This is the first in our new interview series: Real Talk, No Junk. In this series, we pick the brains of people behind successful businesses to find out a little more about what makes them tick.
The advent of online shopping was often portrayed as the end of traditional bricks and mortar retail stores. But some clever brands have found ways to make the online and traditional retail spaces coexist, and even drive customers in both directions.
Case in point is Pickings & Parry, a menswear store and Barbershop on Gertrude Street in the trendy Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.
Pickings & Parry opened in 2013, with a desire to change men’s shopping and grooming, bringing back old fashioned values of quality, style, and service. It’s the antidote to throwaway fashion. The in-store experience is a big drawcard here, but owner Chris Pickings has also embraced online retail and social media and credits Instagram as the biggest tool for driving customers to the store.
Even on a Monday morning, the place is humming. This is not your average clothes store: you can have a whiskey at the in house bar, a razor shave or beard trim with the in house barbers, and look through the perfectly curated collection–denim, outerwear, shoes, luggage, grooming products.
They also have a women’s store right next door, Heffernan & Haire that follows the same ethos: high quality, timeless fashion from around the world.
Ampjar’s CEO Pete catches up with the man behind the business, Chris Pickings, to find out about how it all started, how he manages the expanding businesses, and how he and his wife and co-owner make the juggle work with their new little daughter Pepper.
Pete: Where did the idea from Pickings and Parry come from?
Chris: I moved from Sydney to Melbourne (Chris originally hails from the North East of England), and when I got here, compared to the UK there were no menswear stores. Melbourne is supposed to be the capital of fashion for Australia, and there were only a couple of stores like Harrolds menswear, that were really high end, and then David Jones and not much else.
I used to work in engineering and wanted a career change. I was a bit drunk with friends and said, “I want to open a clothes shop and make it like it used to be: a real experience, with great customer service and high-quality products”.
My now-wife started telling everybody that was what we were doing. And I was like, “Shut up! What are you doing?!” It kind of snowballed from there and then I thought, maybe we could really do this.
We thought “What can we do to create a great experience and generate foot traffic and make people come in regularly?” A barbershop in the store was a perfect thing.
Pete: Tell us a bit about the philosophy behind your stores?
Quality and origin are really important to people, and there’s an appetite to invest in things that are going to last.
We concentrate on things that are classic, timeless and well made, and knowing where they come from. Our customers will invest money in quality rather than just buying the same thing over and over again, or spending money on designer stuff that’s three times as expensive without the actual value. That’s what we’re trying to do as a business.
Pete: Recently you opened your women’s store Heffernan & Haire, which sits right next to Pickings & Parry, but is more of a traditional retail space. Do you think that being directly next door has given you an ‘unfair advantage’ for the new store?
Chris: We toyed with the idea of putting something in Heffernan & Haire to give it a similar edge to Pickings & Parry, but I don’t think there is anything that would work. You can’t put a nail salon or hair salon in here–it just wouldn’t be the same.
We’ve got plans to put a drink service in here, so you can have that in-store experience but I mean, it is still just retail. We’re doing it in the better end of ‘just retail’ I suppose.
We’re doing a lot better in our first year here than we were as a standalone (Pickings & Parry) store in our first year. I put it down to the experience in this environment but also, that we have Pickings & Parry next door, so we’ve got a lot of partners of customers walking into the other side of the store, which helps a lot.
Pete: And tell us about your team?
Chris: We’ve got a great team of experienced people.
My wife’s on maternity leave, so she’s more heavily involved in the business – although she’s been very involved from the beginning. Without her support and her job, we would never have been able to do it in the first place.
We went from three employees to eight in the last year and we’ve managed to hire great people!
Pete: That’s great. You mentioned before we started that you’d worked with friends a lot, it’d be great to hear your thoughts on this.
Chris: When we built this store, the majority of the team that helped us do it were either customers or friends–tradesmen, designers and everything else!
Storepro helped with all the drawings, permits and construction and we met because he was a barber customer. We were having a chat about the new stores and saying how tricky it was with developers and permits and he said “Oh, my business does this sort of thing. Let’s come up with a tailored package that will help you.” If that hadn’t happened, it would have been much harder.
Also, the guy who does all of our design was a customer and friend before we started working together.
Pete: And any tips?
Chris: We don’t do discounts or anything on either side. It’s like, “I’ll pay your full price. You pay my full price.” It keeps things easier!
Pete: How do you manage the social and digital side of your business?
Chris: Our team is all pretty savvy, so we share the responsibility. We’ve got three separate Instagram accounts (@pickingsandparry, @heffernanandhaire, and @pickingsandparrybarbershop) plus Facebook (Pickings & Parry), plus the website and the blogs. So, it’s getting towards a full-time job.
Pete: And we’ve noticed you and the team appear in some social posts, wearing the gear?
Chris: I’m trying to step back a bit from that. I’m getting too old! But it’s great when customers recognize the people from the posts when they come in and because we actually do all wear the things we sell, it gives it authenticity as well.
Pete: So being in retail, does that mean the store is your office too?
Chris: I have an office in a co-working space, which is half way between the store and home. These days, I’m in the office a lot more, doing all the management side of things.
My graphic designer and web team are in the same office, which is handy. They’re not employees but we share the same office. It’s more to have a space outside of home where I can go and actually be productive. That’s why we did it. And it’s good to be near them. We can get things happening in terms of our design and marketing much quicker because they’re sitting behind me, which is really good.
Pete: You’re an engineer by trade–how has this helped you in retail?
Chris: The planning and scheduling required for engineering help you to understand how to manage different things: how to make everything happen on time, and plan properly.
The biggest thing I wasn’t really prepared for was the financial side of running a business. The fear. I suppose if it were easier everybody would do it!
Now I understand it, I get less scared. You know that you can find a way, and you’ve kind of got the experience to say, “Right, this is happening. How can we deal with it?”
Pete: You and your wife have just welcomed a little baby girl into the world. How are you juggling parenthood and running a business?
Chris: It can be challenging! I was up till 10pm last night doing a submission for the Australian Retail Fit-Out of the Year award, while she was unsettled and crying, which was tricky. But she’s generally really good and she likes to sleep.
And now we have a great team in place, I’m not always in the store and I’m able to be more flexible with my hours. And we’re looking at daycare which is halfway between the office and here so it’s all streamlined!
Pete: Speaking of juggling, what does a holiday look like for you?
Chris: I haven’t had a holiday–without work–since I got married four years ago. Even then I was working a little bit. So, it doesn’t go away. It’s getting a bit easier now because we’ve got a team of experienced people and I’m much more comfortable leaving the store in their hands than I used to be. It used to be very hard to not be here, but now we’ve got the right team.
And to finish off, our ‘Quick Fire Five’:
Pete: What’s your website built with?
Chris: Shopify. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, it’s open to debate.
Pete: Do you have a favorite work app?
Chris: Instagram. It’s the biggest and most successful tool we’ve ever used.
Pete: Can you name one thing that brought in the most new customers?
Chris: Probably Instagram. It grew our following, gave us visibility and is another way to sell our products.
Apart from that, our in-store aesthetic attracted a lot of press and attention when we first opened and continues to do so. We’ve been featured in Monocle many times and several inflight magazines.
Pete: How many unread emails do you have in your inbox?
Chris: I’m guessing about 50 – that’s pretty good for me. I remember when we did the shop fit out I had about 380 or something at one point!
Pete: Now, we have a screenshot of your phone home screen. Anything you want to declare or say in your defense?
Chris: Pretty boring to be honest. I’ve got three pages of apps and they’re not very organized. The most important apps for me are banking, Instagram and Shopify. And Google Calendar, that’s helped me not to forget things! I’ve got a picture of Pepper in the background, so that’s a win!
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