Hey there! I thought I'd share the talk I delivered at the recent Navigating Small Business in a Modern Age event held at the Swan Hill Art Gallery in this month's blog. It was a fantastic night of networking and sharing the trials and tribulations of running a small business.
My biggest takeaway from the event was how bright the future is for Swan Hill. There's so much happening in the town, and it's an exciting time for businesses and customers alike.
As many of you are aware, I have expanded my business. As well as being a tween and teen speciality store, I am now offering sizes 3-7. Since expanding my range, I have met so many new customers, and I thought it was a great time to let you all know a bit more about myself, my journey, and how my business came to be. I'm also going to take you behind the scenes and share how I survived through the last two years.
My name is Carrie Ann Robins, and I am the owner, creator, and sole operator of Innocence and Attitude. A hip kid clothing store specialising in sizes 8-14. It's a store like no other. I offer streetwear, special occasion wear, sleepwear, swimwear and accessories.
Here’s a snapshot of my life
How Innocence and Attitude began
Every job I've ever had has taught me so much. But inside me, I've always yearned for something bigger, something that would challenge me and something of my very own. I wanted to do something I love. My dream started to make sense when my kids began to emerge into tweens and teen sizes, and I struggled to find good quality clothes for this age group. I came up with the idea to fill this void, so Innocence and Attitude became a reality in September 2017.
With my dad as my absolute strength and inspiration, and my sister Jackie who had just returned from Queensland as a qualified beautician, it made sense that we should open up a shop and run our businesses out of the same premises. Having each other for support through the highs and lows was ideal.
Jackie and I renovated the old butcher's shop at 92 Chapman Street, Swan Hill (North Shops), and this proved to be a fantastic place to test the concept of a unique store. Jackie and I also found ourselves amongst many other small businesses, and we became part of a very supportive community.
The challenges I faced and the action I took
While my business was growing quickly, I wasn't in the town's CBD, and therefore foot traffic was a little light. I had to look for ways to keep growing. I researched a lot and took several short courses, including one with Paul Dillon at Mallee Rising on building a website on Squarespace. This was when I discovered the power of social media and the opportunities to come with owning a website.
I eventually moved my website to Shopify, and this is the best business decision I've made yet. Shopify is easy to use, and it integrates everything.
The next chapter
In 2019, Jackie and I relocated to Beveridge Street, Swan Hill, when a suitable store became available. OMG! Such a proud moment as I was able to bring my dreams to life. I had created a cool space for kids and their families in the centre of town. I had the room to be a stockist of more Australian brands. My visualisation for an inspirational and positive vibe, a graffiti wall for kids, came to life.
The first six months in the new location, from September 2019 to February 2020, were excellent! It surpassed our expectations.
Then along came the pandemic
In March 2020, when the pandemic hit, I can tell you I panicked. As ScoMo was closing the country down, my mind was in a frenzy.
There were too many unknowns. With thousands of dollars in stock and had just locked myself into a two-year lease, I had no choice but to ride it out.
I was constantly navigating, re-evaluating, adapting and thinking outside the box. When I couldn't work in the business, I worked on the business harder than ever before.
I stepped up the website to offer online sales. I provided free contactless local home delivery and click and collect. But the competition between retailers was fierce. We were all in the same boat, trying to survive.
My loyal customers got me through. I will be forever grateful to them all.
Getting through 2020 and 2021 has been tough on all of us. But I'm so glad that Innocence and Attitude made it through despite many challenges.
As if life wasn’t already hard, I had to navigate living as a border resident in Murray Downs. Whatever rules and restrictions were happening in Sydney I had to implement them at home. Similarly, whatever the rules and restrictions were being enforced in Melbourne, I had to apply them in the shop. Just getting over the bridge to get to my shop was a stress and nightmare. Police check points, permits, identification, and getting pulled over because I had NSW number plates.
But I made it! And I am extremely proud of myself for making it through.
Where am I currently at in my business?
Having endured many obstacles and hurdles, I am still in business! I have re-evaluated and invested in many things for Innocence and Attitude.
- Due to customer requests and demand, I have expanded into sizes 3-7.
- To reach a wider audience, I have invested in print and radio local advertising.
- I have employed a digital marketing agency to help grow my digital presence through social media and email marketing.
I have accepted and embraced my new normal.
I am so grateful for the support I have received from family, friends, local business owners and the wider community. Above all, I am so proud to be part of the Swan Hill community.