Owners of Whites IGA, Bli Bli, Roz and Michael White. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Owners of Whites IGA, Bli Bli, Roz and Michael White. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

How we went from one tiny store to an empire supporting 400

BE IT a second day employee, or a 15-year veteran, it makes little difference to Michael and Roz White. They'll know your face, call you by name and likely know your backstory.

They've been that way for the past 26 years, longer even.

Their journey started in a run-down, tiny store on Aerodrome Rd, Maroochydore with three staff, when the former bankers and very "green" couple made the brave move into small business.

 

Owners of Whites IGA, Bli Bli, Roz and Michael White. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.
Owners of Whites IGA, Bli Bli, Roz and Michael White. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily.

 

Today they're armed with five Whites Supa IGA stores spread across the Sunshine Coast - from the newly opened Baringa store, to Bli Bli, Mooloolah, Peregian Beach and Mt Coolum, supporting a collective staff of more than 400.

The couple don't have their sights on a national takeover and while their empire might be vast, but it is and always has been about quality over quantity.

But if you asked the pair way back in 1993 if this journey was on the horizon, they'd likely laugh in your face.

 

A young Michael White inside Night owl Maroochydore.
A young Michael White inside Night owl Maroochydore.

 

"I actually hated it. It didn't thrill me in the slightest. But we were young then, and used to hard work," Roz said before an audible sigh.

"It was a tiny little store, so small, cigarettes, chips, milk, bread, the absolute basics.

"We were doing 17 hour days, seven days a week. You'd spend the weekend together at the shop and there after hours. "You'd finish and an alarm would go off so you had to go back at midnight."

For several years the couple went through the motions with little ambition for expansion. That was until 1997 when they purchased their second store, a far cry from the bustling retail shopping centre known as Bli Bli Village.

Slowly but surely the Whites business empire built up.

 

Roz and Michael White with their first award for Queensland Foodlink Retailer of the Year in 1998.
Roz and Michael White with their first award for Queensland Foodlink Retailer of the Year in 1998.

"Michael had more ambition than me, initially I didn't have much at all," Roz recalled.

"Around about 2005 I think, that's when it all started to develop. We became more experienced then, more strategic, more visionary and having a forward thinking plan.

"Still to this day we are continually revisiting, rationalising, consolidating with no real end goal. We will keep evolving and growing."

Maroochydore property manager Ken Hindmarsh has known the Whites for longer than most, first in business, then in pleasure.

Over the years he watched on as their collection slowly formed, from a business sense the couple grew with it, but from a personal sense, they're the same hardworking, humble traders.

"Oh not at all. Their focus is very genuinely focused on community. You notice how much they both help others out," Mr Hindmarsh replied on whether success has changed them.

"I know community is part of the IGA mantra, but they were both like that well before.

"As a team they're the perfect combination. They complement each other, Roz is the extravert, Michael doesn't waste words. It's a great bond."

 

The Whites' Nightowl along Aerodrome Rd, Maroochydore.
The Whites' Nightowl along Aerodrome Rd, Maroochydore.

 

Mr Hindmarsh shared a running joke that sparked in his office, regarding Michael's famously short emails.

He said he managed to get an inquiry down to one character, a question mark.

"That was it. Straight and to the point. It shows how efficient he is," he said.

"I admire that about him."

It's a trait Roz admires too, a pride that you can hear in her voice or see in the way she looks at him.

She's the talker, he's the thinker, a partnership in more than life.

"We rarely fight, which is surprising," Roz laughed.

"I think we complement each other well, having different strengths and weaknesses, we are fortunate there to make a good combo.

 

The original IGA at Bli Bli which they purchased in 2004.
The original IGA at Bli Bli which they purchased in 2004.

 

"If you respect anyone, be it your employees or partner, you'll be successful. Show respect and you'll get it in spades."

The Whites say they harbour no plans to hold 100 stores, but hinted at one or two more.

But there is nothing set in stone, no parcel or land package they're eyeing off.

"If you grow too big you lose something special," she said.

"We want to stay plugged into our team and the community. Quantity negates quality.

"I'm so interested in our staff's lives, you share their celebrations, their trauma.

"I actually love walking into stores and calling everyone by their first name. Some of the fresh junior staff trick you up the first time, but not the second. That personal connection is important."


Can’t find a place to rent? You’re not alone

premium_icon Can’t find a place to rent? You’re not alone

Low vacancy rates are putting pressure on house hunters

Three US firefighters dead in NSW plane crash

Three US firefighters dead in NSW plane crash

NSW is bracing for horror fire conditions today

Ballina council says 'I don't' to $1 million wedding venue

premium_icon Ballina council says 'I don't' to $1 million wedding venue

Residents said they were worried the area would become a "rat house"