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What the Future of Sydney's Retail Spaces Looks Like According to Five Local Business Owners

Discover what lies ahead for brick-and-mortar stores.
By Lucinda Starr
August 20, 2019
By Lucinda Starr
August 20, 2019

in partnership with

Finding what we want, when we want it, has never been easier. Whether we're scrolling through social media or doing a quick search for something we heard about on a podcast, discovering new brands and products — and getting your hands on them almost straight away — is simpler than ever before. So, what does this all mean for the future of brick-and-mortar stores?

In a competitive market of tech-driven retailers and powerhouse big brands, small businesses are looking forward to the future. With so many retailers to choose from, consumers are demanding faster and more personalised service at competitive prices. For small business owners, the challenge to keep up proves complex and demanding — but also very exciting.

To give you a taste of how entrepreneurs are meeting this evolving climate head-on, we've teamed up with the City of Sydney as part of its Retail Innovation Program. Learn how five Sydney entrepreneurs are responding to the changing nature of retail and their predictions for what lies ahead in the years to come.


Kimberley Low


Building a business often means forging an untrodden path. For many entrepreneurs, their big idea speaks to a gap in the market. Koa Recovery began three years ago when director Shaun Button suffered a nasty back injury and discovered a slew of innovative recovery facilities in the US.

"There have been so many challenges along the way," explains Button. "Some of the biggest challenges arose because Koa Recovery was the first of its kind in Australia... we've been navigating the unknown every day."

Button believes that the future of retail will revolve around partnership and collaboration. With the rising prominence of online retailers, creating hubs for similar businesses to connect and thrive together will prove essential to everyone's success. Button also raises the importance of partnering with the right businesses for the most mutually beneficial outcome.

"If you're using influencers, choose ones who are going to educate your audience and see the same vision you see. Align yourself with brands who have a similar approach and support your way of doing things."


Kimberley Low


Temporary events and pop-up installations take plenty of manpower to put together, from securing a space to bringing in stock, signage and furniture. But, what happens when its time to pack everything away?

Kim and Taryn Hoang saw this as a golden business opportunity, so they co-founded the pop-up experience platform Pop-Up Finds. Together, the pair has designed flat-pack furniture rentals for shopping centres in Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong.

The duo think this concept of brands sharing and recycling resources as the future of retail spaces. "We saw a lot of waste in the pop-up and events industry, as brands were purchasing furniture to use as a one-time event and then throwing it away or storing it in their warehouse never to be used again," explains the duo. "We modelled our business so brands can use our services instead and not worry about the environmental wastage they were causing."


Trent van der Jagt


Over the past two decades Jessica Bailey, founder of The Cruelty-Free Shop, has witnessed the everchanging landscape of Australia's retail industry.

"We started as a tiny online shop just doing food," reveals Bailey. "Now, we've expanded to become a one-stop shop offering cruelty-free versions of fashion, shoes, cosmetics, wine, instant meals and groceries."

Learning to adapt to emerging technologies has proved crucial to Bailey's business success. From offering click-and-collect services to keeping tabs on overseas retail trends, she believes it's all about being open to new possibilities and never being afraid to challenge the status quo. In the years to come, Bailey hopes to see the emergence of innovative technology that will streamline the shopping experience, like shops that don't have traditional point-of-sale systems, but rather "door barcode readers that automatically charge your account as you leave". 


Kimberley Low


From fakes to frauds, the world of online luxury fashion proves troubled terrain. To create a safe and secure place to buy authentic and high-quality products, Josephine de Parisot and Ashish Das co-founded Modsie. In a nutshell, it's a luxury second-hand online store where you can sell unwanted pieces and buy pre-loved products at reasonable prices.

Since launching in 2016, Modsie has grown from a mere handful of items to 2000 active listings with a combined value of over $3 million. Today, the brand hosts occasional pop-ups and events but is putting its attention towards data-driven digital marketing and retail experiences. 

"Artificial intelligence is transforming the interaction that customers are having with their retailers. Data and AI algorithms are also revolutionising the retail space with, for example, product recommendations, QR codes to get additional information about products and even facial recognition to bypass the traditional checkout process," de Parisot says.


Trent van der Jagt


Making a purchase online is a transactional experience. You see it, you like it, you buy it and a few days later the product turns up on your doorstep. But, opening the package is often a roll of the dice. For Zoltan Csaki and Eric Phu, co-founders of the ethical made-to-order basics label Citizen Wolf, giving customers access to the range in-store has always proved a priority.

Despite using a 'magic fit algorithm' to help online shoppers find their perfect fit, the pair believe a large part of their success stems from educating customers about the production process offline. It's about allowing shoppers to touch their fabrics in-person and try on a range of cuts to make an informed purchase that will stay with them for years to come.

"I think that's the challenge when you're doing an online-only play. It's really hard to truly understand what your customers are saying and what they want. So, the shop for us has always been about that, a space to talk to people," Csaki explains.


Learn more about the City of Sydney Retail Innovation Program here.

Image: Kimberley Low.

Published on August 20, 2019 by Lucinda Starr
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