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First Flora & Fauna store officially opening next month

Vegan and cruelty-free online store Flora & Fauna is putting the finishing touches on its first bricks-and-mortar store, set to open on July 13 in North Rocks in Sydney.

Flora & Fauna has been in operation as a pureplay retailer for five years but according to founder Julie Mathers, it was always her plan to eventually open a physical store.

“I’m a massive fan of stores. We’re purpose-driven but we’re also customer experience-driven and you can give someone a great customer experience online but it’s nice to have that physical experience,” said Mathers, who took out the top spot in this year’s Top 50 People in E-Commerce report.

“I started working in stores and I just love having that close experience with customers where you can build a community. If we look back to the stores that are on the rise, it’s around building that community.”

The new store will have a portion of the Flora & Fauna range on display, but the team has recently worked on building an endless aisle and click-and-collect offer.

The shop will also act as a recycling point and offer bulk refill, as it will feature the first Eco Store refill station in Australia and customers will be able to bring in their own containers and refill them with shampoo, conditioner and washing liquid.

Mathers said that when it came to shaping the customer experience at Flora & Fauna, she was inspired by her past experiences with UK catalogue retailer Argos.

“They’ve been around for donkey years and they’re cool. There used to be a big catalogue, so you’d go up to the counter, pick out what you want from it, give it to the person at the front and they went to the back to pick it for you,” she said.

“It was a fun experience and in some ways, I’m riffing on that with modern-day click-and-collect. You’ll be able to buy anything from our business in-store and we’ll get it to you today.”

The store will also feature a large window between the shopfront and the warehouse to allow customers and staff to see each other, Mathers added.

To celebrate the launch on July 13, the Flora & Fauna store will transform into an experiential marketplace, extending into the warehouse and featuring installations and stands from brands, where customers can make their own customised vegan chocolate bars, participate in craft tutorials and enjoy samples of tea and makeovers featuring cruelty-free products.

The opening day will also feature different educational seminars and workshops, where customers can learn how to use reusable nappies, compost and create the perfect winged liner.

Mathers added that in the future, in-store events will definitely be on the agenda.

“It’s really important to connect with your customer so you have to focus on experience and this isn’t just in-store, it’s at any touch point with your customer,” she said.

“For us, we’ve been trading over four years and this is a really amazing way to thank our customers for their loyalty and to say hi, and that has been our main focus in making this event, and store, happen.”

Lessons to be learned

In her previous life, Mathers worked for several major retailers such as Masters, Coles and John Lewis in the UK and it is based on those experiences that she has now created her very own bricks-and-mortar store.

One of the most important lessons she learnt was that the focus must always be 100 per cent on the customer in-store, not on other parts of the business.

“If I think way back when to when I started my career and I was in stores at John Lewis, we used to have a lot of admin on the shopfloor, which was a nightmare, because people weren’t focused on the customer,” she recalled.

“You can’t do that – you’ve got to focus on the customer, what they want and their experience. So as soon as they come in, you have to acknowledge and help them.”

Mathers also pointed out that it’s important that retailers consider the role of the physical store and how it works in conjunction with the online store.

“We very much see [the store] as an experience and it supports our greater business. As soon as you start seeing it as a profit centre and making it work in its own right, I believe you become a bit disjointed as a business. I’m not looking at it as an individual profit area – it supports the bigger business.”

According to Mathers, it’s also imperative that businesses are open to failing, experimenting with different concepts and being adaptable even after opening their physical stores.

“We have opened the store knowing we’ll learn and we fully expect to move things around and change. So as a result, we’ve made it quite modular, nothing is fixed, so if we think something doesn’t work, we can change it out. We fully expect to test and learn.”

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