For most small business owners, it’s a no-brainer about whether their business is best operated online or as a bricks and mortar store.
But what if an online-only business was given the opportunity to dip its toe into the “real” world in the form of a pop-up store?
Would the grass be greener?
For Emma Patterson, founder and owner of online business Homely Creatures, having a physical presence in Melbourne’s CBD for a week doubled her sales.
“My website visits were up 34 percent, online sales up 18 percent and overall sales, including sales that I made at the pop-up doubled on what I’d made that week the year before,” Patterson told The Huffington Post Australia.
“It’s pretty decent. It was such a surprise, a little bonus!”
Cloud St, a store that popped up in busy Little Collins Street, replaced online shopfronts for a selection of businesses and brands, giving a temporary physical presence to those without one.
Powered by accounting software provider Xero, Cloud St hosted four different pop-up stores over four days, giving the shop owner complete control over how the store was presented and run.
Patterson, a graphic designer, illustrator, product designer and entrepreneur, won the right for her store to be featured due to the ethical nature of her business -- she supports fair trade and some of her items are handmade in Bolivia and Nepal.
She said she launched Homely Creatures as an online-only store in 2013, selling a range of cute and quirky homewares and children’s items that she designs.
“I wanted to start small -- that was also reflected in my decision to go with handmade, fair trade products,” Patterson said.
“Online seemed the obvious choice and I also decided to sell into some other retail stores with a wholesale approach. It was just too risky to do online, wholesale and a physical store, so I went online.”
Patterson said she had tried selling at markets and trade fairs, but Cloud St gave her a real taste of the bricks and mortar world.
“I’ve been doing those since the very beginning -- that was like my temporary retail space.
“With Cloud St, it was funny timing because at the same time, I had agreed to do another pop-up with a group of friends for three months and it’s still going -- that’s called the Little Pop-Up Shop. So I was doing both at once for a week there!
“It was an amazing opportunity -- it was the week before Christmas too, it really was perfect timing. I met so many interesting people through it, and I’m still benefiting from those network connections.”
Patterson said she loved being able to interact and communicate with her customers face-to-face.
“I just loved watching people's faces as they walked through the door and spotted something they liked -- you don’t get that with online,” she said.
“I get lovely feedback from Instagram which gets me lots of online sales, but you don't get to see their faces light up. I really loved seeing people feel and cuddle the products.”
She decided to have her products made in Bolivia and Nepal to keep quality high, and provide artisans in those countries with an income.
“I really like the handmade feel,” she said.
“When I was wondering how and where I’d get the products made, I found some felt products that said ‘made by women in Nepal’, so I investigated and found some craft houses there, and they dealt with an Australian agent.
"So I went through her and she ended up being a mentor, and helped me design my products for Nepal.
“After I got a bit of confidence doing that, I wanted knitted goods for some of the designs, and found items that were hand-knitted by people in Bolivia, and followed that up the same way.”
She said her range has grown from 10-12 items when she launched to more than 45.
“I really enjoy creating new products, but I want to shuffle the way I do things,” she said.
“I want to get to the stage that I only have 100 of each item and when they’re gone, they're gone forever and then I can make new products. That’s the plan this next year.
“We will have a core range, but all the others, I think my stockists will appreciate the range changing a bit.”
Taking part in Cloud St allowed Patterson to access a new clientele.
“It was a very different customer base than I usually appeal to,” she said.
“Instagram brings me the yummy mummies who love design, but there was a lot of corporates and other people who worked in the city coming in, so that really broadened my reach of exposure.
“It definitely increased traffic to my website -- I gave out a lot of postcards and discount codes to people who didn’t make a purchase, and Xero did quite a lot of advertising around it, which was excellent.
"This experience really opened my eyes to that kind of leverage -- they have a big following and big reach and budget, so it took me out of my small business bubble.
“If you can partner with big companies then obviously it opens up more opportunities.
“Collaboration is key -- I only got where I am today through collaboration. And now my eyes are shining with the possibilities of collaborating with larger companies.”