Donna Rendell - Managing Director, Star Allergy Alerts, South Australia

Donna Rendell
'I would say that the main things that have helped me are my organisational abilities and my time management skills. '

When Donna's daughter Stella was born with food allergies in 2002, Donna came up with an idea that would help keep her child, and other anaphylactic children, safe. She started Star Allergy Alerts from her home in South Australia and is now selling her products worldwide. The online business is a far cry from Donna's previous jobs in real estate, but she says she's finally found a career that she's passionate about.



What are Star Allergy Alerts?

Star Allergy Alerts are a range of allergy awareness products for kids.

What different products do you sell?

The range consists of badges, stickers, T-shirts, allergy alert bracelets, wristbands and EpiPen pouches. The range has recently expanded to include posters, magnets and a small range of allergy cookbooks and reference books. We also have a fantastic music CD all about food allergies!

All of the products are designed in bright, fun colours, with cute characters that appeal to children, but they all send a clear allergy message as well.

How did the company start?

I didn't really know anything about allergies before my daughter Stella was born. She was born with severe eczema and the doctor wanted to check for food allergies because children with eczema often have a number of food allergies. We had her tested at about six or eight months old and it was confirmed that she was allergic to eggs and nuts. From that moment I was constantly thinking about it, wondering how I could keep her safe when we were out and about, and making sure people didn't offer her food. There were a few accidents when Stella was inadvertently given food containing eggs or nuts, and one time she was given toast with peanut butter by a babysitter. We were extremely worried about her condition.

One night I had a dream about creating a range of products - badges, stickers and T-shirts. When I woke up I had vivid images of all these designs in my head, so I quickly jumped out of bed and drew them - the range now is exactly the way I dreamt it!

My husband was originally a little bit hesitant about going full steam ahead into a new business, but there was never a time when I thought 'no this is not going to work'. As soon as I had that dream I knew I was onto a winner, and that I could help a lot of people and potentially save lives. It's that simple.

How many people are involved in Star Allergy Alerts?

Just one! It’s just me and I’m very busy.

What do you do each day?

Star Allergy Alerts is an Internet-based business, so in the mornings I check my emails and orders that have come in overnight. I process the orders, print out invoices, and package them up for posting, then I go to the post office in the afternoons. I spend a lot of time answering email enquiries, surfing the net in search of marketing and web-linking opportunities, keeping my website up-to-date and keeping check on stock and stationery. My day also involves paying bills and spending lots of time trying to keep a lid on the budget!

Is it a full-time job?

It's definitely a full-time job in between looking after my daughter Stella, who has just started school!

Do you work from home or from an office?

At this stage I work from home. I have a little office where I keep all my stock and I just do as much work as I can, when I can.

How do you juggle being a mum and running your own business?

Now that Stella's at school, I find I have a lot more time to run the business, but prior to that she was always around and helped me put stickers on products, stamps on envelopes and things like that!

A lot of times I found myself saying  - I'll be there in a minute, just a minute'. It's hard juggling family and business but you just have to make it happen. I felt quite guilty a lot of the time because I spent so much time at my computer, but it's a real passion for me.

What skills did you gain from your real estate career that were helpful in setting up your own business?

I would say that the main things that have helped me are my organisational abilities and my time management skills.

What qualifications do you have?

I'm a qualified real estate property manager and sales person and I have my agent's licence, which means I can operate my own real estate agency. It's sort of in the family; my father is in real estate in Adelaide. But this business has been a nice change in direction at this time in my life.

What's the hardest part of running your own company?

Not being able to go on holidays whenever I like. I don't really feel like I can rely on anyone else to do exactly what I do. I'm a bit of a control freak. There's going to come a time when I have to find someone who I can train and trust so I can leave my business in their hands while we go on holiday, because we definitely need one!

What's your best selling product?

The badges and stickers sell very well and the bracelets are proving to be very popular.

What's your daughter's favourite product?

She likes them all! She wants to wear the 'I'm allergic to shellfish' badge, but she's allergic to eggs and nuts and sesame!

What's the best thing about having an Internet-based business?

Being able to keep my own hours, definitely, and being able to reach so many people worldwide.

What's the golden rule when selling a product online?

To give as much information as you can about the product, the quality and how it's to be delivered so people know what they're getting. I've found that people really know what they want.

Do you think people are becoming more aware of the issues involved with having allergies?

Definitely. I think there's a lot more understanding and training in the community now. Parents, carers in childcare centres, kindergartens, preschools and schools are being trained how to administer medication in the event of an anaphylactic attack. They're so much more aware and caring about these things, whereas five years ago, nobody knew anything about it. Allergy awareness has really come along in leaps and bounds.

What have you had to learn the hard way?

How to say 'no' to people offering advertising opportunities. It's been a real struggle for me because there are so many great avenues for advertising and I'd like to do it all, but just can't.

What are your plans for the future?

My immediate plan is to re-design the packaging of my badge and sticker packs and I'd like to have my products in a retail sector in the next 12 months. It would be great to get my products into pharmacy, health and children's stores, to get the word out there and make them accessible for all parents.

What feedback do you get about Star Allergy Alert products?

I've had a fantastic response about the entire range from parents and carers alike. People are so excited about my products! This has been very gratifying.

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