For Dave and Michelle Cann, the old adage ‘do what you love’ rings true. The husband and wife team opened their store, String + Salt, in 2014 on a mission to share their passion for good food, good friends and good design with their local community, and it has paid off in more than just material terms.
The Scandi-inspired space in the rural Victorian town of Warragul is a successful store, but it is also a community hub. Visitors come for the carefully curated selection of homewares, many from small Australian designers, or to browse the collection of over 300 spices, herbs and teas. Upstairs is the cooking school, where local presenters run classes on things like winter comfort food and practiculture, which involves growing, hunting and foraging your own food.
Originally set up as a space to demonstrate products, the cooking school quickly evolved and now host two to three sessions a week. “The school is as much about feeling as food,” says Dave. “It is an extension of the philosophy of our store—a space for getting back to basics and making food from scratch, appreciating the seasons and recapturing a sense of kin and community.”
This sense of community is fostered by the Canns, who opened their store because they wanted to bring a new and unique kind of retail space to their town. Dave says they try and create experiences for their customers rather than just selling product, and that this has helped them succeed.
The pair was well-equipped to open String + Salt. Michelle is trained in PR, graphic design and styling, and Dave previously owned his own restaurants, cafes and a boutique wine shop. With this experience behind them, they were able to create a store with a story and a reason—to provide items that make everyday tasks a little more beautiful, a little more pleasurable, and a little less costly to the planet.
“Doing what you are passionate about makes life far more enjoyable, and at the heart of String + Salt is our passion—food,” says Dave. “One of the joys of running a business in a rural town is having a community around your business. We are incredibly lucky to be surrounded by an amazing community of customers, staff, and cooking school participants and presenters.”
Although the Canns paint an idyllic picture of life in Warragul, running a retail business in a small town comes with its challenges. As the majority of their customers visit the store regularly, Michelle says stock rotation and changing displays are very important to maintain interest, and they try and range a wide selection of items, while sticking to their philosophy of selling things for a purpose, not landfill.
This includes handmade ceramics; quality cookware; tableware; cooking and gardening books; preserving, fermenting, bread, cheese and beer making supplies; natural cleaning products; gardening tools; GMO-free seeds; and premium skincare products.
“Being in a rural location means we cannot afford to specialise too tightly on particular product ranges,” says Michelle. “Instead, we need to carry a much wider variety of products but always with respect to our philosophy.
“For us, part of the joy of owning a retail store is the discovery of new brands, small designers and crafted products. We are regular visitors to our peers in the city, highly involved in social media and always make time for shows—trade and consumer—to try and find new items for our store.”
Along with the beautiful homewares, Dave says their pride and joy is their collection of herbs and spices, which includes everything from ajowan to za'atar. The pair mix and mill over 40 unique small-batch spice blends and salt rubs exclusive to String + Salt, which gives customers yet another reason to come through the doors.
They seem to have hit on the recipe for success with String + Salt. Last year the pair opened a second location in Leongatha (about an hour away from the original Warragul store), purchased a spice importation company, and launched their own appliance brand, so Dave says 2018 is a year of consolidation for the business.
He says they will continue to focus on the things they love and the strategies that have brought them success: “Develop a diversity of offers. Be nimble with stock ranges and products. Be 100 per cent committed to your philosophy. Be everything your competitor is not.
“Oh, and avoid talking too much about price—there’s always someone who’ll be cheaper. Tell your story instead.”