As home-based businesses gather traction with their online retailing, another need emerges when customers start to seek access to a physical store front. Solving a problem for one such rural online business has resulted in a great outcome for the small town of Quambatook in the southern Mallee of Victoria.
Only a handful of businesses have survived in Quambatook with its small population of 249 (Census 2016) and surrounding agricultural communities. So it was with great celebration that the Quambatook & Districts Share Shop Inc. officially opened its doors on the 11th January 2019.
Barely a month later, and eleven separate home-based businesses now share a retail space showing and selling their wares. If not for the Share Shop, they would otherwise find it difficult to get exposure in a physical environment for their products.
It is a momentous day when I visit in early February. There is a small but steady stream of customers thanks to the Quamby Silo Cinema screening of The Merger later in the day. The Shop has also got its EFTPOs facilities up and running for the first time using a Square credit card reader. Now, this may not seem like much until you understand where the Share Shop has come from and how far it still has to go. For starters, there is NO power or running water to the building!
President of the Share Shop, Jodie Russ, recalls how she used to walk past the old store, the interior of which was hidden by black plastic across the windows. Previously it had been home to Ellis’s Hardware and Plumbing Supplies and Tom Hogan’s Grocery Store.
‘I moved to Quambatook ten years ago and never knew what lay behind those blacked out windows,’ Jodie admits. ‘It’s always a shame to see old buildings unused.’ So, it was logical when requests came from local and visiting customers to view Jodie’s products from her online retail business, Retro Vintage Period, that she started thinking of accessing a vacant store front.
‘I didn’t really want people coming to my home,’ she explains, ‘but there was no way I could afford to open a store all by myself. I started thinking that perhaps there were others in similar circumstances. Or they had a hobby business that would benefit from more exposure.’
While the Share Shop has only opened very recently, Jodie points out that a lot of research and preparation went on beforehand.
A group of local people expressed their interest in the joint enterprise including the owner of The Quambatook Stores who saw an opportunity to have her wares on sale over the weekend when she was closed for a much-needed rest.
Accessing a physical store front turned out to be the easiest of all their tasks. Owner Graeme Elliott, who had inherited the old building, was only too willing to agree to a peppercorn lease to help the group get on their feet.
‘I knocked on Graeme’s door and he was marvellous,’ Jodie recalls. ‘He is so generous in supporting us for the first year to let us accumulate some funds. The only stipulation was that we had to deal with what was behind the black plastic which turned out to be lots of old engines and car parts.’ A clearance sale was organised by a local auctioneer, and the majority of items were sold clearing the way for the new occupants.
The lack of power and water could be perceived as a barrier by most people I point out.
‘We weren’t going to let that stop us!’ Jodie exclaims. ‘We bring our own tank water in from home in buckets and have a gas ring to make a cuppa. And, on one of the hot days, the building owner hooked a car battery up to an inverter to run a fan for us.’ As backup Jodie also purchased a second-hand Generator from a Facebook Buy Swap Sell Site for $50. ‘Of course, we’d love to have power,’ Jodie admits, ‘but it will cost us $25,000 to get all the wiring upgraded so that is a battle for another day.’
Settling on a legal and financial model for the group required some further research but they realised that there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Assistance from the Gannawarra Shire and a mini bus trip to speak with existing cooperative groups in the nearby towns of Sea Lake and Wycheproof enabled them to make the decision to become an incorporated entity.
‘We have a yearly fee of $260 made up of $5 per week per business paid up front from the 1st of January or pro rata on entry to 31 December,’ explains Jodie moving into business mode. ‘Commission on goods sold is ten percent if you volunteer your time to serve in the shop or twenty percent if you can’t.’
While the overheads are minimal with no utilities connected, there is the peppercorn rent and insurance to be paid. ‘The enterprise is committed to generating funds to enable it to effectively market the shop, pay rent and improve facilities in its second year of operation, and keep it rolling for years to come,’ explains Jodie. For this reason, they have two fundraising coordinators as well as a treasurer to keep on top of their finances. ‘We need to build up our kitty and make this sustainable.’
Chatting with the team on duty, it becomes clear that there are many benefits far beyond the opportunity to generate income for local businesses.
I’m particularly interested in Zoe who is a year 12 student. ‘I’m just a floater,’ she tells me. It turns out that Sue, her mother, is one of the Share Shop members and Zoe is fulfilling the volunteering component. Her current task is to write out the EFTPOS instructions for all the volunteers which I’m sure will be gratefully received.
In fact, their very first EFTPOS sale takes place during our conversation to a couple from Portland in New South Wales who have been staying at the caravan park for the past week in eager anticipation of the silo cinema that evening.
Another of their volunteer members, Fiona Williams, operates the EFTPOs under the guidance of Jodie to complete the sale. ‘This is a wonderful opportunity to develop our technological skills,’ Jodie points out as Fiona nervously watches the transaction go through their newly purchased credit card reader.
By default, the Share Shop has also become an important social hub to this small community and their Secretary, Kathryn Robson, is a classic example.
‘Fiona and I were wondering what we were doing in the early days,’ Jodie admits, ‘then Kathryn just came in and asked how she could help.’ A district nurse by profession, Kathryn is a constant visitor to the store on her days off bringing her own unique enthusiasm, and what suspiciously appears to be a fetish for dressing up in the vintage clothing for their social media posts. During my visit she performs two super-fast clothing changes to model for the photographs.
‘The flow on effect of the Share Shop is immense,’ Jodie says. ‘It is so important for the town to have a drawcard and we can refer them to other businesses and places of interest. We took a gamble and it’s paying off,’ she concludes looking around with a very satisfied smile.
The Quambatook District Share Shop Inc is open
Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 3pm or by appointment at other times
Call Jodie on 0417 306 214.
And for those of you wondering what is on offer here is a brief outline:
Jodie Russ – Retro Vintage Period Homewares & Props For Sale, Various Vintage Homewares, Collectibles and Clothing
Angela Mazur – Bear and the Bees – Local Honey and Beeswax Products, such as Beeswax wraps, lip Balm, Foot Balm
Gen Trice – Mincha Munchies, Preserves, Jams, Pickles Relishes
Jim Treacy and Jan Gemmel – Natural Soaps, Children’s Clothing, Plants
Fiona Williams – Homewares, Vintage and New, Craft, Handmade items, Succulent Wreaths
Zoe and Sue Bremner – Rustic Farm and Garden Wares, Craft, Books, Art, Plants
Jo Nalder – Soy Candles and Diffusers
Annie Tomlinson – Vintage Homewares
Toni- Maree Hoogendorn – Vintage Homewares, Fabric, Wallpaper, Toys, Recycled Handmade Items including Children’s Clothing
Chelle Espagne – Handprinted Mugs, Coasters, Stubbie Holders, Metal Art, Reusable Printed Tote Bags, Cushions
KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE