Welcome to The Shoe Garden - For women with longer feet!

When is a shop a shop?

“Mummy … who lives here?”. As the little girl’s mother and I tried not to laugh, the mother replied: “No one darling. This is a shoe shop.”

Back in January, as I was busy buying stock, I was also thinking about how to decorate my shop. I was fortunate to find the perfect premises straight away … it’s half a cottage so it has a quaint and lovely ambiance already, particularly when compared to the big, square, boring spaces I had viewed.

I have lovely landlords who are kind and helpful … especially when I rang once in a panic that I couldn’t turn off the smoke alarm after first confusing it for the security alarm. I now own a ladder so I can reach any offending smoke alarm and lots of spare batteries! The shop is also just around the corner from my home. That’s karma, I say, for spending 2.5 hours daily on the road driving to Coolangatta for five years when I worked for RACQ CareFlight helicopter rescue service.

So I knew it looked great from the outside but what to do inside? I had found some shop fit-out specialists but felt uncomfortable using their services for the strangest reason … I didn’t want my shop to look like a shop! Being a little bit of a control freak (okay, a lot!) and perhaps an even greater perfectionist, I also wanted to go by my instinct and do what I wanted to do. After all, this whole adventure was being done with heart and by gut so why change now?

My darling dad and I spent a lot of February at Bunnings. I think my record was three visits to the Cannon Hill store in one day as I couldn’t quite make up my mind about the paint colour. That’s also where I found my lush wallpaper that everyone loves and 101 other things that I seemed to need, including a fire extinguisher, power adaptors, light globes, pot plants, gravel and soil, a hose and picture hooks.

Once the inside had been cleaned, painted and wallpapered, an eclectic shopping extravaganza began over about two months. I found my shelving at Super Amart (for the front of house) and Officeworks (for my shoes out back) … both types were challenging to build (I now officially detest flat packs) and some are still a bit wonky. I found my rugs, among other bits and pieces, at Ikea … a lot of people like them, they are covered in pretty pink and blue flowers.

I found a gorgeous table at the Woolloongabba Antique Centre for an amazing price and no doubt a lot of history, and my lights (on sale …yah!) at Freedom. And I really wanted my furniture to be special so I found all my chairs for customers to enjoy as they are trying on their shoes, as well as my desk, from The French Corner at Newmarket. Ooh-la-la, do they have some beautiful things!

I was out for a run when I thought of the name, The Shoe Garden. It came from the vision I had in my head: lots of colourful, gorgeous shoes and vases of fresh flowers everywhere so the name made perfect sense. I have always had flowers on my desk at work and buy flowers every week for home. I think I got that from my mum who does the same.

Once upon a time, I used to frequently not be able to sleep at night as I fretted about something or other at work. In April I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about the pending opening of The Shoe Garden … my home away from home!

Until next time, Carol

A new perspective on shopping

I have always thought I’m a good shopper. Not for groceries or anything practical, I hasten to add, but for clothing, books and homewares … things that I adore. I can spend many, many happy hours looking, admiring and buying. But despite being a devoted shopper, nothing can quite prepare you for the first time you order hundreds of pairs of shoes for tens of thousands of dollars. In January, once the sale of my house went unconditional, I knew I would soon have money in the bank to invest in stock and premises so the time had come to start shopping! I had a long list of shoe brands (mostly taken from what was in my own wardrobe) and began making contact with suppliers and agents. To my horror, for many it was much too late to buy for winter and everyone wanted me to hurry up and place my order for summer as, particularly the European brands, work six to eight months in advance.

I was so excited when my first J.Renee shoes arrived from the US … all 31 boxes of them!

My stomach lurched for the first time on this journey. I was due to leave my full-time job on the last day of January and had planned to open The Shoe Garden in late March or early April. For a while, I wondered if I would ever get any shoes in time for opening.

Thanks goodness, some Aussie and New Zealand brands came to the rescue and I bought shoes from Minx, Ziera, Diana Ferrari and Supersoft, plus a great new Fijian brand called Dahia Shoes. But my real saviour was the US brand, J.Renee who have their own warehouse in Texas and have amazing shoes, both in number and in style. Overall, however, it meant I had a smaller than normal winter range of shoes and I didn’t have many boots or flats as it was so “late” in the season, but at least I had some stock!

I also bought from many more labels for summer, trying to focus on shoes that were not nanna-like or boring. I tried to not just get shoes that I like (but that’s so tempting and so easy to do!) but designs that I thought others would appreciate. Of course, even after just nine weeks of trading, I have such a better idea of what women want but I won’t be able to put this knowledge into use, and for customers to benefit from it, until next winter in 2013!Of course, I’m assured by those in the trade, one can never get it completely right. Just now, as I write this, a woman has come in and walked around the shop. I could sense she wasn’t happy with the choices and she left without a word. That still kind of hurts but I have to learn that I can’t be everything to everyone. Oh, and not to take it personally!

Getting my new shoes ready to be photographed before opening.

As I’m a visual person, the best way I have worked out to buy my shoes is to cut out pictures from catalogues and stick them up on a wall. This way, I ensure I don’t duplicate looks, colours or styles and that I have a range of heel heights (many more flats are coming!), a range for any number of occasions (casual, work, party, bridal etc), a range of colours (so many people still want black shoes; it surprises me, but I’m listening) and a range of prices. This last one is a big one. I always want to ensure that the majority of shoes at The Shoe Garden are in the $100 to $200 bracket. For too long, women with longer feet have had to pay high prices for shoes they don’t really like as there has been no choice.

So next month, I will be shopping again for The Shoe Garden for winter shoes that probably won’t arrive until February or March 2013, and I will do so with as much enthusiasm and excitement as my first time, but also thankfully with some feedback under my belt and greater awareness too.

Until next time, Carol

Making the decision and acting on it

Since I started this incredible new adventure, I have had a lot of people confide in me and say they have been thinking about changing their careers and their lives “for ages” and how brave I must be. I feel almost guilty when I share that my decision wasn’t long thought out … in fact, it was made in about four hours!

It’s quite amazing looking back. I thought I was happy, although I knew I was tired and stressed. I had been in a terrific job for five years … I believed every day in what I was doing (what a privilege that is!) and I worked very, very hard to create a department and team of people who were highly regarded and respected as much as for how they did things as for what they did.  

But, as I said, I was tired as the journey had been long and, to be honest, a few negative people had also taken their toll. 

I woke up the day after overseeing the organisation of a major gala fundraising dinner in early November last year and found myself crying. I realised I didn’t have the energy to even contemplate organising next year’s gala and that’s when I knew I had to leave — to be fair to me and to the organisation.

But to what and to where, I didn’t know. It was quite scary for someone who had dreamed of being a journalist since her early teens and always knew exactly what she wanted.

Four hours later, though, it became incredibly clear as it occured to me what I wanted most was a complete change from journalism, public relations and fundraising (which had been my career for a very happy 23 years) and I remembered what I always joked about doing whenever I couldn’t find shoes to fit my size 12 foot — open my own shoe shop specialising in longer sizes.

So I got on with it. Nine days later, I resigned and gave 11 weeks’ notice. I put my house on the market so I could invest my own money into the new business and not have the angst of a business loan. I sold my townhouse to an investor so I could rent it back. I found the perfect premises in the same suburb where I live and, very quickly, The Shoe Garden started to take shape.

I was lucky that I found it easy to make the decision and to act on it .. perhaps because it was so right!

Ciao for now,