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“This is huge for us”: Making use of empty Docklands shops

David Schout

Boutique business WØRKS is set to open its first ever retail space in March thanks to a program that repurposes vacant shopfronts as a result of COVID-19.

The high-end personal care and home fragrance brand, which until now has operated out of a home office and small distribution warehouse, is one of the first Docklands spaces to be transformed in the City of Melbourne’s “shopfront activation program”.

The initiative looks to support budding entrepreneurs, artists and artisans to test their business ideas in a retail or creative space that is vacant due to the pandemic.

For their part, landlords are covered by insurance, their space is kept tidy, and perhaps most importantly, it is showcased how it could be utilised for future tenants.

“It’s going to be huge for us,” Suze Raymond, who runs WØRKS with husband Christoffer, told Docklands News ahead of an expected move-in date in early March.

“First and foremost, it’ll allow us to bring all our operations into one central location. At the moment things are all over the place, so we’re going to be to do all our retail sales, ecommerce, distribution and wholesale distribution from one central location. The big one for us though is being able to meet and interact with our customers, to get the feedback and just talk to people about what they like and don’t like.”

The Australian/Danish couple founded the business in 2018, with the aim of “bringing together the best of Danish design and local Australian manufacture”.

Their product range is all named after Danish cities; “Aarhus” hand care, “Ødense” body care, and home fragrance range “Køben” (after Copenhagen, or “København” in Danish).

The business has a “big sustainability cause” according to Ms Raymond.

All products are packaged, they have a single-use-plastic free policy, do refills, and all ingredients are locally sourced and made in Melbourne.

“The concept is bridging the gap between sustainability and design,” she told Docklands News.

 

We found that there’s a lot of great brands that are very aesthetically pleasing, and there are a lot of great brands that are organic. But there aren’t many brands that are doing both — you usually have to compromise on one or the other. We saw a gap in the market and the response has been really good, especially for an emerging brand.

 

The couple initially applied to social enterprise Renew Australia (which the council has engaged to run the Docklands shopfront activation program) to occupy a vacant shopfront in St Kilda, but changed their minds when considering the location and demographic.

When Docklands was pitched as an alternative, they jumped at the chance.

Ms Raymond said having their first retail space (at the westernmost end of Collins St in Victoria Harbour) would also allow them to run small limited-edition runs of products to test the market directly with consumers.

"The idea is that we’ll come in there and make it extremely beautiful. Our products are quite high-end, and we have a big Danish design element in our fixtures and fit outs too, so we’re trying to meet the needs of people in those [nearby] residential towers and local workers who work at some of the big corporations."

The state government’s easing of restrictions on office workers, then, comes at a good time.

The store will operate on a rolling 60-day lease so, depending on the landlord’s intention, could be in Docklands briefly or longer term.

“It could be a few years, it could be a few months,” Ms Raymond said.

And while the store’s looming opening was a success story for the initiative in Docklands, the shopfront activation program has encountered some obstacles in recent months.

A recent City of Melbourne report noted various challenges that made getting creatives, small scale retailers and social enterprises into local empty shops a difficult exercise.

“In parts of Docklands, many vacant shops have never been occupied and do not yet have occupancy permits, meaning significant work is required to ready them for activation,” the report noted.

“Particularly in NewQuay, many properties are owned by landlords who live overseas, making engagement particularly challenging.”

Despite this, it was noted that there was now “a now a strong pipeline of potential new activations.” •

For more information: worksliving.com

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