Long-time winemaker Shelley Cox has found a cost-effective way to promote and sell brands from her Barossa community.
Cox is the founder of Makers & Merchants Barossa, a collective store showcasing the work of local creatives and producers. Shelley pivoted from her 20-year winemaking career in 2018 to start her consultancy business guiding small businesses in the Barossa. In so doing, she identified the need for a collaborative space for the region’s freelancers and small businesses. Cox established Workspace Barossa, the region’s first co-working space, in July 2019.
Now in its third year, Workspace Barossa has dealt with the challenges of Covid-19 and continues to foster the Barossa region’s entrepreneur ecosystem, reaching 90 per cent capacity – the space has 49 permanent members – and servicing over 200 businesses within the region. Shelley is a proud, committed community member who strives to provide support across both industry and regional organisations – as well as on the netball court!
Building on that spirit of collaboration and promoting the region’s businesses, Shelley’s latest venture is Makers & Merchants Barossa – a fully serviced retail and online space conceived to share regional producers’ stories and sell their products.
“I wanted to provide an opportunity”
Makers & Merchants Barossa was conceived in early 2020 as a pop-up store to showcase the best of what the Barossa region has to offer – from established brands to emerging designers, artists and makers. But it wasn’t long before Cox realised that there was an opportunity to create something bigger than a temporary shop.
“I wanted to provide an opportunity to our region’s creatives to grow their brands,” Shelley explains. “I saw the connections and collaborations members in our other business, Workspace Barossa, were forming. And I decided we could do the same for local makers and merchants.”
Inspired to create a welcoming retail space that supports those in product-based businesses, Cox wanted to help consolidate costs and minimise risks for such businesses. She realised that shop-front opportunities invariably come at a prohibitive cost in prominent tourism areas such as the Barossa, so she set about finding a more cost-effective way for the region’s producers to showcase their wares.
“It’s an area popular with tourists, so this is a brilliant opportunity for local makers.”
Making the most of the pandemic-induced boom in e-commerce, Cox realised that an online store would allow for greater exposure, plus national and international shipping, all the while allowing the region’s makers to concentrate on creating without having to worry about where or how they would sell their products.
Describing the Barossa as more than just a place – “It’s a feeling and a way of life,” she says – she is passionate about the regionality of each brand, which is much like a wine and its terroir, and the way in which each brand and its products represent where they are from.
“That’s why we wanted to bring the essence of this special place to you, wherever you are,” Cox says. “We want to share some of the unique people, products and places that make the Barossa such an incredible place to live and visit.”
Makers & Merchants Barossa is now a permanent retail location in the heart of Tanunda, housing 16 bays filled with handmade and locally sourced goods. The enterprise’s permanent brands include Sunshine Barossa Australia, Ben Murray Wines, Anthea Louise, Black Cat Gin, Katespots and Barossa Supply Co.
“In addition to our stand-alone store, we have a website selling a curated range of products from our collective members, which means we can ship the Barossa direct to you,” Cox says.
Taking on Covid-19, and other early challenges
Makers & Merchants was just getting going and Cox was approaching potential members for their participation when Covid struck Australia. “This obviously presented a huge challenge – no one has seen a situation like this that is so volatile for us in our personal lives but also in business.” Cox is grateful to her foundation members, who believed in her vision and, although the concept was untested, gave her their support and their brands to share.
“It has been very stressful, as we support a local team, as well as 16 small businesses who are also under pressure. Lockdowns across Australia meant tourism wasn’t an income stream for the first 12 months. We’ve been supported by our local customers, as well as sending the Barossa interstate through our online platform.”
It took 12 months for Makers & Merchants Barossa to obtain a liquor licence to sell bottled wine and gin in-store – for a small family business, that took its toll.
“Having to navigate contested submissions, appeals, emails, phone calls and requests for support and expedition meant that we finally got our licence approved in February 2022, having submitted our initial application in October 2020,” Cox explains. “But we are now excited that the wine and gin offerings in-store complete the total offering.”
Makers & Merchants is determined to create a sustainable and engaging platform to support regional business. “In-store, we have a dynamic team of passionate locals who love being brand ambassadors for all of our members,” Cox says. “Behind the scenes, a team of marketing, administration and logistics specialists support our collective. We have people who look after copywriting, brand strategy, social media and logistics.”
She says sustainable business practices are a core element of the enterprise, and she focuses on being fair, and transparent and ensuring her members get the best value for their involvement. “Throughout my winemaking career a dear mentor, Stuart Blackwell, would remind me, ‘Do it once, do it right’,” she recalls.
A vision to share
Cox understands that managing and effectively marketing an e-commerce store takes skills and time, which many creatives don’t have. Makers & Merchants Barossa looks after its producers’ website design, SEO, analytics, retail design, and merchandising. “We help regional creatives and producers diversify business by taking on the day-to-day marketing and selling so they can focus on making,” Cox explains.
She tries to help each of her makers reach a broader audience; for example, by showcasing their products in bundles alongside complementary merchandise, such as food and wine products and gift bundle ideas. “We have worked out what we can do best, so that they can keep creating, thus fostering regional entrepreneurship and building the local economy and its businesses’ skill sets,” she says.
The next step is cementing Tanunda as the enterprise’s flagship store, then Cox aspires to share her vision and mission of creating an e-commerce and retail platform connecting regional businesses in Australia with their local and interstate markets via a licensed model.
“I want to share my skills and expertise in building the Makers & Merchants brand, and showcase the sustainable model, which can both share the creativity, quality and story of the producers of each unique region and provide a practical, low-cost, business-boosting service and incubator for product entrepreneurs,” Cox says.
Passionate about fostering local collaborations, Cox sees Makers & Merchants as more than just a store for the region’s makers and merchants to sell products. “The website helps artisans reach new customers, leaving them more time to create. Makers & Merchants Barossa provides professional support with marketing, content and product photography.”
- This article first appeared in the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine