Small Business

Retail Strategy · Dinosaur Designs

Ask most retailers what their number one objective is, and you’ll likely hear ‘increasing sales’. What’s less well known, is the retail strategy in place to achieve that goal. From choosing which channels to sell through, the location selection for bricks-and-mortar stores, making strategic marketing decisions and measuring the quality of customer service – keeping retail alive today is both an art and a science!

For this month’s Small Business Column Fiona Killackey spoke with Louise Olsen, artist, designer, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Dinosaur Designs, to discover just how the retail brand has continued to flourish for more than three decades.

Fiona Killackey

Inside Dinosaur Designs‘ James Street store in Fortitude Valley, Queensland. Photo – Toby Scott.

Dinosaur Designs opened their first store in Sydney’s Strand Arcade in 1989. Photo – Toby Scott.

Photo by Nicki To for The Design Files.

Thirteen years later Dinosaur Designs opened their first store in Nolita, New York. Photo – Toby Scott.

The brand launched their online business in 2010. Photo – Toby Scott.

Louise Olsen, artist, designer, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Dinosaur Designs. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Expanding to online and e-commerce has proven pivotal, even for in-store sales. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

‘Dinosaur Designs is going from strength to strength and still keeps us on our toes,’ tells Louise. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Fiona Killackey
25th of August 2017

Sometimes it’s the side projects that end up taking centre-stage in our lives. For Louise Olsen, Stephen Ormandy and Liane Rossler, Dinosaur Designs originally began as a creative business that would help fund their painting practice. Launching in December 1985, during their final year of art school, the trio started selling at local market stalls. The initial success, says Louise, came from their commitment. ‘We just turned up — and kept turning up, which is so important. The markets were a great testing ground for developing the brand. We hardly made any money there but we learnt a hell of a lot!’  

The interest for their original product led the trio to open their first store in Sydney’s Strand Arcade in 1989. ‘It was daunting but also exciting at the same time! When we opened the store, we didn’t have enough stock to fill it so we borrowed scarves from a designer friend of ours and spread those out to fill the space!’ In the same year the brand was part of an exhibition in London at the Victoria & Albert. ‘That opened us up to a new market in London and wholesaling to Liberty and Harvey Nichols. That year was a huge eye opener as we had to learn about stock levels and the whole administration side of opening a store and running wholesale.’  

Thirteen years later Dinosaur Designs opened their first store in Nolita, New York. ‘I think we underestimated just how competitive it is and it’s only increased over the years. For us it was good that we had something new, a point of difference, there was nothing else like it — and still isn’t — which gives us an edge in this market,’ The main difference between their home country and New York says Louise is ‘just how quickly perceptions of an area can change from being the “hot” area. It’s always on the move so if you’re opening a store you have to think strategically and over the longer term if you’re going to ride it out.’ 

In an effort to quench the global demand for their product, the brand launched their online business in 2010, which Louise says plays a ‘pivotal role, as it provides people with a touch point to Dinosaur Designs no matter where they’re located.’ It’s also had a positive impact on in-store sales. ‘We find that people will come into store with an image of a product they’ve seen on the website and use that as a guide to what they want’.   

Like any brand that has created a niche product, Dinosaur Designs is no stranger to copycats, negative feedback and dips in sales. ‘It’s very important to stick with your vision and always keep an eye on what’s working and what’s not,’ says Louise on how she and the team stay motivated during the down times. ‘Keep questioning and never stop learning from your mistakes and the feedback of others. But you also have to try to rise above any unjust negativity and remember why you’re doing this in the first place: because you love it and feel passionate about what you are creating.

It’s also essential, says Louise, to focus on the business side just as much as the creative side. ‘There’s so many hats you have to wear — you might enjoy being creative the most, but without a robust business practice it’s not going to get you anywhere’. For Dinosaur Designs that means investing in hiring strong staff for both Head Office and in-store, and engaging regularly with all staff for the benefit of the business. This year the brand have started a scheme they call the Friday 5:15, an email of five points of interest that can be read in less than 15 minutes every Friday. ‘All our store managers write one and share with the group – it’s great because they interact with each other and it gives us in the studio a direct link to each store and each manager. It’s a system we learnt from our UK PR company, Talker Tailor, and we’ve found it really effective’. In addition, the brand ensures store teams partake in a production day ‘where they actually make a piece so they understand all the work that goes into one object and they’re better able to communicate the value to customers’.  

With everything they have achieved, what is Louise most proud of? ‘We keep growing and evolving. I love that what we set out to create over 30 years ago is a very different Dinosaur Designs today. We have entered new markets, which has brought so many more new possibilities. It’s great being part of Net-A-Porter and to be a part of London and New York Design week. There is so much to celebrate and be thankful for. Australia is still a great country to start a business in. Dinosaur Designs is going from strength to strength and still keeps us on our toes, we never take it for granted.’ 

‘We keep growing and evolving. I love that what we set out to create over 30 years ago is a very different Dinosaur Designs today,’ says Louise. Photo – courtesy of Dinosaur Designs.


1. Create an Experience  

The biggest threat to retail is experiences. As wages remain stagnant, consumers are eager to invest in an experience rather than a specific product or service. This doesn’t mean retail is dead, but it does mean all shopping (online and in-person) needs to create an experience, whether that’s an iconic “Instagram wall” (think the angel wings in Melody Ehsani’s LA store) or creating an experience with every delivery (think Go-To’s random gifts and stickers for online shoppers). People want to feel they have ‘experienced’ not just ‘consumed’.  

 2Invest in People 

Your staff – whether answering the phone, community managing on social media or serving in-store – can make or break your retail business but often they won’t feature in a retail strategy (#rookieerror). Don’t always go for the cheaper option when employing staff, look at how they embody your brand values, how they engage customers and ask yourself, ‘Could this person represent my brand on a panel (nerves aside)?’. If not, increase training until you have staff you’re 100% confident bring out the best in your business and, consequently, your customers.  

 3. Sales isn’t a Strategy  

Avoid the temptation of dropping prices to increase conversion. Sure, it works in the short-term but over time it trains customers to wait until prices go down and diminishes perceived value in your products. Instead look at bundling products (i.e., buy candle and diffuser for $X), offering a Gift With Purchase for orders over $X (such as samples of a new product, an item you have collaborated on or old stock i.e. last season’s notebooks) or offering a VIP discount on their next order (upping conversion and repeat purchases). Limit sales to a max of four times per year (if at all) and make them meaningful.  

4. Merge Your Worlds 

Don’t pour money into your website and leave your in-store lacking or vice versa. Your customers don’t shop exclusively online/offline. If you have exceptional service in-store, ensure you have clear customer service options online with the same standard of care. If you’re looking to increase sales to one location (i.e. up online figures) then the use of limited edition/exclusive colour ways can help, however they shouldn’t result in frustrating customers (i.e. people who have travelled to get to your bricks & mortar store). Any exclusive items and their location should be clearly discussed on your social, email and website. Lastly, keep communication lines open between your in-store staff and Head Office. You can learn so much from those at the coalface. 

5. Test with a Pop-Up

If you’re selling online and looking to open a bricks & mortar store, consider testing your concept via a pop-up store or concept store in a location your target audience frequents. This can often be the best way of validating ideas, getting real-time feedback, testing merchandising and judging location fit without the huge expense of taking on a long-term commercial lease. 


Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and the founder of My Daily Business Coach, providing information and education for starting and growing a creative small business.  Fiona has joined forces with Natasha Morgan of Oak & Monkey Puzzle to present an all-day marketing workshop this October in Daylesford. For info visit Oak & Monkey Puzzle.

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