How Think Thornbury went from living room to high street

Maggie May and Josh Kelly outside their business Think Thornbury

Running a small business is hard work, but it’s also extremely rewarding. Just ask Maggie May and Josh Kelly. 

Driven by a desire to help others nurture their creative spirits, the pair set up the store and workshop Think Thornbury in May 2017, in a space formerly occupied by women’s yoga studio Eve.

For two years, May had been using the couple’s living room as the venue for the weekend macramé workshops she taught. When they began to sell out every weekend, the couple decided that it was time for a change.

“It became a bit much, so we started to look for a studio for me,” she tells realcommercial.com.au.

“We soon found a space that we really liked. We didn’t get it, but it gave us the idea of also opening a small retail space alongside the workshop and studio.”

Learn about: The difference between commercial loans and home loans

After six months of searching, the couple found the empty studio that they would later move into. While it wasn’t the open-plan warehouse that May had initially envisioned, it was a practical, light-filled space, with a high street location that allowed the business to stay true to its community focus.

“Warehouses aren’t typically found on the high street, so we knew we might have to make compromises on style,” says May. “And location was more important to us, because there was no point opening a space for the community if people couldn’t get there.”

Think Thornbury

The space is divided between a shop front and an upstairs creative space.

The couple took over the lease on 1 April 2017 and re-opened the shop on 28 May 2017, after a quick renovation. Just like that, the artist and the musician had become owners of a small business – one of roughly 2.2 million registered in Australia, according to ABS data.

“It was a huge learning curve,” says May. “The first major challenge was navigating how to apply for a commercial lease, and everything that’s involved in that. Because commercial and residential are very different, we really struggled with that at the beginning.”

Consequently, the couple recommend aspiring business owners to discuss their plans with a business consultant or an accountant before jumping in headfirst. (As does Jocelyn Taufika, founder of Arise Studio Health). And they also recommend aspiring small business owners to understand their reasons for doing so.

“One of the reasons why Think Thornbury has been really successful is because we had a really clear idea: We wanted to be a space for the community and we wanted to support local thinkers, makers and doers.

“Anytime we’ve encountered a challenge, we’ve gone back to those ideas and really gone, ‘why did we start this?'”

Asking lots of questions was crucial to this cafe owner’s success, too.

Think Thornbury

The couple moved to a commercial premises after outgrowing their home base.

It’s advice that certainly rings true in the wider retail sector, which has been hit hard by a perfect storm of slowing consumer spending, increased competition and changing consumer preferences.

According to REA chief economist Nerida Conisbee, it’s “the toughest sector right now” in the world of commercial property.

“Not only are we seeing low levels of retail spending growth, we are also seeing fewer people shopping in stores,” she says, before adding that some outlets, however, were managing to weather the storm.

“While it is tough, not all retail is doing badly; it’s highly location specific, and also dependent on how much other retailing is in the area.”

And there are advantages to moving into retail today, too, Conisbee adds.

“The higher vacancies mean that retail outlets have the most negotiating power at the moment.”