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ARTICLE Business TipsMay 4, 2016

Creating the perfect lifestyle store: a Q&A with Opus

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The number of online gift and lifestyle stores is increasing exponentially. Opus opened their first bricks and mortar store in 1968 and launched their first website in 1998 – they were one of Australia’s first online gift stores. We speak to Director, Chris Tourgelis, about the how the business has grown over the years, if they find the environment increasingly competitive and how they cope with busy days like Mother's Day.

Search for a product or gift online and chances are you will be flooded with website options. There seem to be so many gift and lifestyle stores online nowadays, it’s a struggle to imagine how they all survive. Open the websites and it quickly becomes clear what some are doing right: an attractive, easy-to-use site with good quality images and a sense of the brand, often through editorial content and social media. We speak to gift guru, Chris Tourgelis, about the Opus site and how they have managed to run a competitive business for half a century.

You launched your website in 1998 – back in the early days! What was the website like and what sort of reception did you receive?

In the 90s retail was thriving in Sydney – you’d open the door in the morning and it would be busy from then on. Paddington was going through its real zenith so it was a really crazy time. Launching the website wasn’t so much about expanding the business. It was more a statement about being progressive and at the leading edge. People would treat it like a catalogue – they would browse the website and then come in. It took quite a few years for it to become a consistent business in its own right.

How does the online store now compare to the bricks and mortar stores?

It’s about 10-15 per cent of our business depending on the time of the year. So it doesn’t do what our bricks and mortar stores do but then you have to remember our flagship store is 50 years old so it’s got a really massive following.

The website looks great as do your Instagram images. What sort of team do you have working on your site and images?

We have three dedicated people who look after everything from the website to maintaining all our social posts and social media strategy. They also do a lot of the photography, so it’s a really great team.

Is social media an important part of the business?

It’s really important. Things like Instagram spark up people’s day and beauty really inspires people. It’s great for us to be able to show our objects in a lifestyle setting and that’s in keeping with the direction we’re heading in, which is more lifestyle rather than gifts.

Why the shift to lifestyle?

I think this has come from we’re I’m at personally in my life. I’m 44 and I am now more interested in beautiful things and enjoying those things. I love nesting and creating a haven for me and my family. I didn’t think about that so much when I was in my 20s and 30s.

How did you manage online payments in the beginning?

Back in the early days we received the order and processed it manually which was really archaic and probably not very safe but there was no other way to do it. Getting SecurePay on board has been amazing actually, flawless. I don’t think we’ve had one hiccup since we signed up. The fact that it’s SecurePay gives people confidence in paying online, so it’s been an asset in that way too.

How do you find your stock?

We visit trade shows around the world and also travel to trade shows all over Australia. We also receive product submissions every day of the week from established brands and hopeful new companies, too. It is such a fun part of the job!

What are your big sellers?

Most of the interest is coming from our homewares and furniture. Rugs, luxury cushions, gorgeous side tables… People are really interested in beautiful things for their home at the moment.

Can you detail three ways you manage to stand out from the competition?

  • Longevity is the first – it takes time to build up interest and trust.
  • Our mix of products is unique. You can find a lot of the products we stock in other places but I think our mix is eclectic and we keep surprising our customers by going into new categories.
  • We deal with a lot of local suppliers that are very small and highly specialised. We include big brands but we love dealing with local artisans and small businesses.

How do you prepare for and cope with Mother’s Day?

We ran a really successful campaign, which we launched about two weeks before Mother’s Day. We had products in local papers and also on the TV show The Living Room. We have more dedicated staff for the online store and our packing team is very busy packing orders. We also have a special Mother’s Day curated section on the website and in the stores, to make it easier for our customers to find the perfect gift.

What are the most popular gifts for Mother’s Day?

Our number one seller is the Memo bottle – a flat drinking bottle the size of an A5 or A6 file – which has been developed by two Melbourne boys and it’s so beautiful. Our number two is the Orbit Keyfinder – a keyring which, when you download an app, can find your keys for you. We’re also loving the SOI Handbag Light which turns on in your handbag with a light touch, when you’re looking for something in the dark.

I notice you have order cut off dates. Do you offer an express service that enables people to order later?

We don’t normally do express options as our cut-offs are generally okay for people but we deal with individual requests if people are desperate for a last-minute option.

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