Home' Australian Giftguide : Jan Mar 2014 Contents Kate O'Brien had planned to renovate her
home. Instead she opened Blackbird
& Fox, a gifts and homewares store in
Victorian suburb Hawthorn, to fulfil a desire
to work for herself. Jumping in the deep end
without much of an official businessplan she
used her instinct to create a shop that filled
a gap in the market, stocked products she'd
like to buy and provided the kind of customer
service she'd like to receive.
"The first step was obtaining a loan from the
bank to cover set-up costs," she says. "After
big upfront costs like bond, insurance, store
fitout and stock, there's still a lot to consider
when you take into account all the 'little'
things like graphic design, window signage,
giftwrap supplies and paper bags---the works.
Overall, it was a steep learning curve.
"The most difficult part was being patient
while waiting for the real estate agents to get
things sorted at their end---it was frustrating
to be held up by things out of your control
when you just want to get in and get started."
Named after Aesop's fable about the dangers
of accepting false flattery, Blackbird & Fox
opened mid-2010. It focuses on locally made
and handcrafted products of good quality.
"I'm not a fan of trinkets, so I try to select
pretty and practical items, as well as items
Hawthorn store Blackbird & Fox is about all things unique
and Aussie made. RACHAEL GAVIN meets the owner.
that speak to different personality types.
Everyone likes to feel special, so I think giving
a unique gift is much more meaningful than
giving someone a mass-produced item."
Brands include Angus & Celeste, Otto &
Spike, Kajita Candles, Printspace Art Prints
and Chickenfoot Designs. More than 40 labels
sold at Blackbird & Fox are Australian made.
"The provenance of the item is very
important to me, by stocking Australian made
products I am assured that they have been
manufactured to a high standard, by people
working in safe conditions.
"When sourcing items made overseas, I seek
out suppliers who can provide assurances
that their product has been made ethically,
and try to support legitimate Fair Traders
such as The Dharma Door and Pebble by
Blackbird & Fox can be found down the
Troubadour Arcade and is open seven
days a week---O'Brien has two university
students filling in on her days off. A majority
of customers are female with ages spanning
university students to retirees. They receive
what O'Brien describes as "free range"
customer service. "We always make sure to
greet everyone and let them know we are
there if they need us, but there's nothing
worse than when you're a customer just trying
to have some down time and someone is
trailing you throughout a store and jabbering
away, so we allow customers to browse and
just check in on them occasionally."
O'Brien uses Facebook and email to connect
with her customers and enjoys the instant
reaction from fans on social media. While
the current Blackbird & Fox website is quite
basic, a new one is on the way with an online
shopping facility to enhance the business.
"We experienced steep growth from about
six months in to 18 months in our timeline,
and we were really maxed out during the
Christmas rush. It'd be lovely to keep on
growing at that rate, but around Christmas
time, we often couldn't have fit any more
customers in the store.
"Computerising our POS allowed us to
process sales much more quickly during peak
periods too. Since then we've managed to
maintain a relatively stable rate of trade, but
we are somewhat limited by our current store
size and layout and are looking at expanding
online," she explains.
Her goals for Blackbird & Fox include
maintaining the store's level of success while
also improving and growing online. Opening
a second store one day is a possibility, but it's
the people O'Brien encounters through her
business that are the heart of what she does
and what she hopes to achieve.
"I've really enjoyed meeting and forming
relationships with people through my
business, from customers to neighbouring
businesses to suppliers. Because so many of
our suppliers are Melbourne based, I've been
able to establish and maintain regular contact
with many of them, and I look forward to the
major trade fairs as an opportunity to touch
base with interstate suppliers.
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