FK talks to Anna, owner of Perth shop Mr Sparrow
Tell us a bit about Mr Sparrow and the concept behind it.
My aim with Mr Sparrow was to create a haven for beautiful things. It is is a home, gift and garden store with a mix of old and new, designer and hand-made, with products sourced from all over the globe. The emphasis is on quality and good design, with each product telling a story, whether it is a beautifully-crafted teacup from the early 1900s or a modern lasercut steel shadow projector. I try to stock products that are really different and exciting, and that are not stocked elsewhere in WA or even Australia. I like to support smaller, independent designers whose focus is on unique and handmade products, and also love eco-friendly, organic or chemical-free products made from recycled or sustainable resources. From the beginning, I really wanted to create a space that was as exciting and enjoyable as the products themselves, so that people would come here as much for the experience as the products. I hope that visitors to my shop feel like they’ve stepped into another world for a few moments, and leave feeling inspired and excited by what they’ve seen.
When did you open the doors and what was the motivation?
I opened just over two years ago, in June 2008. It was something I had been thinking about for a long time – a little shop that brought together all the things I loved. I had managed a small business before and enjoyed it, and I have always been passionate about beautifully-designed objects, and filled my house with both old and new treasures, so I just knew that this was something I had to do. My husband and I went overseas for a year, living in Berlin and travelling through Europe and the USA, and I was busily collecting design and product ideas the whole time – taking photos, scribbling down brand names in shops, and collating a book of ideas. I got so excited by everything I saw there, I couldn’t wait to get home and open my own shop. When we got back I enrolled in the government’s NEIS course and started working towards opening my business. It took about another six months before I opened Mr Sparrow’s doors.
What labels & product do you stock and what are you always searching for?
I stock a mix of homewares, stationery, jewellery, accessories, children’s and babies’ gifts, gardening accessories, plants, and just lots of unusual gifts. Some of the Australian products I stock are Laikonik Once-A-Year Books, Claystone pottery, Amelie’s Room cot and picnic blankets, Daniela Tommasi scarves, and Have You Met Miss Jones bone china pieces. I also stock lots of international brands, including O-Check stationery, Perch! ceramics, KAHLA porcelain, Marjorie Victor jewellery, BOSKKE Sky Planters…and lots more! I’m always searching for something really innovative and different, anything that really gets me excited, either because of its clever design, its sustainability or its beauty.
What has been the most successful aspect of your store?
I think people really enjoy the atmosphere of the store, which is what I had hoped. I have a fishpond in an old bathtub, lots of fresh flowers and plants, and I try to display the products in a way that helps people to understand their functionality and picture them in their own home. Also, I have little hand-written postcards displayed with all the products that give a bit of information about the designer or brand, which customers really love. I always find it gives something so much more meaning if you know where it has come from and what has gone into making it. There is a bit of a sense of a Sparrow community, too, through my loyal customers, subscribers and blog readers, and I love that.
What is the design & art scene like in Perth?
It has changed a lot in the last few years. There are now lots of markets focusing on local handmade products, like the Perth Upmarket and Made on the Left, which is fantastic. There are also lots of little galleries opening up, or shops that also exhibit local art, especially around the city. I think there has been a global shift towards embracing local, handmade and independent design, and we have definitely felt that here in Perth. There are so many young, creative people doing exciting things, like the William Street Collective, as well as websites that promote the local art and design scene, like Sixthousand and Dropstitch. There is definitely a strong community feeling amongst independent shop owners and designers, and a sense of supporting each other, which is really nice.
What advice would you give to others wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I think if you feel the drive to start your own business, you have to at least give it a go because if you don’t then you will always be wondering what might have been. It’s definitely not an easy road to take, and I think you have to be really passionate about what you’re doing to make it work, but if it does then the rewards are definitely worth all the hard work! I’d also really recommend doing NEIS if you can because it really helps you to clarify your ideas and work out all the details you might not otherwise think about, plus it also provides a bit of financial support, which helps. As part of NEIS, you write a business plan, which I think is really important – even if you don’t stick to it, it really helps to break everything down and get you thinking about all that’s involved in starting a business, and it can be a really useful thing to go back to if you ever feel yourself losing your focus…which I find happens from time to time! I think doing lots of research and talking to other people in the industry can be really helpful too.
All the specific details:
Shop 3, 223 Bagot Road,
Subiaco WA 6008
Ph 08 9381 6362
Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5.30pm,
Saturday 10am – 5pm
and online all the time!