Conversation with Frith Graham

9 May 2018

Conversation with Frith Graham

Head Trekker, GirlsTrek

Frith Graham, the founder of the all girl getaway and hiking success story, GirlsTrek, chats with James Goodman about her business journey and defining what women want from adventure.

How did you transform your passion for the outdoors into a very successful business?

My GirlsTrek story starts and finishes with my love of hiking, which is integral to my life. My passion is about walking holidays, seeking unique and new experiences, and the adventure that comes from that. For me, it's about taking travel slowly – going to a place and really living and experiencing everything on offer.

I was introduced to hiking at a very young age. My family celebrated my first birthday by hiking the Carnarvon Gorge with me in a backpack my father fashioned from the baby seat in our family car. My adventurous spirit was nurtured by a wild and free childhood on our cattle station and lengthy family holidays exploring Australia and overseas.

After university, my passion for snow skiing lead me to work at Flight Centre where I had hands-on experience of the business of travel, managing a business and a team at just 23 years of age. A stint in HR consulting followed and eventually I found myself working in our family agricultural business after having children.

At age 39 I realised I was way out of step with my passion for adventure and serendipitous travel. A conversation with myself about what I really wanted found me organising a full pack hike with four friends for my 40th birthday. I soon had friends and family admiring my 'happy fitness', which came from constantly engaging in physical pursuits that made me happy, and became my 'fit for life' mantra.

Over one of our famous Sunday family roast dinners with my neighbour, where we discussed women getting away for walking holidays creating a sense of achievement, a trekking business for women was born. We had a website in 10 days, and began marketing hand-crafted walks at Lamington National Park.

Our clients tell us we're very organised, but nothing is rushed and there's time to explore and enjoy the adventure. I think this comes from my strong desire for things to fit together perfectly with a little surprise for our clients to enjoy around every corner.

However, success doesn't just come – I've sought after and taken other opportunities presented to me. I'm always thinking strategically about what's next for GirlsTrek and ensuring each and every footstep for our clients count.

Over the last 12 months we've worked very hard on our key message: GirlsTrek is an all girl getaway designed for and by women. We deliver what women want - time together, no distractions, crispy white sheets at the end of the day, beautiful meals, friends to have fun with, a physical experience to gain a sense of achievement, and celebrating with little rewards.

Our goal over the next two years is to grow from 24 to 36 multi-day trips each year and expansion into New South Wales, Victoria and also New Zealand via a territory licencing model.

This little business was waiting for me. I just had to find my way to it after my experience in travel, business, hiking, and a love of seeing women progress and get stronger. All in all, I feel I've hit heaven.

What are the key obstacles you've tackled along the GirlsTrek journey?

The big one for me personally is 'mother guilt'. Just recently, I spoke to my teenage daughters about the challenges of running our home smoothly when I'm away for work. To my great relief and surprise, my girls said they wouldn't change a thing because they love what I do and they get to share the experience.

Like many small businesses, I've also experienced cash flow challenges during significant periods of growth. Fortunately, I'm a numbers girl, which has helped me safely navigate those challenges.

There was also a time when we explored the corporate market, but after taking a close look we quickly realised it wasn't for us. This was a very good lesson about being clear about who we are.

From time to time we've been challenged on price. However, feedback from our clients shows they understand the incredible value we provide because we never cut corners on our product.

Until recently, much of our business has come organically, but we are now entering a new phase where our clients don't necessarily have a close personal connection with GirlsTrek. So, we're in the midst of a new and different challenge to encourage people to become part of the tribe we're building.

Researchers around the globe are highlighting the many benefits of spending time outdoors and connecting with nature. What role does GirlsTrek have to play here?

Walking in nature provides a tranquillity of mind and spirit you cannot find elsewhere. These days, our lives are filled with external interference, from mobile phones, computers and social media to traffic chaos and advertising. It's almost impossible to find peace in your day.

But, you can walk with nature at no cost, on the trails at Mt Coot-tha for example, where you're free from external clutter. That tranquillity calms your internal thoughts so you can get things into perspective.

I see GirlsTrek as having an important role in raising awareness of mental health issues for women. Our programs provide a release valve where women can walk and talk with like-minded women and find support by sharing their stories. Our Saturday morning HikeFit program seems to have replaced the catch-up for coffee for busy working women.

This focus is important to my personal journey too.

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