From the moment you lay eyes on Sydney based lifestyle store The Corner Booth, it is hard not to fall instantly in love. From the elegant black and white striped awnings that shade the shops entrance, to the range of greetings printed on the window, welcoming those from all different countries inside, The Corner Booth’s exterior has a lovely sense of familiarity that is simply irresistible.
Situated in the heart of the Annandale village in Sydney, The Corner Booth is owned by Leah Kress, the same clever lady who started the oh-so popular children’s boutique, Infancy. Boasting everything from the perfect baby or toddler gift to women’s wear, jewellery and treats for the home, The Corner Booth is filled with a carefully curated selection of beautifully designed and made products, sourced both locally and from across the globe.
We caught up with mum-of-three, Leah, who answered a few questions about herself, her incredible store, The Corner Booth, and what we can expect for 2017.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and your background – what lead you to open The Corner Booth.
I am a mother of three kids, who are all now more teenagers. My first retail store I opened was when my first one was a young child, so 17 years ago now. I had a non-retail background but at the time thought there was a need for a children’s style business in my local area. I then went on to open a chain of those stores, which I have since sold on and now have just the one store called The Corner Booth, which is at the same location but it was rebranded two years ago.
Your store is absolutely beautiful. Where did the inspiration come from for the store design?
We had the previous shop there for a number of years which was a very child focused store. When we rebranded, we wanted to try and keep the shop open to everyone in the community, something that would appeal to women as we still have children’s things but as equally to men, grandparents and the wider community. So we just tried to change the look to make it less kid-like.
What can people expect when they walk into your store?
They can expect to be surprised! We have continued to offer children’s products because that is what we have been known for being there 15 odd years but the store isn’t anything and it can be anything. We kind of change things around, our products evolve depending on where trends are going. At the moment we have these tribal killam purses and those sorts of things. We have pom poms key rings and rugs you can hang on walls - 6 months ago we would not have had that. As we see trends emerging we try and jump on them before it hits Kmart and the like. It’s a store that has a very eclectic offering but it changes all the time.
In terms of kids wear, what styles are you starting to see come through for Autumn and Winter this year? Are there any brands you are particularly excited about?
As much as possible, we try and stay loyal to the brands we have supported for years. We tend to add lots of smaller boutique brands in along the way but our core offering is the brands we have worked with for a long period of time that we know and love, and we know the community have faith in. They are brands like Munster, Rock Your Baby, Bella & Lace and all those sorts of brands. Then we will add smaller collections to bulk that up a little bit. I have found for us personally, having loyalty to brands and growing those brands in store - rather than switching it up depending on what the mood is - helps our customer base grow.
What about interiors? What trends are you loving for 2017?
At the moment I am really into the whole Moroccan inspired look. We have been doing lots of embroidered cushions, ottomans, rugs, wall hangings, purses – so we are kind of travelling down that route at the moment. And lots of plants! At the moment we are doing lots of greenery in the store. We have started to sell a few succulents and are having them potted up. So lots of plants, terrariums and that sort of thing at the moment as well.
First Infancy, now The Corner Booth, you have been doing this for quite some time now – what is your favourite thing about working in retail and owning your own store?
I particularly love having just the one store – which sounds stupid as having three stores was great fun – but one store has been a really joyful experience as I am more hands on than I have ever been. I really get to speak to the customers. Where before I used to flip between stores and just visit, now I am there, working with the staff more and interacting with the customers a lot more. So that has been a really fantastic experience as you get to see how people are reacting to the new products you are bringing in. People have really welcomed the change we have brought to the store and it has been great to see how that has been received. It has also been interesting seeing the demographic of our customer’s change. It’s not just Mothers coming in any more - It has opened the door to many different areas now as well.
The industry – I just love it! I love the constant change with fashion and homewares and the challenges of anticipating those changes before it becomes mainstream. I love interiors and designing the store. Merchandising is my big thing!
Obviously social media is huge now. Have you found social media has changed the way in which you do business?
When we started our first store we had a website after maybe two years but before that there was nothing. So yes, it has absolutely changed the way in which you do business, you can’t say it hasn’t. There are so many positives, but there are also so many negatives as well. The positives are that people can really get a feel for who you are and what you are about just through social media, without having to actually visit you so that’s a fantastic thing. The flip side to that however is that potential competitors can see what you are doing and copy you as well and undercut you in pricing. Obviously that happens here and with the overseas market with people being able to buy internationally. It is perhaps more difficult but I wouldn’t change it either, it is a new challenge that we have just embraced.
What’s next for you and The Corner Booth? Any exciting plans for 2017 and beyond?
The local competition as it is, both other children and lifestyle stores and stores like Kmart, and the challenges that they have brought up means that I think that this year we will look further abroad to source products. There will probably be smaller items that we will bring in from more international destinations, as well as capturing those new products that are coming through internationally and trying to get them into the store before they become mainstream. We are doing a few collaborations with some other people and trying to get some more exclusive products into the store that nobody else will have. That’s my thought process at the moment anyway…