In a special joint project with Fashion Exposed Now, ragtrader.com.au celebrates independent fashion buyers. Here, Joy Hysteric's Mel Tan reveals her meteoric comeback after personal and professional challenges.
What is the background to Joy Hysteric?
Joy Hysteric was founded back in 2004. I had been studying communications and working in various boutiques as a buyer and retail manager. I wanted to open my own fashion boutique on the Gold Coast and bring to my hometown high-end designer brands that weren’t available otherwise.
What have been some of the milestones in your career as a boutique owner?
I was the first to introduce a lot of high end designer brands to the Gold Coast and even Queensland back then. I always strived to be at the forefront of the market up there. I introduced eCommerce to the business in 2007 and was one of very few bricks and mortar retailers embracing online. I was utilising social media to promote the boutique on MySpace, way before Instagram came about.
What have been some of the challenges?
The global financial crisis pretty much killed my business. A lot of my clientele made their money through property development, being the Gold Coast, and almost overnight they disappeared. This came about at a time I had also signed a lease at a major shopping centre development – off the plan. This was by far the biggest mistake and challenge of my career. The developers never came through with their promises. Everyone in that centre went bankrupt or the national retailers moved out. This left basically me and a couple of other independents struggling to pay exorbitant rent with no neighbours or foot traffic. Our online sales saved us.
What was another hurdle?
Another challenge was my location; I always felt that my buying was a little bit outside of my Gold Coast customer base. Apart from my longstanding regulars, a majority of our sales came from Sydney and Melbourne or even overseas. The locals didn’t quite get it. It either wasn’t ‘resort’ enough or ‘tight’ enough. When I would try to compromise my buying to suit, it showed. I personally wasn’t into it and our offering became confused and conflicted. Hence why online surpassed in store sales over the years.
When my mother passed away two years ago, that cemented my decision to close the last bricks and mortar store almost immediately. I was no longer inspired and felt trapped on the Gold Coast, particularly it was difficult to imagine operating the store without my biggest support as good staff (another challenge) was always difficult to find.
What makes a successful boutique?
Keeping up with the ever-changing market and embracing it rather than fearing it. Also enforcing your own direction so that you are unique and not just another boutique doing a carbon copy of the next. Obviously great customer service has always been key. But unfortunately these days everyone’s a keyboard warrior with social media. Sometimes no matter how nice or helpful or flexible you are with a disgruntled customer, their personal opinion or misunderstanding of your policies can mean some nasty stuff gets put online about your business. So in saying that, I would ensure you be on your A game when it comes to social media feedback and community management.
What is the biggest change you’ve made to your business?
I am now purely online and content focused. The new e-store will revolve around my personal style, blog and creative content. I am selling what is 100% me and my style rather than trying to buy for what I think my customers want. The format for the site lends itself to that. I didn’t want it to look like another eCommerce site which is just buy buy buy. I have created the new website with a lookbook feel that mixes my original creative content and the eCommerce products. They are all woven together seamlessly in order to be a one stop source of inspiration – not just for stuff to buy. I am also working very closely with each of the designers/brands that I showcase. It’s not just a buy/sell relationship now but more of an ongoing collaboration with them.
What brands will you stock?
A tight edit of whatever I am loving and wearing at the time. I plan to rotate the offering and not lock myself in with any particular label. For the launch I will be showcasing my favourite pieces from Dyspnea, I.AM.GIA, Kaliver, Isabelle Quinn, Third Form and Frio.
What do you look for when you’re buying?
I can’t really pinpoint this as it often changes. I usually look for something a bit different to the norm. I don’t plan to stock basics unless it’s with a twist. I don’t particularly want anything that’s in the majors. I generally just don’t want the same offering that any other boutique is doing. I’m looking for key statement pieces.
What is your plan for the platform over the long-term?
To continue growing it slowly and organically and introduce more services and products which aren’t necessarily fashion items. I can’t say any more at this stage but I have a lot of things in the pipeline for Joy Hysteric.
You have a significant social media following. What tips would you give boutiques on raising their profile?
Create your own content. There’s only so much re-posting you can do before your business looks like a mirror or culmination of everyone else’s.
What tips would you give to designers for attracting the attention of a buyer?
Shoot your products clearly and don’t scrimp on the shoot. Hire a stylist who understands commercial viability and can translate this for a lookbook. This is what I do as a stylist; after so many years in retail and buying and seeing countless brands, ranges and lookbooks; I now produce lookbooks and campaigns for brands knowing best how to sell their product.
Also, please do your research. The number of emails I receive telling me about a ‘great brand for my Brisbane store’ is a bit insulting. I never was a Brisbane store and haven’t been buying for the Queensland market in two years so that actually puts me off straight away.