On face value, Third Drawer Down may appear as a simple retail offering – a fun and colourful gift shop (now in two locations), stocking all kinds of wonderful and slightly wacky gifts, homewares and other goodies. In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Third Drawer Down is both a retail company and a design studio, specialising in the design and production of art and museum merchandise. Abigail Crompton and her team work extensively with both local and international artists to produce an enormous catalogue of products such as homewares, prints, tea towels, bedlinen, tableware and giftware. They work on bespoke projects for specific art museums such as the Tate in London, and also create their own brand of products which they distribute globally. Beneath that cute and crafty facade, Third Drawer Down is a seriously impressive international operation!
Abigail launched her business in 2003, and these days the company employs 10 staff. She has two stores in Melbourne (Fitzroy and Prahran), an office adjacent to her Prahran store, and an international office in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As any excellent businessperson will usually tell you, a huge part of Third Drawer Down’s success comes down to its brilliant team – Abigail is especially forthcoming in singing the praises of her two incredible managers who operate the retail division and the product design / production division respectively. Both Brittney Bennett and Kathryn Foster commenced working with Abigail six years ago – Brittney manages the design studio, including and all the bespoke projects with artists and museums, whilst Kathryn is the company’s retail and wholesale manager, with responsibility for the ‘ocean-liner’ of wholesale stockists globally; ordering and management of the retail staff for both stores.
‘As any small business owner knows, the reality is that a business throws up many diverse situations on a daily basis and Brittney and Kathryn are like the Wonder Twins from Super Friends animation (but more like sisters)’ says Abigail of this hardworking duo.
Below Abi shares the most generous and valuable insights into the running of her business – including lessons learnt from experience, her top tips for other entrepreneurs, and the top three e-resources that keep her business ticking. THANKYOU ABI for sharing so many golden nuggets of wisdom!
Third Drawer Down
93 George Street Fitzroy
155 Greville Street Prahran
Open 11am to 5pm Monday to Saturday (Both Stores)
11am to 5 pm Sunday (Prahran only)
THE WHO, THE WHAT, THE WHERE
I am more of a ‘thinker’ than a ‘director’.
I own and run a company facilitating collaborative design and licensed contemporary Artist merchandise, and a retail arm that offers artist related products and exclusive global brands.
My offices are based in Melbourne and Edinburgh.
Our business goal / mission / reason for being is to make art affordable, accessible and a part of the everyday. This mission statement has not changed over the past 11 years.
THE INS & THE OUTS
What was the first major turning point for your business?
Buying a round-the-world ticket and door knocking with my metallic gold sample bag showing Third Drawer Down products to overseas museums. This is how I met Helena Lawrence, Head of Commercial at the TATE, where she offered me the chance to create merchandise for their Louise Bourgeois Retrospective. This opportunity put Third Drawer Down on the international map as a leading product design studio in the museum market.
Best thing about running your own business?
Having autonomy in making decisions, and flexibility with time so I can enjoy hanging out with my family and travel overseas when I like.
The most challenging thing about running your business?
Making sure that everything is running smoothly, as there is such a fine art in negotiating people and operational areas including the financial, production and market fluctuations.
SMALL BUSINESS TOOL KIT
What are the top three e-resources your business can’t do without?
Basecamp, which is a project management platform. Brittney implemented this program after we expanded into two sites. We use Basecamp for everything project-wise, retail and structural, even when someone needs to buy light globes!
Xero, our accounting system. I almost feel sane again after implementing Xero, and having cloud base access so everyone in the team can work on files efficiently.
Skype, my international communication tool, with the advantage of presenting concepts to clients from afar using the share screen option. To be able to use Skype on my phone gives the extra advantage of being anywhere and at anytime I can communicate, it makes the world a smaller place!
What is one regular ritual you employ to enhance your office productivity?
Since opening the second store and moving the studio to a space next door in March 2014, we have been trying different ways of connecting as a team. We are implementing monthly staff meetings so everyone can catch up together, and more social events, as we also all really enjoy each other’s company!
What do you know now about running a small business that you wish you had known when you started?
In a way I was fortunate to grow up in a family where my Mum had five retail stores, and back then I had to ‘painfully’ listen to the daily aspects of owning and operating a small business at dinner time! This has proven to be grounding for me as I certainly didn’t have a romantic vision when I started.
Top three lessons learned?
1. Never feel comfortable, as market demands can shift overnight.
2. Always listen to the people you employ.
3. It’s okay to fail in ideas as they give you knowledge for greater things.
SHARING THE LOVE
Who is one local small business owner you admire and why?
I have been watching Tamara DiMattina quietly build her career in the sustainable marketing area since 2006, when she and I shared a studio in St Kilda. Tamara is the brainchild behind The New Joneses and Buy Nothing New Month. Both social campaigns examine the need for people to question where things come from and where they end up, and the global movement for collective, conscientious consumption.
She has amazing endurance, intellect, collaborative values and the knowledge that you can be instrumental in making the world a cleaner and sustainable place. All you need to do is to try, and don’t take no for an answer!