Tourists visiting Julia Creek tell Fiona Malone, the owner of Cooleebah Gifts, her shop is not what they'd expect to find there. Despite the remote location, Fiona has made her mark on the small town and is expanding to offer her products across Australia.
My name is Fiona Malone, owner of Cooleebah Gifts and we are based in Julia Creek, north-west Queensland.
Our business in one sentence is we offer good old fashioned service, and I'm always told we have unique products in store.
The best way to learn about my line of work is, for me, researching online, observing other businesses when I'm away, and just asking family, friends, for their advice.
I have employees, both local ladies, 2 of them, who come in and help me when I need them. The person who has helped me the most is obviously my husband. He's not the face of Cooleebah Gifts but he's behind the scenes.
Business experience for me when I first stated was zilch; I had no business experience at all, and it's been a huge learning curve. I actually wouldn't swap my job for a 9 to 5 role, even though the hours are a lot longer, 5 and a half days a week, but when you have a job that you enjoy, that is rewarding in itself.
I think just offering old fashioned service and trying to be as helpful as you can, people really, really like that I think.
Fiona purchased her business in the outback town of Julia Creek in 2008 when it was part of a pharmacy chain. For a while, she continued to run it unchanged then when the franchisor retired 2 years later Fiona put her own unique stamp on the business, and Cooleebah Gifts was born. Selling an eclectic mix of antique-inspired furniture, giftware and a small range of over-the-counter medication, the store represents Fiona's passion for design, and care for the wellbeing of the people of Julia Creek.
When Fiona purchased the business, trade was good, but with the closure of the railway station and years of crippling drought, the small population has decreased, along with the local economy. Despite this, tourism has increased and those that pass through often stop at Cooleebah Gifts. Many of them tell Fiona her shop is not what they were expecting to find in Julia Creek. Of particular delight for Fiona is that many of these passing customers stay in touch and purchase from her again. Her customer's tell her they prefer her shop in Julia Creek to other larger retailers'.
Fiona has taken the shop digital, increasing its exposure via social media. Sales have grown and Fiona now sends furniture and gifts all over Australia. Her version of attending trade fairs is spending hours online, sourcing unique products which very few other businesses, both local and national, offer. Every day Fiona opens Cooleebah Gifts feeling blessed to be part of the Julia Creek community, who understand the importance of supporting small business.