Good old-fashioned service is not a thing of the past. It is being practiced at the Beatty Ave Post Office and General Store – a quaint little place in Toorak that is a one-stop shop. So much more than your local post office, the Beatty Ave Post Office and General Store has everything from lollies, antiques, groceries, gourmet cooked food, to take home and heat, and even High Tea. Did I forget you can even do your dry cleaning? They specialize in British confectionery and groceries. When I walked into the store, I felt I had been transported into the past. So I wanted to chat with Nerida, owner of Beatty Ave Post Office and General Store, to find out a little bit more.
1. Nerida, what is your background before starting Beatty Ave Post Office and General Store?
I went to RMIT and completed my Diploma in Applied Science, Foods and Food Service, and then a 3-year Diploma from the Hilton International. I have a very strong international hotel background. I’m a fifth generation retailer. My great grandparents, aunties, uncles, and parents started a business 135 years ago in the in the Queen Victoria market. I’ve been there since I was eight years old, so retailing is in my blood. So from a family business which is still operating, I’ve been in food, hospitality, and retail for thirty years.
The shop combines everything for me: family business, hospitality, and food. We opened eight months ago, and we kept open through renovations, which have been challenging.
I wanted a shop that I have my heart and soul in. I’ve worked for big corporate. I’ve worked for big food halls. I worked for retail, and I worked for convenience. And this store really encapsulates a lot of that background. I needed to do something that really was good for the soul.
I wanted a beautiful Victorian general store. When I bought this business, it was a run-down convenience store milk bar, and nothing had been done for the premises for probably fifty or sixty years. We actually had to take it right down to the do it level and put in a new floor. I have designed the entire shop fit out.
2. Can you please share a little about this store concept and your inspiration?
The idea is that we are a British general store. I want to be free to sell what I want – lovely products, quality products that I’m happy selling. So we sell iconic labels: the Rosellas, the Velvet soaps, and all the old-fashion brands like Pears and things that have been around for a hundred years. I specialize in British grocery, a lot which are really iconic brands, and also British confectionary. These are the things that we import and have come especially from England, so the products are hard to find, hard to shelve, and hard to stock. But this is more than that. We want this to be a one-stop shop. We have dry cleaners so drop off your dry cleaning. Do your postage. Pay bills. Pick up some lovely meals to take home.
I’ve got a lovely range of greeting cards – some nice greeting paper, nice writing products, and lovely paper will be coming in to the store. I’ve got a huge range of British confectionary that we weigh on scales. The whole ambience is an old-fashioned British general store, and we have a tea room. So we do High Tea. We want to stock things that are convenient for our customers, but also are a little bit special. We specialize in pork pies, black pudding, and gluten-free breads, and some really nice products like pasta sauces from Beechworth, and some very nice high quality cottage industry brands.
I have a chef who is working for me. We’ve been friends since we were ten years old, and she provides all the meals and all of those lovely cakes. We make homemade cakes. We don’t bring anything in, so they’re all quite special.
So I guess the concept of the store and motto is, “We provide quality product and really good customer service,” which is really important to me. We’re not self-serve. We really want to thrive on good customer service.
The concept came from my British grandparents. My father was British and my grandparents were British, and they would send me a basket of sweets every Christmas as a child. To see those labels again in here is sentimental. I hear, “Ohh, I haven’t seen that for years!”
I particularly ask my suppliers where their product is being stocked, because if you put it in a supermarket, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve killed the market.
3. What sort of feedback do you have from customers?
The customers have been totally wowed. We were not allowed to shut. We operated through all of our renovations. We had the cooler room being pulled out, and we’ve had no floor. We have concreters, electricians, and shop fitters, all manner of things. We had to trade all the way through all that. I have 200 post boxes as well. My mail gets picked up and dropped off at seven in the morning, then we have another three pickups throughout the day. I have five deliveries coming in and out throughout the day. So it’s been busy.
It was very hard the first couple of months because people were very unsure of us. We had to learn the system. We specifically had to learn about the Australia Post. Getting the wrong letters in the wrong boxes was something people were not totally tolerant of. Having to get it right in a very short time was really tough with all the building going on and systems not working. That’s the food industry and that’s retail. Retail is dynamic, and food is dynamic. We never have enough room; you just have to make it the best you can, and you never have things perfect. Retail is always about work in progress.
4. How are you marketing your business, and which median has been most successful for you?
We’ve only just started marketing. Luckily this had been a shop since 1895, and it has been a post office since 1940. We have a lot of customers who have been in the area for forty years. There will always be a trade walking in the door. People knew where to shop, maybe not in this format now, but at least they knew of it. Word of mouth has been the best obviously. I printed up post cards that I have given to every customer. We had a Christmas party on the 5th of December last year, which was a free shopping night.
I’ve done some Facebook posts, and I’ve done Instagram, and it’s been word of mouth. Marketing is my new next big push. Now that the shop is looking good, it has to be marketed. So I’m doing a leaflet drop with ready to eat meals. They’re $12 and they’re cheap. We’re right outside the station, which is perfect for those commuters who don’t want to go home and cook.
5. Even though you have only been open a short time what are some of the lessons you have learnt in business?
Even though I’ve been on top of the corporate ladder, in food for thirty years, and in small business, it’s tough. Retail and the economy are really tough. I started with a really good business plan. My biggest tip would be to find out as much as you can about the business. You may budget for certain costs, but it’s important to know usually there will be a lot more. Be aware of needs to be done to the shop. I didn’t know the floors were rotten. The cooler room was full of dirt and black mold, and I had to pull it out. I didn’t know that there was no Australia Post branding in here. I didn’t know a whole lot of things.
All I had was a dream and a vision that I wanted to do, and this was the right shop and this was the right area. I wanted to be in a Melbourne Heritage Building, and somewhere that I could see mass products. Had I known now what I would have to do, would I still do it? I think I would probably have looked for another shop.
Initially I just wanted to sell grocery products. And because you need a good mix of goods to get a profit mix, I brought in tables. I brought in High Tea, and it brings in the money. Now we’re going to do a lot more. You have to continually improve, to expand, to try new things.
Have a good lawyer, accountant and bookkeeper. Keep everything running well and profitable, especially as I have had to deal with issues that have come up from the last owner. I had a lawyer set up policies and procedures for the business, so that’s been an expensive process, but now it’s done.
Before taking over a business, find out how much time you have got to go if you’re using the previous owner’s lease. When is the rent review, and when is the market review? I understood when I bought the business I got 5x5x5. When I actually took over the business and signed on the dotted line and paid my money, three months on the track I found out I was using the previous owner’s lease and I had three months left on it. I’ve taken the option of another five years, but we’re now going through a rental market procedure.
I know my market pretty well. This is an established area, and people have disposable income, but they are also very discerning about what they buy. They want quality. They want good service and good trading hours.
For more information visit Beatty Avenue Post Office & General Store 15 Beatty Ave Armadale North. Ph 98226235 www.facebook.com//beattyavepost
Written and photographed by Penny Votzourakis.
I dedicate this story to my dear friend Helen Treloar. May these pictures bring back beautiful childhood memories in England.