international build was an 800m rollercoaster zip line in La Bresse, France, which opened in June last year. They have since built a zip line in Fiji and have secured another two builds in France. Internationally, there is also strong interest from Chinese and US markets.
Today the couple owns and operates four TreeTop Adventure Parks – on the Central Coast (opened 2008), in Newcastle (opened 2009), Western Sydney (opened 2012) and in the Cumberland State Forest, Baulkham Hills (opened December, 2016).
They also designed and operate ‘Wild Ropes’ at Taronga Zoo and have plans to build and operate their first interstate park in Melbourne, hopefully sometime this year.
The couple employs a growing staff of 120 and the company has an annual turnover of $5 million and an impeccable safety record.
They also play a strong role in giving back to the community and have been proud supporters of Camp Quality and Clean Up Australia for many years. All of this certainly keeps the pair, who have four children, extremely busy. In fact Gaymard says her number one challenge is finding the right balance between work and family/leisure time. But it’s clear that this business is so much more than just a moneymaking venture to this couple. They are genuinely passionate about the benefits it delivers to the community and love what they do.
The Ecoline journey began when Galimard, an experienced mountaineer and graduate in sports management met Gaymard, a marketing manager with a Masters in Sport Management and an MBA, in Vietnam while both were working for a French aid agency. As a marketer, Gaymard is the face of the business. While she focuses on administration, marketing and operations, Galimard focuses on design, construction and safety. Both have an ongoing passion for research and development in their quest to continually improve their products.
Key lessons for innovators
- Don’t give up your day job and have more funds on hand than you think you will need
It took years for Gaymard to resign from her job as marketing manager for the French Tourism Office in Sydney while Galimard built ropes courses for school camps, both which helped build up their financial resources as they grew the business.
“The best advice I ould give anyone starting a business is to have access to more funds than you need and be frugal with your money. We didn’t pay ourselves for years,” said Gaymard.
- Have faith that certain challenges happen for a reason
The couple had their sights set on the Cumberland State Forest site for many years before it came to fruition. Missing out on the site in 2010 was seen as a massive blow at the time, however Gaymard feels the rejection was a blessing in disguise. “I don’t think we would have created the rollercoaster zip line had we secured the Sydney site back then because I believe we would have been content with what we had. The decision pushed us to diversify.”
- Appreciate competition
“Competition is good because it promotes growth of the industry and creates a bigger market – as long as it’s safe. We actually sell competitors our safety gear because we know it’s the best on the market,” said Gaymard.
- Employ staff based on attitude rather than skills
“You can’t teach attitude,” said Gaymard.
“But you can teach the skills as long as you have rock solid systems, procedures and training in place.”
- Be resilient – learn to love the challenges
It took many years of battling with the banks, the government and insurance companies before anyone was prepared to listen, let alone back them. They understand all the boxes that have to be ticked so all the hard work and red tape eventually paid off when Ecoline was successful in securing a $200,000 Federal Government grant to build the Crazy Rider.
Know when to say no
When faced with the chance to expand on an enormous scale, it takes discipline to make strategic decisions and learn when to say no.
- Be strategic and resourceful
The couple has learned to work with the ebb and flow inherent in any tourism business. “We do our maintenance in the lull after summer, the staff take their leave, and we have our Christmas party in February as that is the only time we can all come together,” said Gaymard. They have also diversified into facilitation, corporate and school groups and unique conference venue hire in their purpose-built suspended tree house at the Central Coast site.
- Cater to cultural difference
This is particularly true for anyone looking to export or for those attracting a large number of foreign tourists. By listening to customers, Gaymard has learned to improve international marketing and has recently put two of her managers through Chinese lessons.
- Do something you are passionate about
“If you love what you do, you’ll always be motivated and excited to go to work,” said Gaymard.
By Phaedra Pym