Matt, as the owner of local surf and skate shop, Inner Vision, what is it about running a retail business that excites you the most?
I think owning any business in Port Macquarie should excite anyone. I get excited when I discover new products that I’m really passionate about and believe in. Being able to forward these on to my customers locally provides me with a real buzz. In turn, they come into the store and thank me for providing them with the opportunity to buy these great products in Port Macquarie.
We are constantly evolving and changing and trying to keep ahead of trends, all while working out what’s going to be the best thing for our shop. An example of this is the introduction of our Scooter Workshops. The interest and growth in these workshops definitely excites me.
What was it that first inspired you to buy and manage this local business?
Inner Vision has been owned and operated by my family for many years. My mum owned the store before me and I managed the store for 10 years, before taking over the business three years ago.
As a young surfer growing up in Port Macquarie, Inner Vision was always the store that we would hang at watching surfing movies and checking out the latest surfing products. It was a safe place for us to hang, and it is still the same today. It’s a local icon and a safe haven for the kids to drop in and say G’day.
What have you learnt about growing a business?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that goes for the Inner Vision business as well. My team and I are forever researching, brainstorming and making new ideas happen. What I have learnt is that business is always changing, and that’s OK. Being a small business, we are able to be more agile than bigger stores. We can react quickly when we identify a good idea.
Keeping the store up to date with the latest point of sale technology and trends is no easy task. There’s no time to shut the store and get your head around it. We have a very loyal, local clientele, but we don’t take that for granted. Instead, this keeps us on our toes, as we make sure the shopping experience is always a positive one.
I’ve learnt you can’t be scared of change; whether it be new systems or new advertising channels, you just have to learn to go with the flow.
The retail industry has changed significantly over the past 20 years. The consumer now has the world of retail at their fingertips with the advent of online shopping. Firstly, how much has this shift affected your local business and secondly, how have you adapted your business model to adjust accordingly to this shift?
Online shopping has definitely changed the dynamics of the surfing industry. It is constantly evolving, and we do the same, from surf to skate, scooters and lifestyle; we are forever changing the way we do things. There is no formula. If you think you have worked it out, it’s slowly passing you by.
Yes, consumers can go online and buy from their favourite brands that we stock locally, but shopping locally provides a more personable experience – and this is what we’ve decided to focus on. We constantly talk to our customers directly. I do a lot of talking (so my staff keep telling me) but what I’m doing is finding out incredible insight into our customers, and this provides direction as to how we buy a lot of our stock.
I think a lot of people want to shop with their independent local store, whether it’s your local fruit and veg or your local butcher. There are so many benefits to buying locally, so our team are always looking for ways to make the shopping experience at Inner Vision one that wins hands down. It sounds old fashioned, but if the customer experience is positive, then they don’t go snooping around online. I personally support all those that are true local businesses wherever possible, because the local stores here in Port are what builds the retail culture of a community. Otherwise, everywhere is just same, same.
What have you learnt about compromise when it comes to balancing work, family and any other commitments that you have?
Hire amazing staff that you can trust. People may not know, but Jess and Lisa who work tirelessly in the business with me are actually my cousins, and being family means they are just as passionate about the business as I am. I couldn’t run the store without them!
Life is hard and very busy, but you have to take time away from the business to clear your head, and that’s when the fresh ideas come. My time away from work consists of spending time with my family, friends, fishing and time in the water.
What’s one thing that you wish someone would have told you before you embarked on being a business owner?
Slow down and take time out for yourself and your family; it truly does go so fast.
Do you have any quotes that you live by in business?
Staff always come first. Always! Without them, I wouldn’t have my loyal customers. I love all my customers, by the way.
And finally, if you could invite three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?
Phill Edwards from Pet Stock, Chris Harris from Bills Fishhouse & Bar and Salty Crew Kiosk, and Malcolm Neale from Fuel 4 Business. Phill and Chris are both my very best friends; they both give me sound, honest advice over a few beers. The problems that we can solve in all our businesses over a few beers is absolutely so rewarding.
Malcolm is my business coach and an absolute champion. He has helped me and my staff take this humble little surf store to levels that we have never seen before.