When Jennie Lane attempted to retire after 23 years in the retail business, she realised she wasn’t ready. Instead, after an 18-month break what she wanted was a new challenge.
Having owned camping stores with her husband, Lane decided to use her retail skills to run a different kind of store and began looking for an existing gift shop to purchase. After struggling to find anything that excited her, and spotting a gap in the market for a shop selling quirky gifts, in 2010 Lane started a business from scratch in a shopfront along the Yarra River.
“After stumbling across a vacant shop in Warrandyte, my husband, two boys and I worked around the clock to convert the empty space into something really special,” Lane explains.
The result was the first Homing Instincts store, which has since spawned three other locations in Melbourne—Hawthorn opened in 2012, Malvern in 2016 and Moonee Ponds, which opened in July 2017. The Warrandyte location closed briefly but reopened in this November, taking the shop count to four plus an online store, which has been trading since 2015.
Lane works on the business alongside her son Jackson, who has been instrumental in helping to grow the brand. He was responsible for opening the Malvern store and the pair took on Moonee Ponds together.
“We are constantly moving with demand and with my son now working in the business he has brought in some fresh energy and a desire to grow the business,” says Lane. “He is a natural retailer—perhaps as a result of spending his whole life around a retailing family.”
Homing Instincts stocks a varied range of gifts, cards and homewares that are sourced at local trade fairs along with visits to Europe and the US. The idea is that customers can find a gift for their grandma or their grandchild—there’s something for any age and interest.
Walking into a Homing Instincts store customers will discover shelves filled with everything from Sunnylife inflatables to S’well bottles, Hunter Lab skincare, Halcyon Nights babywear, Frank Green reusable coffee cups, La La Land cards and Bon Lux candles. Lane says she has been impressed with the quality of the products available in Australia and has enjoyed forming relationships with local wholesalers over the past seven years.
“For a small country I think Australia does a fantastic job of pulling together a great mix of international products and influences… I have been surprised by the honesty and integrity within the wholesale gift industry and the overwhelming professional attitude from most suppliers that we come across and in particular those that we do business with.”
With such a diverse product range, the store fitouts are kept relatively simple so they don’t detract from the items on show. Lane adds character to her stores by using found objects paired with practical solutions to create vast product displays, and says merchandising is about “fun, fun and fun”.
“We create a relaxed, fun environment with great service and a true feel-good factor for our customers,” she says. “With visual merchandising we keep a clear message for our customers in all categories.”
Because gift and homewares trends move extremely quickly, Lane says she and Jackson are always on the lookout for new products and categories to introduce into Homing Instincts, paying close attention to what customers want. As a small business, they have the ability to move quickly by keeping an eye on what’s selling (and what’s not).
“Product trends move extremely fast these days so last year’s best-sellers can be completely overturned with some hot new products a season later… We are constantly changing, closely managing our ordering to keep in line with trends and customer needs. Small businesses have the ability to be quite nimble in this regard. By managing our sales reports we can keep product fresh and changing, thereby holding the interest of our customers and helping them find something new.”
Having been self-employed for over 30 years now, Lane knows what it takes to keep an independent retail business afloat: hard work, listening to your customers and a desire to keep improving.
“We always listen to our customers and keep them central to the way we run our stores. It’s a huge workload and there’s a real need to push through obstacles along with the way. Tenacity is the order of the day—it’s not for the faint hearted.
“Monitor and manage your stock, staff and customers carefully and be prepared to put in some serious hours. Be committed to training your staff at every level. Continue to nurture and show appreciation for the huge effort from your team.”
“Our success is down to years of experience in retail, built on a solid foundation with the desire to keep abreast of all things retail. Quite simply it’s hard work coupled with experience and the desire to be the best we can.”