The Queen would be happy with her shops in the run up to Christmas.
My passion for Melbourne retailing is well known. I’ve written about Victorian and Melbourne government support for retail and the city’s confident, innovative retail scene many times.
I live in Sydney but am a big and vocal fan of Melbourne. The cityscape is allowed to dazzle thanks to open minded planners allowing innovative architects to entertain the public with their buildings, coffee shops, restaurants and traditional jewellers but most of all shops. Shops of every size type and colour.
Well, in the run-up to Christmas I thought I’d walk through an icon of Melbourne’s retailing scene, the gift from a Queen to the people of Melbourne – the Queen Victoria Markets.
Although I’ve walked the area many times I’d never actually walked into Queen Victoria Markets. Until last week… and I did so because of technology and coffee.
I love to make a morning coffee at home with an old fashioned Bialetti stove-top coffee maker. I have a small family of them. A traditional single espresso one, a shiny chrome two-cup one and a gleaming red three-cup beauty in my office that was a gift from my son. But when it comes time to maintain them I buy all the parts online from Coffea Coffee, in QVM.
So having bought from the Coffea website in the past, and spoken with Sally, who looks after all things online, I thought I’d visit to see and experience retailing in one of our oldest retail sites, but with the ease of modern technology. So onto Google on my iPhone to search Coffea Coffee, click the map and I’m driving then walking towards the store.
Now Coffea Coffee is actually in Elizabeth St, Melbourne, in one on the traditional covered terraced shop rows. The only really international brand you can see is Bialetti. Otherwise there’s not another recognisable “international” brand label in sight. But a wall of colour in “national European” brands from Italy, Greece, France, Portugal, Hungary, Sweden, England and Spain.
These are mixed up with local products from the Yarra Valley and Bendigo. BIG always works well in retail. In the Christmas-themed window there is a GIANT Bialetti stove-top coffee maker. Inside the store is a HUGE coffee roaster tended by the owner Lisa’s partner, Flavio. It’s Flavio who is responsible for the blending and roasting. Lisa runs the shop and restaurant. A business that has grown over 14 years from one shopfront serving coffee to a bustling two store destination for great food and coffee.
Lisa Costas walked by the dilapidated store 14 years ago and understood that the location near a major bus stop hub was good for a coffee shop. She then started making lunch for her partner and staff, then local stall owners and it just grew. Now the fulltime chef shops at the markets each day and prepares different dishes based upon the produce she finds. The dynamic menu changes each day as she has free rein to choose any produce grown in or on Australian dirt or water. All cakes are made in house, and the chestnut flour cake is now legendary having been baked every day for 14 years. The store has a very loyal customer and employee base.
But don’t get all misty-eyed about the “good old days” of retailing. A lady shopper of a certain age was sitting alongside me enjoying lunch whilst comparing prices of a three-cup Bialetti stove-top espresso maker on her phone before buying one. The location was carefully chosen close to a modern transit hub. The displays are well thought out and regularly updated to create retail theatre. The website ships product all around the country. The point of sale system is pay pass. And Lisa “buys smart”. Her use of one lead international brand in Bialetti supports her search engine profile online. That brand is supported by an interesting and carefully curated range of European brands that are not easily copied or price compared. Lisa “gets” retail and has created a store with “retail point of difference” all supported by technology.
I reckon Queen Victoria, not renowned for her humour (“We are not amused”) or excitable nature, would be happy with the way QVM is trading in the run up to Christmas 2015. I reckon if she were around today she’d be on her iPhone shopping Lisa’s website for gifts to be delivered by Australia Post up to Balmoral in Scotland for the Christmas festivities. Maybe her great, great granddaughter Liz is doing that.