Kim Zoulek is the co-owner and director of Oktoberfest Brisbane.
Kim moved to Australia from Stuttgart in 2003 to pursue her studies, but it wasn’t until five years later that she followed her passion for German culture.
“My husband, Boris, and his two business partners founded Oktoberfest Brisbane in 2008, and I was involved from the very beginning as a graphic designer. Boris and I bought out the last remaining business partner in 2016,” Kim explains.
“The first Oktoberfest Brisbane attracted about 14,000 people, and we’ve now had more than 40,000 people attending each year since 2016, making it Australia’s largest German festival. We engage with the local German community, who contribute as food vendors and showcase authentic services and goods – the people we employ are passionate about anything that is German.”
Kim’s contribution to the German community was recognised at the Lord Mayor's Multicultural Awards for Business this year, where she was named the Nick Xynias Multicultural Young Business Person of the Year. She is as enthusiastic as ever to continue teaching Oktoberfest attendees about German traditions.
“There are so many Oktoberfest festivals around the country, but none of them really pay true homage to the real folk festival,” Kim says.
“Often the depth and breadth of the German culture is reduced to shallow and common stereotypes. We want to keep educating people that it’s not just a drinking festival, there’s a history and tradition behind Oktoberfest.”
What type of business do you have?
A private company that’s also a family business.
What is your role in the business?
I’m the owner, in a partnership with my husband, and we’re both festival directors. I handle the marketing, while Boris deals with the operational side of the business.
How many employees do you have?
We have five full-time employees, but we employ more than 200 freelancers and casual staff over the six days of the festival.
How did you raise capital to finance your venture?
Oktoberfest Brisbane has always been a family business, even before we bought it. It’s backed by family capital, and we’re both fortunate to have supportive family to help with our goals and vision.
What value do you place in business plans and why?
Our business plan is an amazing tool for understanding how our business works and how it’s put together.
It also helps us monitor the business and holds us accountable. It forces us to constantly review marketing, financial and team planning.
Our business plan holds the story of the future of our business and how we want to move forward.
What is your professional background?
I’m a graphic designer and photographer by trade. I’ve worked in boutique design, and in government, agencies, building and construction. Before Oktoberfest I was in the fashion industry.
Had you run your own business before?
Yes, I had my own business before Oktoberfest Brisbane. My mum and I launched Schnucki, a brand of traditional German dirndl and lederhosenin 2013. The idea came out of working at Oktoberfest Brisbane. We saw that Australians wanted to embrace the German culture, and now we are the only traditional German clothing shop in Australia.
What are some unexpected benefits of owning a small business?
You control your own destiny - if you don’t want to get up in the morning, nothing is going to happen.
What is the biggest challenge in running this type of business?
You can’t control the weather! The other challenge is educating Brisbane and greater Australia about what the German culture is about.
How do you market your business?
It’s mostly through social media, our website and contacting our existing database to remind people that Oktoberfest is back again for another year.
We also reach new customers through local media, ‘What’s On’ sites such as Must Do Brisbane, Pedestrian TV and similar kinds of outlets.
Apart from paid partners, we lean on festival partners for cross-promotion to their customers. We also run a large PR campaign that includes newspaper articles, TV and radio pieces.
What has been the best financial investment you’ve made in your business?
Over the years, we’ve regularly invested in importing equipment from Germany, which has contributed to the real German atmosphere and authenticity of Oktoberfest Brisbane.
How do you stay up to date with the latest business information?
We read newsletters that relate to festivals and entertainment, and network and constantly research.
Who do you seek advice from for your business?
It still very much comes from family and friends; we have a fantastic team behind us. We also speak to experts such as taxation and financial consultants.
Where do you see your business in a year’s time? Five years’ time?
In the short to medium term, we want to grow the Friday and family-focused Sunday attendances - this is where there’s strong potential.
In five years’ time, we want to create a festival program where we’re open on weekdays.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned in business?
To believe in yourself and your intuition and vision. A lot of people experience setbacks and think they’ve failed. Don’t be afraid to fail! It may be painful, but it helps you develop yourself and your business.
You should always look to improve your business and create value for the people in your business. Without our team, we couldn’t accomplish as much, and it’s great to create an environment in which they can thrive.
How do you manage risk?
We’ve faced a lot of different risks, but our approach is through planning and best practice approaches to risk management. We work closely with risk management consultants who are experts in their respective fields.
What three things should someone consider before starting a business?
- Self-discipline. You are the heart of your business and the only person accountable for your business. You need to stick to a business plan and budget and keep developing to meet your goals.
- Follow your passion. It helps you sell your idea if you are passionate about it. Passion will keep you going through the hard times, too.
- Never stop educating yourself. Listen to TED talks, network, etc. Every little bit helps.