Penny White – Business Minds

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Thank you for taking the time to chat to me, Penny; I know it’s gearing up to be the busiest time of year for you.How are you going with your Christmas preparations at elements of design in Wauchope?

Our Christmas preparation started months ago! We invest a lot of time and effort into sourcing unique clothing, fabulous homewares and accessories that will make the perfect Christmas gifts to give to others or to yourself!
The Christmas period is an extremely lively time of year, especially for retail. What are some of the biggest challenges you face at this time of year, and how do you try and overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges we face at this time of year is timely arrival of our stock. It’s such a busy season, that it would be easy to sell out of items with a moment’s notice. To try and manage this, we make sure we are well prepared with surplus stock and that our suppliers are on board with meeting our deadlines.

What is it that you love most about working in retail at this time of year?
My favourite aspect of retail for the Christmas period would have to be creating displays that tell a story. Everybody loves looking at window displays at this time of year, so it’s an opportunity for us to really showcase our creativity and our gorgeous range. It’s also a time that we get to meet so many lovely new customers who are holidaying in the area and enjoying their quality family time.
How do you manage to keep up your energy and enthusiasm with all of the extra hours that the Christmas period must demand?
The workload at this time of year can be quiet demanding, but it is made much easier by my supportive and helpful family, who will come in and help me in the store from time to time.

The popularity of online and mobile shopping has just boomed in Australia. Ecommerce platform Shopify predicts that 25% of online gift purchases this Christmas will be carried out via mobile, rising to 43% by Christmas 2013. How do you manage to compete with local and global online retailers?
The popularity of online shopping has become greater, yet we seem not to have been too affected. We find our customers love being able to come in and feel the textures, to try things on, to smell our candles etc. before they purchase, so we focus a lot of our efforts on our in-store merchandising and our customer service. Operating in a regional area means we can build a stronger and more meaningful relationships with our customers, which will hopefully keep them coming back.
Speaking of online, you have a fabulous Facebook page. It cleverly captures the vivacious and vibrant essence of both yourself, as well as elements of design. How do you make this social media network work for your business?
Our Facebook page is updated daily with unique new stock arrival photos. These posts keep our customers informed and excited about what they can find in store. We also like to strengthen our relationship with our Facebook fans by posting regular relevant and quirky updates and messages that we love to share and know our customers will appreciate. The response to our Facebook page has been extremely overwhelming, and we really have met so many lovely new ‘Likers’.
We originally installed an e-commerce platform onto our Facebook page, but found customers weren’t really using it. Now we post new stock on the Facebook page and if a customer likes it, they comment on the post, asking us to put it away and they’ll buy it later that day when they can get in.
What was it that first inspired you to buy and manage this local business?
Our boutique was created from the ground up, due to a family crisis and re-assessment of our lives. My husband was in a critical condition for 5 weeks suffering a life threatening illness. We really felt that we were given a second chance of life for him and realised just how short life is. For me, it made me believe that it was time to follow my dream of opening my very own boutique. And so became elements of design.
I imagine getting your product offering right for your target customer would involve great skill, along with a bit of trial and error. Where do you turn to get inspiration for stocking your store?
I am constantly pursuing new and creative ideas. I attend the Sydney and Melbourne Gift Fairs annually; I scour magazines, and I have a huge appetite for homeware and styling books. My latest splurge was on Megan Morton’s Things I Love book. I’m always on the lookout for new stockists and really try to find local artisans and suppliers where I can. In fact, I’ve just returned from a holiday in Byron Bay, where I’ve managed to sign up two new stockists – I’m so excited about their stock arriving in store!
I also studied Fashion Design at TAFE and have had experience in Interior Decorating. These two skills have definitely been beneficial in gaining and sourcing inspiration for current trends.
What business initiatives do you have planned for the future? Will we be seeing an online version of elements of design any time soon?
Our business strategy at elements of design is constantly reviewed to meet the ever changing expectations and requirements of our customers. With the combination of our boutique and Facebook page, we are confident that we are meeting the market for now.
We do, however, have pipeline dreams of expanding elements of design in the near future, so watch this space!
What advice would you offer to other regionally based retailers looking to have a successful and prosperous Christmas season?
Our one and main piece of advice for other retailers is to be as unique and original with your product offering as you can. We have found that customers like to go from boutique to boutique and not see the same items stocked. By offering shoppers a distinctive product range, you will ensure that you stand out from other retailers and this is what makes you successful! MERRY CHRISTMAS.
Thanks for your time, Penny and have a Merry Christmas!

This story was found on issue 84 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus

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