As anyone who runs their own business knows it’s not all instagram filters and glamorous opening parties. In this interview series we find out the story behind the scenes – what it takes to launch and run a successful business, picking up some marketing and business tips along the way.
They stock a carefully curated selection of gifts and objects – “to brighten up your home, your studio, your apartment, your loft, your friends car, whatever space you like to hang out”. Just try walking out of their beautiful store at South Melbourne Market (or online) empty handed - an impossible task. The name says it all really – and that’s a story in itself.
Kate explains “When we were in Palermo Soho - a very cool neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina we stumbled across a great vinyl hole-in-the-wall shop where the owner Paco starts chatting to us in Spanish (Noonie is Argentinian).
“When he realises we are from Australia, he says "Aussies are SuperCool" but in a hip-hop, Spanish accent. Paco then proceeds to tell us about his ‘SuperCool’ collection of rare and vintage vinyl, how he loves our ‘SuperCool’ outfits, how he wishes he could live in SuperCool Australia.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Postie: So tell us, what is TheSuperCool and TheSuperCool Kids?
Kate: It’s a business I run with my husband, Noonie – we started nearly eight years ago, first with TheSuperCool and then TheSuperCool Kids.
Our vision was to be an emporium of everyday objects sourced from around the globe with a very strong connection to the local community – locally made, handmade, with a point of difference – a reason to get excited to buy a gift essentially.
TheSuperCool Kids came about when we wanted to expand our baby and kids’ offerings. I’m so glad we expanded; the kids’ space has grown tremendously.
Postie: Why do you think that is?
Kate: There are so many Gen X-ers leaving corporate jobs with incredible skills, knowledge and creativity and starting their own brands. And then there’s such a movement towards kids being kitted out in the latest threads, the best toys, the most interesting interior products.
I think even though money can be tight for some families, people always find money to buy a gift for a new baby or a birthday party. So we’ve cornered our market as being more of a gift offering across both TheSuperCool and TheSuperCool Kids.
Postie: Tell me about the evolution of the business – it wasn’t exactly a traditional start…
Kate: We began as a mobile emporium. We wanted to go to the people based on the vintage peddler kind of concept from the late 1800s.
Then, we realised people wanted to buy from us in between our pop-ups so we thought – “We need to be online”. This is going back a while, obviously, you would absolutely consider online in the current state of play.
Next we realised we really needed a permanent store to complement all our mobile offerings. We set up at the South Melbourne Market designer space (SO:ME Space, a retail space dedicated to local designers and creative businesses). We could do a six-month short-term lease – which is unheard of in most retail environments.
Also, we had our daughter and realised being nomadic was not as conducive with kids.
We’ve got a great following – and lovely regulars who we’ve seen get married, have babies, now the babies are growing up - it’s just been awesome.
We’re only open four days a week and our whole idea initially was let’s not be everywhere, 7 days a week, and let’s not be 24 hours a day (online can handle that).
Postie: Where do you source your stock?
Kate: Trade fairs are very important and we do a lot of our buying and our open-to-buy budgeting around markets like Life In Style. But when you go to a trade fair as a gift store you could just be the mirror image of every other gift store because you pick up the same brands from the same venue.
So, we try and buy with a very unique edit in mind. There are certain things that we know we need, and there are categories we need to fill.
We also do a lot of buying in between because we have such a high stock turnover and we’re always looking. I go to a lot of craft markets and Finders Keepers. I’m researching all the time; I’m constantly on Instagram and Pinterest. You know, you go down the rabbit hole and then five websites later you actually find something that really hits home. We get a lot of people emailing us directly, that can be quite hit or miss though.
Postie: How would a brand best reach out to you?
Kate: I like it when they email and it’s not just, “Hey we’re fabulous and we’ve got this great new product!” Well, everyone is fabulous and has a great new product - so how can they differentiate?
Maybe they’ve actually read the story about us on the website, they’ve taken the time to write and they’re not just copy and pasting. Or maybe they’ve come into the store, they’ve seen a niche that we’re missing – when it is a little bit more personal its nice.
Postie: You work with a lot of brands (around 90!). Do you have a digital relationships with all of those brands?
Kate: One of the key problems I find is if brands don’t have great imagery, it is really hard for us to give them extra promotional love. We are time poor so I don’t have the opportunity to do a lot of set-up shots of combined brand product, and I don’t have a studio so it is hard to take flat lays in the store.
So, I find I rely on our brands’ imagery. If they’re not doing great imagery then it limits the amount of times I rebrand them or give them Insta-love. So, whilst that’s unfair it’s the reality so the brands that spend more time doing great imagery do get more attention.
Postie: So, it helps if they bring the imagery to you?
Kate: Yes, a thousand percent.
It’s just crucial - we are such a visual society and the types of products we sell are extremely visual. You know, people come into the store all the time and they hold up their phone and say “I saw this, have you got it?”
Postie: Is there anything they can do around minimums?
Kate: Honestly, we always hit minimums. Lots of people offer consignment which is very generous of them but for us with our business we don’t do consignment because by the time we get the product in, we put it in our system, we barcode it, we put it in the store, we tell all the staff, we do a story on them, we do visual merchandising, we do social media, there’s no going back!
Postie: Can you tell us a bit about your team, and recruitment?
Kate: We’ve always recruited various types of personalities of staff cause there are various types of customers. I learned from a fabulous retailer back in the day, Kookai, about strategic recruiting.
They talked about different types of shoppers. There’s what I called “The Cheerleader” then the simple kind of home-girl vibe, or someone a bit more funky or with a tomboy vibe.
They actually recruited staff to fill those categories, aside from their retail skills, because they wanted to appeal to a variety of people. If you go into a store and there’s all one type of staff member, then you could either feel alienated or you could feel really connected to them, but it’s very divisive.
I wasn’t the traditional Kookai girl – I was pale, redhead, not blond and bouncy. I liked that they had a real variety of staff and I learned very early on that that worked.
At The SuperCool we’ve always recruited people who are very diverse. Some of them are a bit quieter and more gentle and it works really nicely in opposition to those who are really chatty and outgoing.
Then there is Noonie, who is a boy and completely throws that into chaos - which is great because the guys who come in love him and they talk dude stuff and share their latest music finds.
There are customers who come in specifically to talk to me about crystals or to one of our staff who is a yoga instructor and they love her take on certain books we have. Another can put the best outfits together and people come in specifically for her.
Postie: Sounds like you’ve got a great team now, but were you doing everything at the start?
Kate: Yes, everything, absolutely. Well, we had Noonie’s parents who are the unsung heroes of our business! They bring the sandwiches.
And to finish off, our Quick Fire Five:
Postie: What's your website built with, and do you like it?
Kate: Shopify. There are lots of good things about it but things that I find frustrating as well. I think the site looks professional and there’s certain things I can do that I wasn’t able to do with other sites which I really like. The biggest thing for us at the moment is because it integrates with Vend (Point of Sale software) and that’s crucial - but there are problems with the integration at times.
Postie: Do you have a favourite work app?
Kate: Planoly for Instagram (to schedule and plan posts), and the Notes app that comes with the phone.
Postie: Can you name one thing that brought in the most new followers/customers/sales?
Kate: Okay, that’s a two-fold question. One is doing lots of pop-up markets (like Finders Keepers, The Big Design Market). Heaps of postcards go out; people start following you because it’s connected to their brand.
And secondly, when we started, I did a marketing course. We started looking at colour blocking so rather than “This is what’s in now,” we started looking at it as a curated, more visual representation; that definitely helped. It’s very hard to maintain but it definitely helped.
Postie: And how many unread emails do you have in your inbox?
Kate: Not many. I’m a filer. It drives Noonie insane but I read something and I file.
Postie: I’m going to laugh here because it's showing you have 6,171.
Kate: I know that’s not correct! It’s weird. I think that’s like old email or my personal email.
Pete: Now, we have a screenshot of your phone homescreen Is there anything you want to explain?
Kate: I love this app Voxer. It’s like walkie-talkies so I do it with my sisters, cause we never seem to coincide. You can hold the app down and send each other voice messages and you can tell when they’ve heard it.
Thanks for your time Kate!
Just a few of the things we learnt from Kate at TheSuperCool:
Make it personal. If you’re a brand approaching a potential stockist, make it personal not just cut and paste communications. Why does your product work for them? Why do you like their store? Do your research, be authentic and make life easy for them.
It’s OK to switch off. Even though the retail world is running 24/7, you don’t need to always be online to be successful. The SuperCool bricks and mortar store is open four days a week, and Kate and Noonie aren’t always glued to their phones for social.
Good images are crucial. If you’re a maker (clothes/candles/pottery/anything!) and can supply a store or stockist with great images, you’re more likely to get promoted on their channels. It’s an investment that will pay off.
Want to see Postie working with your Instagram feed?
Just enter your Instagram name below for a preview: