Lark founder moves from wholesale to retail

Allison Jones has a knack for creating brands people love. She began her retro-inspired children’s design brand, Lark, in 2006 and grew it into a popular online store offering homewares, fashion, gifts and stationery.

Fast forward to 2016 and Jones and her husband Paul were ready for a change. The pair sold Lark, freeing them up to launch their latest venture, baking and party supplies store Melt Bake and Party.

Giftguide spoke to Jones about life after Lark, her goals for Melt and the secrets to running a successful retail business. (She says there aren’t any.)

Why did you start Lark?

Lark started in the UK in 2006 as a craft-based children’s design brand. Its retro, indie aesthetic was very on trend and the brand was picked up by some cool London stores. I moved to Australia later that year with my husband Paul and our kids, and we launched an Australian online store to sell our own designs alongside products from British and European indie designers.

What made you branch out into bricks-and-mortar?

In 2009 we were working from an old factory building in Daylesford, Victoria. It’s a small country town but it attracts a lot of visitors so we decided to open a little shop in our building and it got a lot of media interest, which helped our online store to take off very quickly.

After this, Paul and I decided to concentrate on retail and we moved out of production and wholesaling. Paul is from an old Bendigo retailing family, so it’s in his blood. Over the next eight years we grew our online store to include homewares, fashion, gifts and stationery and we ran a pop-up store in Melbourne as well as moving the Daylesford store to the town of Ballarat where we are now based.

What were the biggest challenges of running Lark?

Undoubtedly the biggest challenge in recent years has been the coming on-trend of the big department/chain stores—this has had a huge impact on gift and homewares stores and is one of the reasons that we decided to move out of this area.

Another ongoing issue for us is the high cost of shipping in Australia, which presents a big challenge to small ecommerce businesses who are in competition with overseas stores. And, on a personal level, keeping it all together to run a business and a family every day. There’s always a new challenge, but at least that keeps things interesting!

Why did you decide to sell Lark and start Melt Bake and Party?

After running Lark for 10 years, Paul and I were both ready for a change. We’re creative people and we love the start-up phase of business… We love ecommerce and we’ve developed lots of skills in this area over time, so we decided to continue with retail. I became obsessed with cake decorating about a year ago so we thought this could be the basis for a new business (always do what you love).

Around the same time that we were developing the idea for our new business we were approached by a large Melbourne-based company looking for an established ecommerce brand and we sold Lark to them last year, leaving us free to launch Melt.

What is the Melt concept/philosophy?

Melt was conceived as a modern baking supplies store. Australia has led the way in recent years in cake decorating and dessert trends and there has been a democratisation in this area—anyone can make a fabulous drip cake, freak shake or luxe fairy bread, you no longer need to take courses or have advanced skills.

I am a completely self-taught cake maker and I wanted to create a store with a curated selection of the best products to make the sort of cakes I’m inspired by on Pinterest. I also wanted to make shopping for cake supplies into a more fun, sensory experience so the website has beautiful imagery, lots of DIY and inspiration, and we use beautiful bakery-style packaging to ship our online orders.

You achieved great things with Lark (and there’s surely more to come with Melt)—what would you say has been the secret to your success?

Unfortunately there are no secrets, just a lot of hard work. One of the reasons we’ve been able to put so much time and energy into our businesses is that we live in a country town. Our life is uncomplicated, with a five minute drive between our home, office and the kids’ school, and we have a supportive community around us.

I am always surprised that more ecommerce businesses don’t relocate to regional areas. There are many business advantages and a more relaxed lifestyle that is so helpful when you are trying to combine business with bringing up a young family.

Finally, what tips would you give to other retailers on running a successful business?

Always be yourself: find your own style and don’t imitate other stores; follow your gut; take advice but make the final decision yourself.

By Ruth Cooper