Adrian Lepley’s workday begins with a meeting of his Quality Control Team – his three dogs: Stella, Boof and Ted.
It was Adrian’s ageing staffy’s appalling breath that first sparked the idea behind his new business Something for Stella, a range of homemade treats specially designed to tackle common canine complaints.
Featuring peppermint and parsley, the recipe behind ‘Fresh as a Daisy’ was honed and perfected, followed by ‘Calm the Farm’, with a touch of chamomile designed to take the edge off travel anxiety for Adrian’s Jack Russell Boof.
Specially created for Ted the Retriever was ‘Plain Jane’, invented for the dog who prefers quantity over quality.
Now, business is booming for the 29-year-old Mount Gambier resident, who launched the online business earlier this year to a plethora of customers eager to trial his catchy treats on their canine companions.
“My first sale was the twelfth of March this year,” Adrian said, proudly.
“I put on my best Hawaiian shirt and go around to people’s houses and hand deliver all the treats. I get quite a few visits at the door from my clients.”
Adrian is one of three Limestone Coast men taking part in the Micro Enterprise Project (MEP), a year-long project which aims to equip people with disabilities with the skills and support required to set up their own small business.
Traditional work opportunities evaporated for Adrian when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 18 and had to leave his trade.
This is the first year MEP has been offered in the Limestone Coast, after successfully operating in Adelaide since 2012.
Since its inception, around 100 people have set businesses to suit their circumstances and skillsets, from everything to timber furniture to floral artistry.
Midway through her first year, Limestone Coast MEP Consultant Sandi Seymour said she’s looking forward to seeing what her first three participants can achieve.
“My job is to support a person with a disability, identify their passion and help them develop that into a small enterprise,” she said.
“It’s very satisfying to watch someone grow, reach their goals and provide them with a socially valued role in the community.”
The MEP model, which has been designed to work around intellectual, cognitive and psychosocial disabilities, is funded through the participant’s own NDIS plan.
From start-up to operating a business, MEP delivers participants a “real world experience”, far away from the traditional institutional model of disability employment, Sandi said.
“These businesses aren’t about making millions of dollars, they’re about giving people a valued role and doing things that they love to do in their community,” she said.
“The first 3-6 months is to work with someone to identify what their idea of a business might be and support them to get it started.
“My other job is to connect the person to a management group, whose role it is to ensure quality control and act as a layer of protection, a check-in for the person.”
Personal assistants are also employed to support the fledgling business, matched to the needs of each skillset.
With each business crafted around the individual’s skills, interests and passions, Sandi said Adrian is the perfect candidate for the MEP model.
“Adrian, as a dog lover, came in with a very clear focus on what he wanted to do,” she said.
“He’s set goals and plans and worked to a timeline and has been so committed to seeing the business succeed. He’s doing really well.”
Every element of the business Adrian has been involved in, from meeting with vets and chefs to finetune his recipes, to mission statements, marketing and visiting with prospective sellers.
Behind the scenes, Sandi is there to guide and offer support when needed.
As a social worker and the mother of a son with disabilities, Sandi said she feels lucky to witness her clients achieve goals they set for themselves.
“It is lovely to work with young men and support them to live the life they choose,” she said.
“People seem to walk a little taller and be proud of what they’re doing. It’s fantastic.”
Last week, Adrian reached a major milestone – a large enough profit to invest in some tools of the trade.
“I hit $400 gross – I was stoked with that,” he said. “It’s bought me a whole pile of tools like an oven and a mixer to make it all easier,” he said.
A full blackboard lists the orders for the week and Adrian is already wrapping his brain around ways to expand his range, according to his occasionally picky canine client base.
“So far, I’ve only had one dog not like them because they were too big,” he said, “so I’m currently in development of a smaller biscuit, just for Woody the toy poodle.”
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