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Pebble and Poppet
Creativity inspires success
Creativity and determination helped Suzanne Phillips’ unique business survive and thrive after COVID-19 forced her to think outside the box to save her Queen Victoria Market store.
With help from the Small Business Mentoring Service and student interns, Suzanne successfully pivoted to selling most of her locally designed clothing and accessories online.
Suzanne started Pebble and Poppet at QVM in 2019 after 20 years as a sole trader and has one employee. Working with local artists, she follows her beautiful products from visualisation to creation as most are designed and produced in Victoria.
The business sells handmade clothing, art, and gifts. The baby, kids’ and ladies’ clothing items use lovingly designed and created prints and fabrics.
“I really love creating bespoke products and clothing that are unique to me,” Suzanne says. “I find the creative process so much fun. I especially love sharing the story behind each product with customers and seeing their reactions.
“Many of my products are made locally using local artists and makers which enables us to give back to our community of creators and makers and keep Australian dollars within Australia.”
Producing in small batches allows the business to be more creative and ensure all products are of the highest standards. Nothing is wasted, with fabric scraps turned into headbands, beanies, face masks and gift card embellishments.
Soon after opening her market store, QVM Trader Connect Program Manager/Resident Mentor Madalen Ross and SBMS Mentor Barry Barber dropped by to tell Suzanne about their QVM program. Unsure how it could help her, she said “sure, why not?”
“Looking back to that day, it was one of the best things I ever did for my business,” Suzanne says.
Dealing with COVID together
COVID had changed the way Suzanne needed to operate. Pre-pandemic, 60 per cent of sales were international and interstate visitors. With travel suspended, possibly for years, she knew the store would take years to recover so she had to take the business online.
“I did not know a single thing about operating a successful online business or social media account and I was eager to learn everything I could to help myself and my business survive,” she says.
Suzanne ended up having over 15 sessions with SBMS mentors Barry, Katya Ellis, and their colleague Madalen Ross over 18 months as part of the free SBMS QVM Trader Connect program.
Barry is an experienced business owner and consultant who has helped many businesses drive sustainable improvement and capitalise on new opportunities, while Katya has run small businesses that market independent designers and specialises in eCommerce and social media marketing. Madalen has extensive experience in small business, digital marketing, web design and SEO.
Assisted by student interns matched by their skillset, among other things Barry, Katya and Madalen helped with:
- brand strategy and positioning, including digital marketing
- broadening the brand focus beyond kids’ clothing
- new products such as nature inspired puzzles and designer prints
- an enhanced website with improved ‘shopability’ and product ‘searchability’
- improving website search engine optimisation
- managing inventory and product ranging
- producing a brand video
- product photography
- local artist collaborations
- writing blogs
- creating marketing campaigns
- identifying new social media opportunities through Instagram and Facebook
- Instagram tools and planning posts
- optimal posting and emailing times
- the best hashtags
- creating great stories and posts that convert to sales
- creating discount codes and vouchers.
- Amazon store connection
The mentors also helped Suzanne identify and apply for various government grant programs throughout the pandemic.
Reducing stress while increasing sales
Suzanne says having a successful website while her store struggled was life changing. During one lockdown her business had one of it is most successful months. As sales steadied, stress levels fell.
“There are days when I go into work and sell one little thing, but my website makes several sales … and it makes such a huge difference to my mental health and wellbeing,” Suzanne says. “The two most recent lockdowns in Melbourne saw the website doing so well that I did not need additional government supported financial assistance.
“I am very grateful that Barry, Katya and Madalen have been there for me every step of the way to offer support, advice and their expertise. As a result of all their help they have not only saved my business but helped me make it stronger than it ever was.”
Barry says Suzanne went from being unconvinced about the effectiveness of social media and resisting digital marketing and e-commerce to developing a broad vision for growing her business online. He says she has a clear brand vision, values and purpose, a functional e-commerce website, an integrated digital marketing plan and a customer focus to drive new opportunities.
“The business has been able to survive through COVID and is now well positioned to thrive post COVID as an online retailer with scope to dramatically increase its customer base,” he says.
“Suzanne has grasped the opportunity presented by digital and has developed the skills and knowledge to be able to maintain/update the website and implement/manage social media herself.”
Katya says Suzanne is very grateful for the help received. “However, I tell her to thank herself for allowing us to share our expertise and for being such a great hands-on 'student',” Katya says.
“Without a doubt the business owners that we see succeed are the ones that get involved, listen, proactively implement the recommendations, learn and adapt. It is extremely rewarding as a mentor to see a client take on board your advice, implement it, and then enjoy the successful results that come with it.”
Suzanne could not be happier. “Having my mentors to teach, inspire and guide me every step of the way was extraordinary,” she says. “They not only showed me how and gave me resources to help me, but they genuinely took a real interest in making sure I understood what, how and why I was doing the things I was doing.”
“They really took the time to listen, advise and help me develop a good understanding of web development, social media and advertising tips and tricks which not only enabled me to take my business online but to make it successful.”
The Small Business Mentoring Service (SBMS) is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it. Website: www.sbms.org.au
Name: Suzanne Phillips
Business: Pebble and Poppet
Address: Shop 17 String Bean Alley Queen Victoria Market
Tel. 0413 759 868
Email: [email protected]
to download a copy of this article click on the PDF.
SBMSMentors: Barry Barber, Madalen Ross, Katya Ellis
Small Business Mentoring Service IncSuite 1, 12 Maroondah HwyRingwood VIC 3134Contact: David Gregory Chief Executive OfficerTel. 9879 4486
The Small Business Mentoring Service (SBMS) Incorporated is a non-profit organisation.
Incorporated Association Registration Number: A0032560Y