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Stories from the Bush – Retail in Rural Australia – The Pros and Cons and Stories to Tell

Stories From The Bush – Our Stories are from our community of Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business, stories of Australian’s who work and live in Rural and Regional Australia.

Retail in Rural Australia – The Pros and Cons and Stories to Tell

A Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business, Business Owner’s Story

 

Today we chat with Paige from The Tin Cupboard in Grenfell, rural NSW.

This transcript was made by Rev.com – if you’d like to try it yourself click here: try.rev.com/3mmN2z

Transcripts:

Jenn Donovan:

Why, hey there. Welcome back. Welcome to the third episode of Stories From The Bush. I’m your host, Jenn Donovan, a marketer, a keynote speaker, social media strategist, and a rural girl obsessed pretty much with helping rural Australian small businesses. I’m also a farmer’s wife in the Riverina of New South Wales, a mom of three, and so passionate about sharing these amazing stories of business and life in rural Australia. My business partners and I, Sarah Britz and Lauren Lauren Hateley, are the co-founders of Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business. If you were want to hear more about our story, perhaps how a clinical psychologist, a web designer, and a marketer came together to create this movement, then head back to our intro episode and hear all about how three rural girls have got together to make a difference in rural and regional Australia. Of course, you can check out the about section on our website.

Jenn Donovan:

Talking about websites, this episode is brought to you by our marketplace at www.SpendWithUs.com.au. An online marketplace for regional and rural small businesses, supporting almost a thousand small businesses on that marketplace, but we also have a Facebook group called Buy From A Bush Business, and it has over 300,000 members, supporting a couple of hundred thousand members in that group, as well. We’d love you to check it out and support rural Australia, and even recommend us to a friend after you’ve checked it out.

Jenn Donovan:

The stories I’ve heard, the emails I’ve received, the messages I’ve read have all been as heartwarming and devastating and amazing as they possibly could be, but they all had this common thread of resilience and community. It’s these characteristics that have led you to hearing a series of 10 stories in season one of this podcast. Stories of amazing business owners doing amazing things, stories of friendship, mateship, diversification, and of course resilience and community.

Jenn Donovan:

With all my heart, I hope you enjoy listening to these stories as much as I loved interviewing these true Australian rural business people. Today on episode three, I have Paige Martens and she has The Tin Cupboard, and Paige lives in Grenfell, in rural New South Wales. Paige is everything a small retailer in a rural town needs to be, and is a perfect guest for our podcast. She’s all about community and giving back and they are two of the biggest and most important ingredients in business if you want to succeed and when you live in the country. I know you are absolutely going to love her story, so with that in mind, sit back, grab a liquor of your choice, tea, coffee, beer, wine, whatever you like, and listen in to episode three.

Jenn Donovan:

Thank you so much, Paige, for coming on the podcast today. I’m really excited to have you on but I’m also really excited for everyone to hear about your little story. For those who are listening, could you just tell them a little bit about who you are, and where it is that you live in this wide, brown country of ours?

Paige Martens:

Sure thing. So, I own The Tin Cupboard, which is based in Central West New South Wales, in a little town called Grenfell. I suppose Grenfell was known because gold was found here. That was our first claim to fame.

Jenn Donovan:

I did not know that.

Paige Martens:

Yeah. Fun fact, our entire main street actually has tunnels underneath it where they used to pan the gold. So, one day hopefully they don’t give away now and Main Street continues, which it should. Our second claim to fame is that Henry Lawson, the poet, was born here. That’s attracted some history buffs. It’s a tiny community which is fantastic. It’s why we moved back. In our shire, there’s around 3000 people, so it is quite a small community. Based on we enjoy all our income is farming, is agricultural. We don’t really have a lot of factories here. We have a few bigger organizations that hire most of our people, which is I suppose the hospital, the daycare, and then we have Bromar Engineering which puts a lot of people into jobs, which is great for a small town.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah, right. When you say you moved back, what did you do to go away?

Paige Martens:

I’m a born and bred local, which if you’re not that, it can take you 40 years to live here before you-

Jenn Donovan:

At least.

Paige Martens:

… get [crosstalk 00:04:44]. Yeah, at least 40. So, I moved away, did all of my schooling here, moved away and went to university. Before we moved back to buy the shop, I was in London working as a paramedic for the London Ambulance Service. I did that for about 10 months, closer to 11. And moved back to my now husband, who was unable to get the visa to work over there, because he’d already used the traveling visa. Came back and seen that the little shop that I’ve always loved was for sale, so we threw our hat in the ring and it worked. That’s how we became owners of a giftware shop in town.

Jenn Donovan:

Wow. So from paramedic London, to retailer in Grenfell.

Paige Martens:

Yep. From one of the busiest cities that I’ve ever been in to a very … Or, it’s a nice, slower pace. I enjoy it here. Yeah, it’s good.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah, lovely. I guess in some ways, our stories are a little bit similar. Not that I was ever a paramedic in London, but I had a retail shop and my best friend and I actually bought it, born and bred where we are. Of course, being away, went to uni and all that, but we bought the shop that we’d always loved growing up, and as young moms and things like that, was always the go-to gift shop. And then we ended up buying it, so a little bit similar. So, that’s funny. That’s very, very funny. So, tell us a little bit about The Tin Cupboard. How long have you had it for, and what is it that you do inside The Tin Cupboard?

Paige Martens:

So, we’ve just celebrated our fourth birthday, and it originally was a kitchenware store. A little bit of homewares, and a little bit of kids. Over the last four years, we’ve seen that change and I suppose that’s with the changing conditions of our environment, to now we’ve increased certain areas to where the customers have really demanded I suppose you would say. We now have ladies clothes, we’ve increased the babies brand, we’ve increased the homewares, we’ve brought in T2. The main goal for us at The Tin Cupboard is to offer individuals who don’t get that chance to go to the big cities and go to beautiful shops like the T2, so we bring that to them.

Paige Martens:

We make sure candles like the Glasshouse, which are known everywhere, so we have these items and we’re offering them to our customers at an affordable price, so that if our little shop was ever to be put into say the Northern Beaches, it would hold its own. That’s what we’ve been working with, is to make sure that our customers out here, which is … Because we’re five and a half hours away from Sydney. Our customers don’t feel the need to have to go all the way in there to get that experience.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah, right. So, where did The Tin Cupboard come from? We were talking off air, I know, and you were saying you did buy the shop as a going concern, but you changed the name. So, where did The Tin Cupboard come from?

Paige Martens:

The little shop was originally called Grenfell Gifts and Homewares, and that wasn’t what we were going into. The Tin Cupboard to us was us returning home, so the tin is the corrugated iron on the shearing shed that you see, and when you think of one of our favorite memories at home, it’s the rain on the tin roof that you can hear. That’s where the tin came from, and the cupboard was originally everything for your kitchen cupboard, which now has progressed to really any cupboard in the household. Our little shop should have, and if we don’t have it in-store, we source it for them so that they can have something for every cupboard in the household.

Jenn Donovan:

Wow. I love that story. That’s very, very cute, very cute. Is The Tin Cupboard online?

Paige Martens:

Yes, we are. Recently new. When I say that, it has been a couple of years, so it’s a work in progress. But we are online and we offer I would say probably 80% of our items in-store online. That’s just due to the fragility of the items and the weight. Because we are so far away to places, because we do look into the biggest centers and things to try to send to our customers up there, I just would hate for it to get there broken. That’s our own issue there.

Jenn Donovan:

Yep. So, retail’s tough. If you watch the news, which I try very hard not to, retail is tough. So, how are you guys going out there in a place that has a very small population?

Paige Martens:

I think we’re doing okay. I’m going to say that we’re doing okay. We are doing much better than others, and I’m so thankful for that. But it has not come without hard work, and the news is interesting. One of my favorite handbag suppliers, Colette Hayman’s gone into voluntary administration. And I said to Lach, I said, “I think” … This is a trend that we’re seeing more often, is that these bigger companies are going into administration and closing down.

Paige Martens:

I think with that in mind, we work really hard to give our customers an experience. We want them to know that they can come into our shop and we’ve got a gift there for someone who [inaudible 00:10:18] tricky, or we’ve got their favorite candles still in stock, because we’ve built that relationship up to know that that’s what they want. And I think that small businesses and especially bush businesses in small towns, have got to make sure that when someone walks in that shop, they are felt like we are best friends with them.

Paige Martens:

Towards the end of their shopping experience, you don’t learn quite a lot about people, which I think is one of the biggest positives in our position. And we want them to feel special. Because yes, we would love a sale with every customer, but that doesn’t always happen. But we want them to know that when they buy with us, we truly are appreciative.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Absolutely. I sold my retail business probably three, I think it’s coming up to three, three and a half years ago now. And I still can’t go to the supermarket without someone pulling me up, going, “[crosstalk 00:11:12] shop.” And I think it is exactly what you just said then. You develop these relationships with people and yeah, you talk to them and if they’re willing, it’s like being in the hairdressers. They tell you all sorts of things.

Paige Martens:

That’s right. I find that in these times, when it is tough, people are getting out less. They are lacking that interaction with individuals, so that 10 minutes with you in that shop will really change their day. That’s one of our biggest things, is a simple smile and just asking how are you can really make someone’s day much better.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. The simple stuff.

Paige Martens:

Yeah, that’s right.

Jenn Donovan:

[crosstalk 00:11:56] stuff, yeah. How do you feel that … So, Grenfell is obviously drought, most of New South Wales is in drought. How bad is it? Not necessarily from your retail perspective, but from a farming perspective. How bad is it where you are at the moment?

Paige Martens:

It’s pretty bad. I’ve had two women, one more recently, she held on to as much stock as she could to keep it. That was her income, what the stock was going to bring. The dam ended up emptying and she went to buy hay and they sold it out from underneath her so she had no feed, because someone come in offered more price for the hay. She missed out, so she ended up selling her, as they refer to, as their breeding stock really, which is what will help them in the future. She has to start out all again, if she decides to.

Paige Martens:

It was interesting. November through to December, our little town is a hive. We’ve got trucks going everywhere, people running around, because harvest time. And then that leads into the frenzy at Christmas. That’s the start of it all. See, that was all non-existent this year. It was an eerie I suppose calmness or quietness you’d say, over the community, because there just was not a harvest, because everyone’s trying to keep what they can in hopes that this year will be better.

Paige Martens:

We’ve heard from individuals the same, like they’re just trying to hold onto their breeding stock for as long as they can. But an individual couldn’t go away for Christmas to spend it with his family, because they were going to spend it in Sydney, because he’s feeding sheep every day. That’s their life. And it’s really hard. You can see the toll it’s taking on the partners and things like that, because they’re exhausted. I had a lady come in the other day, and she said she optimism jug is nearly empty. I think that kind of sums it up.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah, that’s really tough. I guess that’s something, we are on a farm and we are in drought declared New South Wales, but we’re certainly not as bad off as most people, or a lot of people out there. But it’s the selling of the breeding stock and that, and I think that’s something that people don’t quite understand, that aren’t farmers, that if you sell your breeding stock, it’s an enormous amount of money when the drought does “break” to try and get that stock back in.

Jenn Donovan:

These are the things with drought that people don’t think. They think because it rains … Well, not everyone thinks this, of course, but a lot of people think it rains, the drought has broken. But there’s all this other domino effect of what’s actually happened before people can actually really get back on their feet again.

Paige Martens:

That’s right. Just speaking to individuals in our community, especially the [inaudible 00:14:56] who have moved off the farm, we can get wonderful rain like we have over the last few days, you can always have more rain but we’re quite happy with what we’ve got, but we’re probably still looking at around a 2-3 year bounce back period time. People with no stock will go into harvest, into cropping, and then if that doesn’t pay off, well then they’re not sure what else.

Paige Martens:

The other thing that’s interesting is with the breeding stock is that we’ve seen some of the highest prices we’ve seen in our area for lambs. You put that on the other scope, the people selling it, ecstatic. That’s great news. The people buying it, if they need to start again, not so good. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the drought affected areas do come back from this, and what’s going to change, and is that change going to continue into the future for everyone?

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. If you’ve had the shop for four years, you don’t know what it’s like to have a shop without a drought?

Paige Martens:

No. You know what? I’m thankful for that. I don’t know any better. I just know it as this, and I think that’s great, because we’ve now gone into the thinking that we want to continue these trends and we want to continue offering great items at affordable prices, and then I said to my husband the other day, “What does happen if we have a great year?” He goes, “We continue doing exactly what we’re doing.” The only thing that we’d probably change is our stock on hand.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah, and stock turnover. That will change.

Paige Martens:

Yeah, that’s right. This year is probably, people might just buy a pair of earrings, or a piece of stationery where if the drought breaks, we might buy both of those for the one person.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Exactly, exactly. That’s just so interesting. What is it like with the locals? Are they really supportive of not just your shop, but obviously there’s about probably … How many retailers would there be in your street? 10? 20?

Paige Martens:

That’s a good question. Off the top of my head, I’d probably say if we’re including … Because we have quite a lot of pubs in town. That’s something that Grenfell’s always had, but we’ve got a coffee shop and the supermarket, and there’s I think maybe five other retail stores, maybe seven at most, if we count the pharmacy and newsagents.

Paige Martens:

This Christmas I’m going to say that purely because of the initiative of buying from the bush and the buy [inaudible 00:17:36] business, businesses that we’ve seen people stop and go, “Well hang on, if we are not supporting our community, we won’t have one. If we don’t have a community, then our schools will empty, then we don’t have the workers and our house prices will drop, and it’s a flow-on effect.” So, we are so thankful this Christmas, believe it or not, has been the biggest Christmas we’ve ever had since owning the shop.

Jenn Donovan:

Wow.

Paige Martens:

Blown away. I had less stock on hand, so people were happy to wait, which is what … We were very honest from the beginning, because we just weren’t sure what was going to happen, and I think that trend was for the entire town. Our community came to the local shops first and then went elsewhere. We had a girl come in and she went for all her Christmas shopping and she said she ended up leaving the Main Street and coming back to Grenfell because she just felt so rotten and guilty because she walked into a shop and went, “I could buy them in Grenfell, so I’m going to go and do that. I’m going to get better customer service and they can work with me with what I need.” We were really lucky. I think Grenfell has a great sense of community, and they realize how much work goes into running these little businesses and keeping them going.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah, and it’s certainly a we met through a Buy From A Bush Business group that I started up back in October, but we often do get little messages from people who join our group and it’s kind of like, “I thought this was just a handmade group.” But for me, the passion has been exactly what you just said. For businesses like The Tin Cupboard, I’m an ex-retailer, we all know if we live in the bush that if farmers don’t have money, towns don’t have money. Whether it’s a direct spend or an indirect spend, it doesn’t matter.

Paige Martens:

That’s right.

Jenn Donovan:

The towns really suffer. So, my answer to that is always well, if I don’t let these small retailers from small towns advertise, then we’ll have ghost towns. Not just on my platform, but if they don’t have an outlet, if all the shops close down, you would have ghost towns and exactly what you were just saying. Then houses prices fall, and then there’s just this big domino effect. It was really important to me to give a platform to businesses just like yours, and that’s why I’m A, so happy that you joined, but B, that I get to chat to you a little bit about it today. So, you were saying that you joined my Buy From The Bush group, Buy From A Bush Business group. Just after Christmas. How’s it gone since then?

Paige Martens:

We are just blown away, and we’re so thankful for this platform, because the biggest thing with businesses in the bush is that we struggle to reach I suppose our ideal client. We exhaust the income in the town. There’s only so many candles an individual will have. Like, every six weeks they’ll come back in and buy a candle, but the beauty of the Buy From A Bush Business is that these individuals, it’s just … I’m trying to get the right words, but it’s closed that gap. So, our sales in January, from our online only, it just blew us away. And we were seeing repeat customers that we would never have had if we didn’t have this platform, and it’s the power of individuals like yourself who have gone, “Well, we need to get these little businesses out there so that people who don’t know that we exist can find us and we can share these great things that we do together.”

Paige Martens:

But we did a post, to put it in perspective, it took me four years to get 1920 people to follow our store. I’m not a Facebook wizard, but in 24 hours we put a post up in regards to a little pair of skinny riding boots and a pair of elm track pants. We got 600 new followers on Facebook. That is more than the schools here in town combined.

Jenn Donovan:

But then again, the likes that you did have comparatively to your population, that was still really good. That’s not chickenfeed.

Paige Martens:

No.

Jenn Donovan:

And even though perhaps I provided the platform, I think it’s the real sense of community. I know we spoke about this a little bit before we pressed the record button, but it really is the community that has made that group exactly what it is.

Paige Martens:

That’s right. It’s individuals coming together who understand that their little purchase has a huge flow-on effect. So, because of that, our word for the year for our shop is community. We want to embrace our community, share our community, and get other people involved in our community, and fall in love with it like we have. And because of the sales and the response like we have from [inaudible 00:22:43] we’ve collaborated with two other small businesses in town to help them.

Paige Martens:

She’s a self-taught photographer, she’s taken wonderful pictures. We’ve just had our silos recently painted. And she took a picture and she won awards with New South Wales Tourism.

Jenn Donovan:

Wow.

Paige Martens:

We approached her and we asked if we could use her photo on our thank you card, to go in every order. We then approached a home bake, if we could have a cookie for each order that says The Tin Cupboard on it, so it’s advertising our business, as well as theirs. And then that helps them. I like to say that we like to pass the buck onto other people so then we can include more individuals to benefit from the wonderful platform that is the Buy From A Bush Business.

Jenn Donovan:

Yes. It is a tongue twister, isn’t it? Buy From A Bush Business. But I think, I’ve been doing these little interviews over the last little bit, and I think that’s a bit of a theme that’s coming through, as well. Because you guys in The Tin Cupboard have a little bit extra money, then the lady I was speaking to yesterday, she’s like, “So, when we go to the bakery now, the kids can get a soft drink with their cookie, whereas before it might have been just the cookie.” Because soft drinks aren’t cheap, type of thing. She said, “Now there’s a little bit of extra money, so I’m passing that little bit of extra money on to the bakery, who’s now got a little bit of extra money, which hopefully” … And I think that, your word is com, and I think that is the power of community.

Paige Martens:

That’s right. We’ve been able to continue. We hired two local girls, one, a high school student that comes in twice a week for an hour each day, and another local student who goes back and forth between uni. We were able to offer them more shifts instead of just us working all of January. It helps them out, as well, so it really is, it’s that flow-on effect that I suppose people are starting to realize just small things do have huge impact. It’s great to see that we’re able to offer that to them, where they may not have necessarily been able to have gotten work in town because there’s not many places hiring, I suppose you’d say.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. You were saying before about putting the thank you note into the parcels that you’re sending out, and how appreciative people are of that small little gesture. Again, that comes back to the small things can make such a big difference.

Paige Martens:

That’s right. We want to show our appreciation and our gratification to these individuals. Because we really are in the middle of nowhere compared to some of these individuals buying from us. We don’t have traffic lights, we have one, two roundabouts, sorry. We don’t have a chance to say thanks to these individuals, personally. Face-to-face. So, that’s our way, a handwritten thank you note is going, “We really do appreciate this and you guys are really changing our outlook. It’s given us the hope that we can continue and it’s given us the energy again to come up with new ideas of trying to keep the spirits high in this community.” Every little bit helps. It goes back to that customer relationship, as well. Because we want them to feel like we appreciate it, and that’s how we think we can do it.

Jenn Donovan:

Yep. Absolutely. Absolutely. What do you see for the future, for Tin Cupboard?

Paige Martens:

Oh, wow. Look, before this started, I was sitting here writing down a brainstorm and I think that we can continue. That might sound really bad, but September, October last year it was looking pretty … We were starting to clutch our pennies and try and put it all into it, and just get it sorted. Where now I think I’m looking forward to Christmas. I’m energetic and happy again, and it’s nice to see this response from individuals, because then we can give that happiness to other people. I would like to see that we’re going to continue to grow and we can offer more employment and we can give people the opportunity to learn skills that they may not necessarily learn in other places, or offer employment to individuals so they don’t have to leave town. We’re just going to keep on going and just do what we can to make our community or to add value to our community.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. And you can see that the lady who might have had to have sold her breeding stock come into The Tin Cupboard and see this bright, smiling, gorgeous page, and that in itself will make her tear up. Whereas if you came into a shop where it’s all a little bit doom and gloom as well, then that affects people’s mindset. I think even just the fact that you can continue and you can see light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully this dreadful drought breaks, and we touch base again, you’re like, “Oh, so this is what it’s like when there’s no drought.”

Paige Martens:

That’s right. The thing is that individuals can feel guilty for spending money. That little bit of money that they have, you want them to make them feel they’re okay for spending that on themselves. It’s okay to buy that for yourself, because you’ve had some rough days and we’re here. Look, if you can’t buy it today, we’ll put it aside for when you can.

Jenn Donovan:

yeah, beautiful. Paige, it’s been so great chatting to you. I love your can-do attitude and your positiveness.

Paige Martens:

Thank you.

Jenn Donovan:

You obviously have a beautiful little shop and if I ever turn the corner to where it points to Grenfell-

Paige Martens:

Please do.

Jenn Donovan:

… as opposed to going past it, which I often do, I will definitely call in and say hello. But for those who might be listening, who would like to learn more about The Tin Cupboard, about your area, how is best for them to get in contact with you?

Paige Martens:

We are on Facebook a lot. If you just go to Facebook and look for The Tin Cupboard, and then that’s got all of our contact details there. If you’d like to shop from our website, it’s just www.TheTinCupboard.com. And again, that’s got information, but look, I’m happy to have chats to people through Messenger, or through Instagram. These days I don’t really go anywhere without my phone, but yeah, Facebook’s probably the best bet.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. I’m so impressed that two rural women talking over Zoom have good enough internet that we’ve almost got through this without [crosstalk 00:29:39]-

Paige Martens:

I know. It’s fantastic.

Jenn Donovan:

[inaudible 00:29:42] for rural people. I think that’s pretty impressive. Pretty impressive. Paige, is there anything that I haven’t asked that maybe you had written down or anything else that you would like to mention before we finish up?

Paige Martens:

Just a thank you. And everyone’s probably heard that a thousand times, but thank you for the support. Thank you to you for making this group and giving us the opportunity of bridging that gap. It’s so exciting to know that individuals in this city want to help, and they’re helping in fantastic ways. It really has just been overwhelming, so just thank you from the bottom of our heart.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. It’s a beautiful little community and people are just so supportive and a little bit blown away by people’s talent, as well. Thanks for being a part of it and thanks for giving up your time to come and chat on the podcast.

Paige Martens:

[crosstalk 00:30:42].

Jenn Donovan:

I can’t wait to tell the world about Grenfell and tell the world about The Tin Cupboard.

Paige Martens:

I’m glad that we’ve done this. It’s great.

Jenn Donovan:

Yeah. Beautiful. All right, no worries, Paige. We will talk again soon no doubt.

Paige Martens:

Perfect. Thanks, Jen.

Jenn Donovan:

Thank you.

Paige Martens:

Bye.

Jenn Donovan:

I really hope you enjoyed that. Paige is just amazing, and I really love her story. I love that she is so passionate about her community and life in the bush. I loved how she shared her success with other small business owners, the photographer, and the cookie maker, and lives one of my favorite sayings of all time. A rising tide lifts all boats. So, thank you so much for listening in to episode three, season one. Join me for episode four where I’ll be chatting to another fabulous rural business owner. Thanks again for listening in. If you haven’t checked out our marketplace, then head to www.SpendWithUs.com.au, and if you’re a rural small business owner yourself, or in regional Australia, then maybe you could come and we could help support you in selling more of your products and services, as well.

Jenn Donovan:

You can head there and support small businesses regardless of whether or not you live in rural and regional Australia. Don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast and we’d love you to leave a rating and review. It just helps other people know about our podcast, as well. Because we are so passionate about sharing these rural stories, we would love more people to know about them. Take care, until next time, see you on the next episode.

 

Through droughts, floods, bushfires, and Covid19 – these are the stories of our Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business community.

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