Retail Review : Erika Boutique


Name: Hilda Simonds   Role: Buyer/Owner

Years visiting Reed Gift Fairs: For as long as it has existed, I’ve been visiting both Sydney and Melbourne. I love seeing different people and the chance to come up to Sydney to see suppliers in their headquarters as well as spending a few days at the event.

Product specialty: Primarily clothing, however my unique offering is the accessories component in my CBD store.

One word to describe what you do: Eclectic

“We stock over 3000 pieces across all sorts of  categories  like animals,  flowers, pearls – you name it, I’ve a brooch for it.”

Tell us a little about how you began your business?

Erika has been a family owned business for over 30 years, and I took it over about 11 years ago, adding my own passion for accessories and brooches. We stock over 3000 pieces across all sorts of categories like animals, flowers, pearls – you name it, I’ve got a brooch for it. I always source from the show – it’s the best way to constantly meet new people and collaborate for new ideas. One of my favourite memories is having met Erstwilder, at Reed Gift Fairs just as they started out – I was one of their first customers and now they are a huge global brand! Fashion has always been the core of what I do – focusing on corporate clothing initially with my store being in the Melbourne CBD, ranging right through to much more dressed up pieces for occasions Spring Carnival. I’ve had to completely change my market now and shift focus on casual wear, like elastic waisted lounge wear which has seen business increase a lot more over the past months with the change in my customers’ needs. I’ve had to adapt how I source, and stock a lot more one size fits all ranges so I can carry less stock but sell more quality rather than quantity.

Describe what 2020 was like for you:

It was the most challenging  year and financially devasting – there are 127 empty stores in Melbourne CBD retail – that’s looking at ground floor retail only and there is much uncertainty around when retailers can expect the city to really open up again  and  begin  recovery. COVID brought business in our CBD store to a screeching stop with the lack of tourism coming through and complete loss of the general day-today city buzz. We were closed from March to opening 2 days a week for the bulk of the year outside lockdown. Even though things have now improved, there are still general worries of being evicted – many retailers are unsure of just how long the government will protect us from the landlords so there is very much a mantra of “hanging in there” for now. When you are a smaller, independent retailer, you don’t have the backing of a parent company – so riding the COVID waves alone makes it a lot harder to cope in these situations.

When Victoria could finally begin to re-open after 2/3 year in lockdown – what did this look like for your store?

We had an initial burst of activity, but it went back to a lull once everyone had adjusted. We have had our second store opened in a shopping centre in the suburbs – with people still buying groceries and getting out of the house – it was only 10 weeks where we had to close this store so thankfully, this was our saving grace, only just – and we were able to survive, albeit much more slowly during the bulk of 2020.  

How has COVID-19 and the impact it tore throughout  the  retail  industry, changed the way you think about your business/customer?

Our customers definitely are buying less, and buying what’s available right now which in turn has meant we operate on a smaller scale and have focused on  better  quality  products  instead. I keep old Reed Gift Fairs event guides as a resource so have been able to look back through and refer to my past notes and call up suppliers throughout the year to order what I’ve needed as my business model changed. Most suppliers sent through emails consistently, so I used those to stay updated and learn about what’s in stock and impacted delivery times which helped me realign my ordering strategy. 

I also used this time in 2020 to introduce ‘phone and collect’ – I converted  my  shop  windows  to  look like a webpage so consumers could see the items, call through and order and collect through the door. I also re-did the website to make the most of the spare time forced upon us Melbournians in 2020 so I’ve been able to upgrade and invest time into creating  an  improved  online  space.  In 2021, I’ll continue with this process and working with someone to evolve into an even more sophisticated website with an ecommerce capability which can support my bricks and mortar stores.

Why do people return to your store?

Our reputation really does precede us, we have a very loyal customer base. They know what I stock, they like the quality of my goods and the variety. I don’t keep old stock, I like fresh products in store all the time so am constantly having sales to move old stock and make way for the new and my customers know to expect that which is why they keep checking in! I also pride myself on my window displays, then can be seen from far and wide so I make sure I change my window twice a week – and give potential customers passing by always something new to look at. This is how you stand out from the rest.


“Buy close to the season so you can read your customers, judge their mood and get a sense for what you need to stock in your business.”

What advice can you give other businesses who are starting out in terms of sourcing products and looking for the next best sellers?

Buy close to the season so you can read your customers, judge their mood and get a sense for what you need to stock in your business. You don’t want to be stuck with things you can’t sell, be very cautious buy conservatively during this time. Less is  more  – better  quality  product  is  better to sell than 3-4 cheap items. Look at overheads – and know your lease terms. Windows have always been a focal point of what I do – plus beautiful displays throughout my store – often a customer doesn’t know what they want, if you put it in front of them in a visually appealing format, that’s often the trick that makes them realise they do want it. Create little stories throughout your store – sequin masks, little jewellery collections on the counter. Also, look the part – wear the things yourself to open the conversation and start a conversation with your customer.

What new features, trends or products would you like to see at Reed Gift Fairs?

I think it’s a big part of the exhibitors job to present something new for us retailers to discover. I love being able to meet them in person, that 1:1 relationship created at a trade fair makes it a lot easier to follow up post show when I have a face to the name,  and  an  interaction  to  draw  upon. When I attend, I plan my time over two days so I can get a good sense for the fair, and make sure I don’t miss anything so it helps if exhibitors have stand displays  that grab my attention as I’m walking around the show – there is so much to take in at any one time!   

Why do you love what you do?

I’m creative at heart. I like the customer interaction that my store provides me and I miss my clients. I like being a people person – it’s so special to have a customer return and tell me why they loved their last purchase and how my advice helped them feel better. Im always honest with my customer and build rapport through my honest customer service. Plus, I just like what I do, despite this pandemic!

Published 1 February 2021

Erika Boutique

VIC  3000

(03) 9642 5911