We often hear tales from entrepreneurs about the challenges they faced creating a business plan or executing on that really great business idea they’d had for years. It’s not often, however, that we hear success stories that start with the entrepreneur falling into (or literally over) a bright business idea that was right in front of them.
This was the case for Queensland mum Sharon Hurley, who didn’t realise that she had a business on her hands until it was literally surrounding her, in every room of her house. After realising that her family home had been taken over by her daughters’ Harry Potter collectibles, Sharon decided that she had enough unusual gifts for a store dedicated to the world’s favourite boy wizard.
Sharon now runs The Store of Requirement, which has two retail outlets and an online presence that does a roaring trade year-round, but especially over the holiday shopping period. Square retail data from December 2017 highlights the importance of the holiday shopping rush to retailers, revealing that businesses nationally saw an average jump of 106% in extra sales compared to an average month.
This is data that Sharon says is invaluable to retailers like herself at this time of year, so we caught up with her to find out more about how she prepares for the holiday shopping rush, her best-selling items, and (of course) her love for Harry Potter.
Where did the idea for The Store of Requirement come from?
After reading the Harry Potter books to my daughters, my family started collecting merchandise sort of as a hobby, but we became a bit obsessed by it. I started adding some of the pop culture items to my online bookstore, and the Harry Potter items were by far the most popular. One day I realised we were almost overrun by the merchandise at home — it started in the office in the house, then down the hallway, into the storeroom, then the garage and into the kids’ rooms and the dining room. There was definitely enough rare and unusual stock for a physical store, so we decided to open one.
What about the name?
We have drawn inspiration from the famous ‘Room of Requirement’, of course!
How have you managed to grow since opening your first store?
We’ve seen really organic growth so far. After we officially opened our first store in Samford last year on the 31st of July (Harry Potter’s birthday), ‘Potterheads’ started sharing the news all over Facebook, and then each fan would tag their friends. That’s when we realised there was a real demand for the products, and our store created a really unique experience for fans to visit, so they kept coming.
Not long after that we decided to open another physical store in Melbourne. Now between the two stores and our online presence we are home to Australia’s largest range of Officially Licensed Harry Potter merchandise.
Many online retailers are now shying away from a brick-and-mortar presence — can you tell us more about your decision to open not one but two physical stores?
Selling online is definitely easier in many ways, not having to worry about renting a space or paying staff for shifts, but it’s also more impersonal. A big part of what we wanted to do was create a space that fans of all ages could come and interact with.
While we are primarily selling products, customers can also enjoy the tactile atmosphere and share a feeling of belonging with other fans. We encourage all our visitors to enjoy their in-store shopping experience, while they sip on a ButterScotch Brew. They can also try on an authentic robe, which can be found at the Warner Bros studio but is hard to come by in this country because they don’t supply directly to any distributors in Australia.
When did you first start using Square?
We’ve been using Square in our retail stores since we first opened in 2017. We love it because the card reader and free point-of-sale app are really easy to set up and use. It’s also really helpful that we can see our sales history and past transactions in Square Dashboard. It’s super important for us to know which days we are busiest and might need more staff on, or what items are most popular at any given time of the year. Thanks to our data we know that we are going to be super busy in the lead up to Christmas, so we can prepare better.
So you’re busiest during the Christmas shopping rush? What are your best-selling products?
Christmas is easily the busiest time of year for The Store of Requirement, both online and in our retail outlets. Last year we saw demand for gifts surge in the lead up to Christmas. It’s easier for parents to know that they can come into the store, or order online, and they know what sort of quality they are getting without having to try their luck on eBay or elsewhere. Licensed Harry Potter merchandise is definitely popular, with Christmas baubles, jewellery, character wands and gift vouchers leading our most popular items.
What tips do you have for other retailers going into the busiest trading time of the year?
Preparation is everything. Not realising what people want when they want it can be very detrimental to your business. In the lead up to the busiest shopping period of the year, you need to ensure you have enough stock to carry you through the entire shopping rush, bearing in mind that suppliers themselves may start to run low. It’s great to be an in-demand shopping destination, but not so great if there is nothing to sell once customers get to that destination.
What’s next for The Store of Requirement?
We don’t like to sit still very often and always have something new in the pipeline. Watch this space (or our Facebook page), and when our next big announcement comes, we will be sure to shout it from the rooftops.