The Gymea Lily owner Jo Morris in store.
Jo Morris’ face lights up when she talks about her customers, some of whom she has known for 30 years—as long as she has been involved with The Gymea Lily in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire.
Throughout her career, from processing sales to running the show, Morris has transformed the store into a beautifully-styled hub of quality home and kitchenware products with a community feel.
“I’ve been growing old with [the customers],” says Morris. “I have people coming in saying, ‘My grandmother shopped here, my mum shopped here, and now I shop here’. I really love hearing that.”
Morris took on the running of her family’s business after years trying to find a job she enjoyed. “It took me until 30 to realise what I was good at, and that was retail. Prior to that I worked as a secretary and I was the worst secretary in the world.”
She puts much of her success down to understanding the tastes of the local community. “If I had multiple stores it would be a lot harder, because you’ve got to think of different demographics and what each store needs, whereas I know the demographic because I’ve lived here all my life.
“It’s pretty much me. A lot of the women around here that shop in our store are pretty much within my age bracket, in a similar sort of situation, and there are a lot of us.”
A vital part of Morris’ approach to retailing—and how she connects with the community—is the VIP nights she holds a few times a year. These attract crowds of up to 250 people eager to take advantage of the small discount offered, and have a fun night out.
“We do a discount off on the night for our VIPs, and it’s so manic here, there are people queued out the door. We have wine and champagne out the front [and] they look at it as a bit of a social thing… People bring their friends and there are always more people than you thought.
“I think [the VIP night success] is mainly that we’re cashing in on being part of the community. We’re trying to be different to Westfield Miranda; we’re still a village shop with old fashioned service. I think people feel comfortable with that.”
Watching Morris at work, her dedication to customer service is obvious and she does it all with a smile. It’s this personal touch that has customers coming back, and Morris says she thinks the desire to shop local is increasing.
“There is a really strong pull towards strip shopping again, and people wanting to be outside in a nice environment, not necessarily in a big mall or big department stores.
“To go out shopping is an afternoon out, and that’s got more life in it than a mall has. The future is good and I think you’ll see more people coming out and having a go.”
While many independent stores have also started selling online, Morris is yet to take the plunge. She has a website, Facebook page, Instagram account, and sends out fortnightly e-newsletters to her VIPs, but says she won’t be starting a Gymea Lily online store any time soon.
“Everyone asks me this question [about online],” she says. “To me that is a whole new business, and if you’re going to do it, you need to do it properly—I wouldn’t do it half hearted. If you want to open another business, sure, open an online store because that’s what it involves to do it right.”
Not operating online allows Morris to focus all her energies on the physical store. The window is styled at least once a fortnight, and she makes sure to think about how she will merchandise stock when buying because “you want the shop to have a certain theme about it, that’s how you get your look”.
Morris is optimistic about the future, and offers some simple advice for those looking to enter the industry: “The only way you’re going to succeed is listening to what your customers are asking for and what they’re looking at—that’s it really.”
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