My Advice: Starting a retail shop

By Lizzie Stafford Venturing into a new retail business is daunting and most small business owners will admit the first few years are a steep learning curve. It’s tough. But having your own shop space can also be hugely rewarding. I asked five successful store owners for their best piece of advice for starting a retail business.


Don’t get caught up in the details.

Alana Langan, Hunt & Bow, online boutique

"Prior to launching Hunt & Bow I found myself spending hours upon hours getting everything *perfect* behind the scenes, when the most important thing for me to do was just get out there and get going. So much can be tweaked along the way and being an online retailer, it's better to be up and running online and interacting with customers than not. That said, there is definitely a place for getting key things right from the beginning (like your business name and logo - the big things!)"


Everything in business can be learnt.

Tiana Vasiljev, Beautiful Pages, Sydney

"Starting up a business can be daunting but it's not rocket science. Most of business is common sense and everything can be learnt with a bit of practise. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to running a business. The longer you do it, the easier it will become.

Hire a business coach. Find good mentors. Surround yourself with successful people. Finding someone who you can talk to regularly and who can offer advice is a huge help. Having a coach will assist you in identifying and reaching your goals. They can provide focus, motivate you and help clarify your goals (in both business and in life). It's also important to find mentors and learn from what they have to offer. A large amount of how successful you are in life comes down to who you surround yourself with.

Never start a business for the money. You need to truly love what you are doing, stand by your values and believe in what you do. It is important to do something meaningful, something that you truly love doing and care about. It will not only feed your soul, but help grow your business and keep you focused during hard times.

Once you get into it, it's important to never quit. Every great leader that I have ever looked up to persevered to make it work and never quit. Many times your business will get tough, but it is important to preserve and stick with it. Change your strategy or approach if need be, but never give up."


There’s no point trying to be all things to all people.

Julia Pound, Dagmar Rousset, Melbourne

"At first I used to worry that some people didn’t seem to “get” Dagmar. Occasionally they would walk in and laugh at the stock, or tell me they were too old for it (despite the fact that some of my most loyal customers are over 60). I told this to my accountant and she suggested I stock a broader range that would appeal to a greater cross section of the population.  I thought about this for a while and then I had an epiphany: does Radiohead worry about how to get in on Justin Bieber’s demographic? Does Opera Australia advertise at AFL games? Why would you worry about not everyone liking you? Just do it for you and all the people who “get” you. There is such a sense of relief in thinking this way – it’s truly life changing, or at least it was for me. Now I just worry about what my customers like. No one else matters."


Invite other people to perform some of the everyday tasks.

Michelle Gillies, Nook, Brisbane

"A lesson that I'm in the process of learning is that as soon as it's possible, I think that it's beneficial to invite other people to perform some of the everyday tasks, to enable you to focus on other creative or developmental aspects of the business. Many of the day-to-day tasks can be time consuming and tiring and leave you with less time to be creative and consider new ways to grow and evolve the business. It is essential to allow time to research new suppliers and products, consider store related events and come up with nice new ways to display stock. This can also ensure that you remain interested, enthusiastic and inspired, which is just as important for you as it is for the business."


Stay true to your vision.

Lyndal Gubbels, The Flower Dispensary, Geelong

"Don't expect others to have the same vision as you; they don't know what's going on inside that creative head of yours. I'm not the best person to explain all the visions I'm having inside my head, and trying to relay this to your staff is not an easy task.

Having staff that have similar visions has been my hardest hurdle since having The Flower Dispensary. Staff need to have a similar style or be willing to adapt their style to suit your business.

I opened The Flower Dispensary to be a feel good place to all, a place to escape and evoke the senses with beautiful smelling blooms and colour and to be greeted with happy staff that are working because they have a passion for their trade.

I thoroughly enjoy working in a creative space with the staff that we employ to continue to grow our business. I learn everyday from them."


Lizzie Stafford is a writer and soon-to-be retailer in Brisbane. Her magazine and book store Künstler will open in March 2014. She is also organising Brisbane’s first CWC event happening in April, with more details announced soon!