A few months ago writer CURTIS ANTHONY moved into Dulwich Hill and spent the first few months knowing no-one and trying to talk his friends into joining him in the area. Suddenly his friends have started doing just that, thanks to his strategy of writing and tweeting about the delights of his local landmarks, characters and businesses. Here he interviews Con and Poppy Arvanitakis, a married couple who own the excellent boutique timber furniture store, Habitat Furniture Warehouse, located next to the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL, and who are passionate about locally-made furniture …
Obviously anyone starts a business to make a living, but what else was part of the equation as far as you choosing to have a furniture business?
Con: I grew up in the industry so it is something that was very much a part of me. I always liked the retail industry and why not focus on something your an good at?!
Poppy: I married into the business and i love it!! I had beenworking in the hospitality industry and when i had the opportunity to enter ther retail market it was a refreshing change at the time.
What did you both do before starting Habitat Furniture Warehouse?
Con : I worked part time in a furniture store then left and completed a panelbeating course/ traineeship. But that was not for me.
Poppy: I worked in the hospitality industry whilst going to uni. I completed my bachelor of fine arts. Its something I’ve taken with me into this industry and has helped me alot when it comes to putting pictures and diagrams to words.
The area your shop is in, Hurlstone Park, are you both from around this area?
We both grew up in the local area and feel very lucky that we were able to stay here with our business. Its a wonderful multicultural and trendy area. We love it!
How important is the shop’s location, on busy Canterbury Road, been to your success?
Very Important! Many customers tell us how they noticed us whilst driving past. Canterbury Road directs a lot of traffic into and out of the city via the inner suburbs so theres a lot of people driving past.
Has the current economic downturn affected your business?
Actually we had a quieter year last year. This year has been okay for us and i think being a small business has helped as we have less overheads and therefore less expensive priced furniture. People look out for bargains during trying times.
You say on your website that you have a commitment to the local furniture industry? What are the reasons for having this approach? Is quality also better coming from within Sydney and Australia?
I can understand if someone can’t afford a good quality piece of furniture from habitat furniture and seeks an imported or cheap product produced from a country which may or may not have very low paying wages and conditions. But I’m afraid we are not one of those businesses that will support such a market.
Imported furniture is cheaper now than what locally made products were 15 years ago. That should tell us all that something is not quite right. We feel strongly about supporting the local industry for these reasons.
We know our workers rights and wages are good here and we also know that in the case of faulty goods problems can be fixed ASAP. There’s in nothing more satisfying than dealing with local manufacturers face to face and reaching an understanding and result that’s good for them, for us and for the consumer. I truly believe that at the end of the day you get what you pay for.
Now of course im not saying that all imported products are a no no.
Sometimes you just cant find things made locally so you must resort to the international market, but when there is a local market for it then isn’t it logical that it should be our first priority?!
There is just so much more choice and flexibility when things are made here. You can get things made to measure, you can get things colour matched, you can buy matching suites and pieces of furniture and there is less chance of designs being discontinued.
Last week when I was in your shop a lady came in and saw the sign saying that a particular special offer on an item “will not last” and she immediately asked the question “why will this piece of furniture not last?” … do you have any other strange/amusing anecdotes about what happens in the running of a furniture store?
People come in all sorts of shapes sizes and colours and so do their personalities.
The best one was when a customer rang us once to tell us that since she purchased a desk from us her child got the flu. I mean what do you say to that. Our only response at the time was “go see your doctor” i mean what else can you say? … but of course we said it in a more understanding way.
From a customer’s point of view, are there any advantages to dealing with a family-owned business such as yours, compared to dealing with a large furniture chain? For example, last year I bought a bed from one of the larger retailers. The salesperson mistook my order as being for the bed only, whereas I also wanted the mattress. So when the bed only arrived, I rang him up and said I wanted the mattress also. So he then told me I would have to pay another $50 for delivery of the mattress. It seemed pretty rude because it was him not listening that caused the mattress to not arrive. He refused to budge on that, so his neglect cost me another $50. Of course there is no way I would go back to that retailer again. And since then I did have to buy a new bed – so they didn’t get my business. Would you approach that situation differently as the retailer?
You just said it all. In our case we sell beds seperately to mattresses and we have a wide range of each. We would specify on your invoice the name of the bed and name of the mattress. Whether it was not ordered or just neglected by us would and should not make a difference. Of course we would have delivered it free. I mean thats nothing compared to what we have done in the past and its the only way to be if you want a good reputation in the industry. Being a small business certainly helps with that because we do not have to answer to anyone but ourselves. We wont get in trouble for giving a free second delivery (unless i slap my own hand LOL) but we would just be out of pocket … however that’s nothing compared to making customers happy. We can only do our best.
What’s the toughest part of running your business? The seven-day week for instance?
Yes the toughest is that it’s 7 days and it’s hard when it comes to running your own business and starting a family. I’ts just really tough to get that quality time with your family. The other thing is that if any problems do arise it comes from your pocket so that that can be pretty straining and stressful. But all jobs have their pros and cons.
Your store has 3 or 4 rooms, all very full – have you thought about moving to bigger premises?
Yes but then our overheads would be more and we dont feel there’s any reason to expand. We’re always wanting to put new products on the floor and so far we always manage to squeeze them in.
What’s your most popular furniture items?
TV or entertainment units and bookcases.
What do people buy more of from you, pine or oak?
Pine, its much more affordable than oak. It is a softer wood though but i think when it comes to price people dont worry much about this.
If someone was to buy one thing
Bookcases … they’re so cheap! And entertainment units.
Check out Habitat Furniture Warehouse and yes they can deliver anywhere in the Sydney metropolitan area. To see their range of furniture check out their website by clicking here.