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Case Study

Nightbird Cottage Antiques and Collectables

Nightbird Cottage Antiques and Collectables deal in antiques, collectables, pure vintage, rockin’ retro and absolute eclectica.

Five years after starting their business in the Renew Cooma project, the business is still going strong. Renew Australia spoke to owner Nikki about their time in the program and the development of their business.

‘We set up the business similar to how we had envisaged it. We had never done retail before, so it’s was a large learning curve – actually it’s a constant learning curve. We were part of the Renew program for 3 months and gave ourselves that amount of time to set it up as a viable commercial enterprise,’ said co-owner Nikki.

Nightbird’s business model iterated over time as they developed an understanding of their customers. ‘It’s crucial for our business that we stay on top of trends to cater to the local population and visitors. And also that we remain aware of what’s happening in cities and worldwide as we have a lot of international tourists. We attract local customers and also people passing through on their way to the coast or mountains. International customers also come in looking for small pieces of local memorabilia.’

‘Cooma is not usually a place to overnight. We realised that we could not rely solely on people coming through the door. We weren’t aware of the significant ebbs and flows of retail. We learned to bring other options into our business plan to compliment and deliver another income streams. For us it came through providing deceased estate management, both directly and from the appointed public trustee. We also sell online as this exponentially increases our marketplace.’

‘The steepest learning curve has been to become as versatile and nimble as possible. This region is very multicultural. We receive a fascinating mix of pieces from the diverse fabric of society. All of these pieces find a new home, then pass on again.’

‘Running your own retail business can also be a good life. You’re constantly thinking, How can I make this better? How can I get more people in the door? And also, how can I get into their sheds? Retail has so much more complexity than appears from the outside. It’s not easy.’

Nightbird Cottage Antiques and Collectables has also made a huge impact on the local community. ‘We sell on consignment so the money goes back into the community. As locals, this is a really important part of business for us. Our shop has become a real social hub. We found people would come in to share their stories – often prompted by the fascinating things they saw come into our shop. So we created a library space with comfy chairs at the back where they are welcome to sit. This social value is really important to us and our community. The face to face contact – hearing a story and sharing information – is so important to encourage and create opportunities for people to really come together.’

Support and collaboration with other businesses has also developed in Cooma. ‘There’s a fantastic second-hand bookshop in town and we send customers up and down to each other. We are two of the few shops operating on weekends. We have found there is value in ‘having a friendly chat’ (networking) and have asked other small business owners to join us. Between 6-10 of us regularly meet to talk about how business is going, developing social media use, giving tips and sharing info on things happening around town.’

‘We also forge links with other community members. For example, sustainability is important to us and our business uses only recycled packaging. We take old packaging from other businesses nearby who then don’t have to pay to have it disposed of.’

5 Questions with Nightbird Cottage Antiques and Collectables

How did the Renew Cooma program help you?

’The Renew program gave us a chance and its really changed our lives. Renew programs are about creating business and viable opportunities for businesses. It’s transformative for the broader community also. It gave us a little bit of a safety net. We had a collecting/hoarding hobby we dreamed about making into a business but no experience in retail – it was something completely different. My partner was in infrastructure management and I started out as communications consultant, so I could draw on my experience in writing publication copy etc. We spent 3 months in the Renew program to establish our business before negotiating our normal, commercial lease agreement.’

What’s the greatest challenge in turning a creative practice into a business?

’The biggest challenge was gaining visibility. And also deciding on a marketing strategy that reached and defined our target market, so we could have a more focused approach to buying stock.’

’The biggest struggle was turning a deeply held and passionate interest into a business that an outsider or accountant could look at and see we were making good decisions. Our idea was very heart led. Finding a middle road between the stock or pieces we loved and then being strategic in the choice to make wise buying decisions is an ongoing struggle because you have to remain passionate about what you do and really love it, while not making emotional decisions. People can underestimate how complex this can be.’

How do you balance work-life balance while running your own business?

‘It’s just the two of us. We generally open Wednesday to Sunday and also public holidays. We can be flexible to respond to busy times, such as public holidays which might attract more people passing through town or to extend hours.’

Where to now?

‘Will are still exploring other income streams. We would like to build a proper online shop as there is an opportunity to reach a broader market for the unique pieces we have.’

Would you recommend participation in future Renew Australia projects?

‘Absolutely. The businesses that want to be part of a Renew project often have a very commercial end-game focus. And they have a plan.’