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‘Knight in shining armour’: Aussie shop saw 1000% increase in sales after bushfires

Jane Robertson founded Millwoods Shoes, which specialises in loafers for women and children. Images: Supplied

Australia’s catastrophic bushfires have seen 2,400 homes lost and up to $4.5 billion lost from the economy, but some clever initiatives have helped small businesses not only stay afloat, but thrive. 

Wagga children’s and women’s shoe store, Millwoods Shoes, is one business. 

Founder and designer Jane Robertson told Yahoo Finance that while it’s always tight in the children’s shoe business, the drought and bushfire conditions that worsened from September saw locals - who usually bought her shoes - forced to significantly reel in their spending. 

“Because I'm a regional-based business and a startup, I was working on, initially, a very limited budget for marketing campaigns,” she said.

“So you're working on word of mouth, word of mouth, word of mouth. 

“I'd say our sales dropped off pretty quickly as the drought really started to bite.”

However, months later she’s seen a 1000 per cent growth in sales for the leather children’s and women’s loafers.

Millwoods Shoes was featured on the #BuyFromTheBush campaign, supported by PayPal, and went from having around 30 people visiting the website a day to around 400 visitors. 

The #BuyFromTheBush campaign aims to get Australians living in city areas to spend money on goods made by small rural businesses facing severe drought. 

“Those featured rely on predominantly farming communities to keep them afloat, which becomes difficult at a time of drought,” the campaign explains. 

“The ripple effects of the drought run deep through rural communities and affect many more people than those on the land.”

To Robertson, the feature was a saviour. 

“It really was just almost like this knight in shining armour that came along,” Robertson said. 

She described the exposure and “constant traffic” from the #BuyFromTheBush PayPal portal as “so invaluable”. 

Scaling to meet demand

A 1000 per cent increase in sales sounds daunting, especially for a small business to handle. 

However, Robertson said scaling to meet the demand wasn’t too difficult. 

She said that while she used to pick and pack her shoes after she put the kids to bed, now she’ll also shuffle her day around in addition to performing the extra work. 

“That's one of the most fortunate things you've got when you work for yourself, that you can actually do that,” she said. 

“You just wait a little bit and it's okay really.”

Bushfires’ economic impact

The fires’ economic impact has been estimated to be as large as 0.4 per cent of GDP

Now thoughts are turning to how to support local economies devastated by the blazes. Major companies, like NAB Bank, have encouraged staff to spend locally by giving extra leave. 

NAB will give its 30,000 employees an extra day’s annual leave to visit affected regions. 

Additionally, Tourism Australia has – in a rare move – directed a marketing campaign at travellers within Australia, not foreign tourists. 

The ‘Holiday Here This Year’ campaign encourages Australians to holiday in their own backyards, and inject some much-needed money into struggling local economies. 

The Empty Esky campaign also encourages Australians to go to affected areas with an empty esky, fill up on petrol, stay a night or two, buy local produce and goods, and leave having supported local businesses. 

The Australian government has also put an extra $76 million into the tourism and hospitality industry to support businesses. 

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