Three Melbourne women have pounced on a rising trend in children’s toys overseas and are enjoying immediate success after launching it on Australian soil late last year. Picking up on a growing American trend and bringing it to our shores, new children’s concept store, Florrie, opened in Melbourne on December 14. Described as a “lifestyle shop for girls”, it centres around the offer of upmarket life-like, 18-inch (46cm) play dolls with matching clothing for girls and dolls. Founded by
three Australian women – Elizabeth King, Jemima Bentley, and Melody Sole – who designed the dolls and clothing, the special qualities featured have already proven popular. “There are 11 different types of dolls, so the girls can choose a doll that looks like them,” King told Inside Retail Weekly. “So there’s [for example] the brunette doll with blue eyes, or green eyes or brown eyes.” Looking like little girls rather than the babies that dolls are traditionally modeled on, the Florrie dolls also offer different shaped faces and skin tones. “We worked with the manufacturing company on sculpting their faces and how they’re going to look – even down to small details that I’m not sure people notice very much, such as their nails being ever so slightly painted so it looks like they have French-tipped nails,” King said. The trio was inspired to start the business through the impact of US brand American Girl Doll. “I saw the need in the Australian market; the dolls and the matching outfits are now huge over there,” King explained. “My sister-in-law lives in the US and Chicago has one of the big flagship stores. I have a little girl, so when we went over there we’d always visit the store. But it’s so expensive to ship, so I thought we should do it ourselves. “We’ve had quite a few girls come in who know the American Girl brand, that they’ve grown up with, who are absolutely beside themselves and very excited that there’s somewhere here they can go.” As far as retail planning goes, the concept was quickly put in motion – the trio started thinking about the concept around August 2014 and opened the store two weeks before Christmas 2015. “We had a gorgeous situation – between Christmas and New Year, we had four generations come in. A great-grandmother bought her grand-daughters all a doll and a matching outfit; they took photos and it was a really great thing to see all these women in a family, down to the little girls, coming in and sharing something together.” Clothing starts from two years, though the main target market is girls aged six to 11 years. Every year Florrie will offer a spring/summer and an autumn/winter range so the clothing will change seasonally for both the children and the dolls. Store story Located in the popular Melbourne shopping strip of High St Armadale, which is in the centre of the city’s more affluent suburbs, there are many cafes and bridal stores as well as children’s wear and toyshops nearby. Two private girls’ schools and a local primary school are within waking distance, with a kindergarten and a playground not too far away. Many young families also live in the surrounding area. A drawcard is the focus by Florrie’s interior design company, Design Clarity, on creating a fairytale-like experience for children to roam and explore. A moveable Ferris Wheel and green hedges in the shopfront window create a garden entrance scene. “We drew inspiration from laying out the store like an enchanted forest,” explained design director Nathan Carey. “Upon entering, customers are drawn directly to the central tree feature with hanging swings for children to go and choose their doll as a first point of contact.” The large timber tree is the store’s hero feature. “The tree not only provides an amazing structure to merchandise, it provides maximum wow factor and reinforces the brand narrative,” Carey said. Other instore elements, such as a ‘horse and carriage-like’ clothes display unit and a French-folly inspired café area, were also key components in creating the overall experience. The café is another major feature of the store, according to King. “The girls can come in and have cake and coffee with the little dolls and their mothers as well,” she said. “It’s very sophisticated for little girls, but we’ve done it in a way that it’s quite magical as well.” The décor is classic, clean modern lines. All of the cabinetry is a gray colour, highlighted with items in the brand colours of aqua and pink. Lux features include oak herringbone engineered parquetry flooring, Carrara marble benchtops, feature mosaic tiles in the Florrie brand colours in the bathrooms, and rose-gold powder coated details throughout. “We’ve really tried to create an experience,” King explained of the investment in premium components in the Florrie store. “So when they come into the shop, they’re not just coming in and buying something and leaving. They come in and they stay; and they really do stay – especially having the café, they really stay.” Something a little different for a retail space is a photo booth at the back of store. Not pre-built – the booth comprises a lovely seat purpose-built for children to sit with their dolls, facing the camera. Popular merchandise includes sunglasses – for dolls as well as girls, and little pets will soon be available. “We’ll be releasing this weekend a puppy dog and a kitten with a little lead set and a high-end carry bag that the girl can carry the dog or cat around in,” King said. In addition, a signature fragrance has been produced as Florrie’s perfume. This Florrie fragrance will also be used to scent the store, so when customers enter the store all of their senses will be engaged. The store is also attracting interest as an event venue to host, for example, children’s birthdays. “We’ve got our first birthday party on the 30th of January,” King noted. “We have a beautiful little party room that looks almost like a little wedding venue; it has sashes on all the chairs and sheer curtains and flowers hanging from the roof – it’s beautiful.” Carey said that all of these elements combine to successfully deliver an experiential experience for customers. “The combination of a retail store, party room and café gives a full brand experience for children and their parents,” Carey said. Moving forward Florrie is launching its online presence this month, with a website through which the company will sell its products and ship Australia-wide. It has already shipped to New Zealand and Sydney, which flags its next step. “We’ve already had people asking when we’re opening in Sydney, so I think Sydney will be the next step for us,” King revealed. King added that, further to having single standalone stores in Melbourne and Sydney, the three business owners could also be tempted by a shopping centre offer to open a third store. “I’d be interested to see how it’d go in a shopping centre – if we were approached by, say, Westfield or Chadstone or one of those. You get a lot of mums just going for a wander [in shopping centres] with the little ones. I would be interested to see how that would go in the future.” After Sydney, the trio has their sights on the Asian market for further Florrie expansion. “We actually think Singapore will be good after that, because that’s a huge market and they absolutely love that kind of thing over there.” And the timeline for this? “The Sydney shop within 12 months and Singapore another 12 months [after that].” Want more Inside Retail? Subscribe to Inside Retail Weekly now and get our premium print publication delivered to your door every week.