I grew up in Lower Templestowe and went to school not far from home. Then I went to RMIT and studied Visual Merchandising. I really had no idea at all what I wanted to do, but my father was a sign writer and screen printer so I followed in his footsteps. It was quite a new course and difficult to get in to – I loved it. My first job was at Myer in their Visual Merchandising department, doing screen printing, design and building displays. And then I went to a large display company in Abbotsford, building props for TV studios and doing screen printing and sign writing. I worked there for a few years and then went on my travelling adventure and disappeared for a few years. I had done my study, worked hard, and it was time for a break.
When I got back to Melbourne I got back into sign writing, but realised it wasn’t quite enough for me so I went back to Uni as a mature age student and did a business degree. I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I thought that doing a business degree would help to further my career. I started working again but when I did finally have children I didn’t take maternity leave – I resigned, there was no going back. My sons are now quite grown up - Camden is 13 and Charlie is nine. When Camden was born I was a stay at home mum and did some sign writing part time. I guess that was my first business but it was hard to get motivated on my own. I was like Patsy from Ab Fab, I had business cards and had Christmas parties but never really did any work! My time management was very poor, and while I had supportive parents and baby sitting support, it was really hard to raise young children and get back into the groove of work.
Once both of my boys were settled at school, I decided I needed to get some sort of work, so I started working at a local kids store called Moppit two days a week. It was like being reborn really, having somewhere to go regularly, and being back in the world amongst people. Being able to talk to people every day was wonderful. The store hours really suited my lifestyle. Gradually I felt I needed more than two days a week but the owner of Moppit at the time couldn’t give me any more hours, and that’s when I started to think about how great it would be to have my own business. I used to lay awake at night thinking about what it would be like, and I started doing lots of research. I loved the idea of having a really creative outlet. Having a shop or working in a shop isn’t just about serving people, it’s so much more. The idea just grew, and I knew I wanted to work with babies clothes and gifts. Peta was also working at Moppit a few days a week and I knew her from the kindergarten committee. When the opportunity came up to take over the shop we were both so excited about it and decided to take the opportunity. It was comforting, taking on the business with someone I knew and who was as passionate as I was about making it work. Having another person to lean on and talk things through was great. We are similar in ways but quite different in our tastes, which really helps. If you just buy the things you like it’s not a good way to run a business – by having different tastes we buy products for the bigger picture, to satisfy the different customers who come into the shop.
We are still really new to the business, it’s only a year old for us. We’re just learning by experience. Moppit was well established with a strong customer base and suppliers, so we concentrated on bringing in new brands and putting our own stamp on the store. We go to trade fairs, but our biggest way of sourcing clothes is via Agents at seasonal showings.
Having our own business is a lot more work than I ever imagined. Every night there’s something to do on the computer, from posting on Instagram to responding to online shopping. It consumes you all the time. Luckily we have weekend staff so we can be with our kids on the weekend. I love having my own business, because it’s mine. I love going to work every day. I had loved working at Moppit when I was employed there part time, so I didn’t want to find another full time job, I wanted to expand what I was doing. So I was really fortunate when the opportunity came up to buy the business. It was meant to be.
For other mums wanting to start their own business, just go for it. In the beginning it can be quite stressful and agonising before you make the decision, but once you do decide to go for it and you have a clear focus of what you want, it’s great. Peta and I are very lucky that Moppit is doing very well. The shop is in a great location with a lot of foot traffic, and it already had a name that was recognised by people. We market Moppit on Instagram - it’s really important to the business and it’s amazing how well it works. When we were initially told to do three posts a day and make sure we feature product, we thought it would be so time consuming, but it definitely works and it pays to be consistent. Flat lays and pictures of product in store work well. My experience in visual merchandising and what I learnt doing my business degree has all come together now, and I love what I am achieving.
I grew up in a small country town in central Victoria called Elmore, between Echuca and Bendigo, and went to school locally for both primary and high school. We had a farm but lived in the town – we were ‘townies’. I came to Melbourne to go to University, and I was so ready for it. I worked really hard in year 11 and 12. I was focused and wanted to make sure I could get into Uni, I wanted more than living in a small country town. Uni was my ticket out. I had originally wanted to do physiotherapy but after doing some work experience I found nursing was a little broader and had a bit more scope, so I studied nursing instead. I ended up moving to Sydney to do critical care nursing and then moved back to Melbourne and worked at The Alfred in Emergency Trauma for ten years which I loved. It was an amazing job when I was younger, and there was such a wonderful team environment at the Trauma Centre. It was very intense and you form amazing friendships with your colleagues, but it becomes really insular. Work was my priority and I was very focused, but you do get burnt out. Falling pregnant with Finn allowed me to have a break, and once I had him my priorities changed. Finn is now ten.
I had always thought I would go back to nursing, but my husband is a property valuer and is now a partner in the company he works with, so his level of work is pretty intense. I realised that Finn would have to go into childcare if I went back to work as both our families still live in the country, so there isn’t any family support. I did try going back for a couple of nursing shifts, but realised I just wanted to be at home with Finn so I gave it all up, and now I also have my daughter Sadie who is eight. We were building the house we now live in so I started dabbling in Interior Design and I studied via correspondence with the Sydney Interior School of Design. I enjoyed that and it became a little passion, and I did a few jobs for friends which was enough to keep me going. I loved buying the right interior items and making a house feel like a home.
I started up an interior design business but I still felt quite isolated. Being at home with the children was wonderful but once they were off at school I wanted more interaction with people because I am a very social person and love bouncing ideas off people. I started playing around with the idea of opening up an interiors/homewares shop. My husband said that I really needed to get a job in retail and get a feel for it before investing a lot of capital in opening my own shop, so I approached Moppit to see if I could work there. I already knew April from the kindergarten committee and I started working there a few days a week. So when the owner decided to sell Moppit about six months after I began working there, it seemed like an obvious choice to take it on given that the business had a great reputation, the brand was established and it was in a great location. It was so convenient. Both April and I live nearby and the kids go to school around the corner. While it’s not interiors, I still get to shop for things I love and do the visual merchandising which is wonderful. I would love to move towards children’s decor, and that will come in time.
It’s been a massive experience. It’s been a really big learning curve. There’s so much to running a small business, even with just a little shop – I completely underestimated the constant amount of work. Even if there’s not work to do in the shop there’s bookwork or sourcing new products or working on the social media. I had been dabbling with Instagram for personal use but when you’re doing it for a business and trying to project a brand and be consistent there is a whole different set of challenges. There is definitely an etiquette to Instagram, and if you make a mistake people are very quick to tell you.
We take the business very seriously. And that in part is because of my husband. He sees real potential in it and he drives me a lot. Matt’s role is very senior and he has to travel interstate every week, and he’s made a niche for himself in commercial property. He can see a goal and he is very interested and helpful with what I do which is a great support. April is also really experienced, and we have really different strengths and weaknesses which helps a lot. April is a little more quirky in her choices whereas I am probably a bit more contemporary in my style and design ethic. We work different days but we share the responsibilities, from bookwork to social media and buying. We let each other explore our likes and dislikes. I learnt quite quickly that buying is not just about personal taste – you have to detach yourself and think about your customer.
It was a big change for all of us taking on Moppit, but it was timed quite well. Both my children were well settled in their school environments. Their biggest adaption was going to Kids Club after school care. It is a constant juggle though, I put them to bed and then I’m back on the computer. I have lost personal time and I still need to try and find the right balance, but it is so rewarding. During buying times and when new stock comes in life gets pretty frantic, co-ordinating it all becomes quite difficult.
What I love most about having my own business is the flexibility, and the control. If I did need to close the shop and pick up one of the kids because they were sick, I could do it, it’s my business. I feel proud of it, and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback and it’s nice to have that satisfaction. When you’re at home with the kids you love them to death and they give you a cuddle but you don’t get a lot of feedback from them. It’s great to be out meeting people and I love having something for me that I can focus on rather than the children and my husband. Taking over an existing business made life more simple, but our challenge is to put our own stamp on it. We spoke to a lot of retail stores, business owners who had been in the industry for a long time, and they all said just to take it slowly. If it changed too quickly customers may find it jarring, and because Moppit has a strong community following and regular clientele, we have to stay true to them. Half the beauty of buying the business was that it was still going strong after eight years, and it was known. We were up and running straight away and had an established social media following. There was an instant income, but there’s a lot of work for not much return. Our partnership works really well though and I couldn’t have done it without April. We are always looking for ways to expand and grow.
In truth, I panicked when Sadie started school. I had let my nursing registration slip and I started to question who I was, what I was worth, what I was going to find for myself? I knew I couldn’t take on full time work, I needed to do a max of three days that suited school hours - and how do you find a job like that? I needed to be near where I live and near the school otherwise commuting was taking precious time away from the kids and was going to add extra pressure onto our lives. It was a difficult time and I started to question my self worth. Everybody needs something for themselves, that they can take pride in and give them a sense of satisfaction. So I would say just bide your time and look for any opportunities, and don’t undermine anything. Explore your interests and have a go.
Moppit and More is a fun, colourful kids and lifestyle store in the heart of Clifton Hill, and owners April and Peta love providing stylish clothes for kids who like comfort and for parents who love fashion! They also offer a wide range of gifts, homewares and cool stuff in general. They are focused on filling their store with locally designed products and brands that support Melbourne and Australian fashion and design talent.
Having a clear marketing plan is one of the most important parts of running your own business. Social media is a vital part of any marketing plan, and understanding how to manage a social media plan is the key. Business Mamas can help you understand social media content and planning, and set you on the right path to social media success.
Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
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