Growing pains: The beauty, and challenges, of expansion

Chris Pickings founded Pickings and Parry in 2012 in response to what he saw as a gap in the market for heritage and quality menswear and accessories. Last year, he also opened a womenswear store and now runs two side-by-side stores on Gertrude St, Fitzroy. We spoke to Chris about the challenges and opportunities that come with rapidly expanding a small business.

My dad died when I was 10, and I inherited a bunch of his vintage clothes and records. Holding that pile of the belongings that he cherished really kick-started my love of quality and heritage menswear and accessories. My family had a shop when I was a kid growing up in the UK, so starting Pickings and Parry was almost a legacy. You could say it was in my blood.

Before opening Pickings and Parry, I moved to Melbourne to work in engineering. I’d heard Melbourne was renowned for being the fashion and style capital of Australia, and I came expecting to find quality men’s fashion on every corner. But it wasn’t really a thing. Everyone was in skinny jeans and shopping in op shops.

I soon realised there was very little choice in terms of quality menswear. Coming from the UK, that amazed me. There, spending money on nice clothing is a rite of passage.

Rolling the dice on a new business idea

One night, I was having drinks with my wife and my friends at Gerald's Bar in Carlton North, complaining about the lack of good menswear shops in Melbourne. Without too much thought I said, “I should open a store that sells high-quality things, like shops used to before everything became cheap and disposable!”

I wasn’t taking myself too seriously, but everyone was really supportive of the idea. So I did a short business course and then my wife and I rolled the dice on the idea, so to speak.

It was very scary. It still is scary. I had been employed since leaving school in a stable industry, so I’d never had much debt and knew I could get a job pretty easy. Quitting my job and borrowing money to do something speculative was terrifying.

“What if?” and the decision to grow

Sometime in our third year of business, we made a profit – and that’s the moment we realised Pickings and Parry was a viable concept. Around the same time, we’d started to receive a lot of enquiries about womenswear. Although we’d already started to think about expanding, things hadn’t fallen into place. Then in March last year, we noticed a space being built down the road with two stores side by side. It was a spot of luck really. It made us think, if we don’t go for this now we could be left kicking ourselves, always wondering, “What if?”

So we decided to move spaces and turn one of them into the womenswear store. It was a big risk but it was a case of “now or never”.

It’s been an absolute rollercoaster since then. Everything has doubled: one store to two. One website to two. It’s a lot! In the first year, I was the only employee and we did our accounting on a massive spreadsheet. But we knew that wasn’t going to work forever – especially as we took on new employees.

Mapping the business in one place

For any small business with working capital constraints, growth and cash flow are the issues. Things like multiple payment types and channels get so complicated that we need a way to map everything into one place. That’s where Xero comes into effect. The visibility is crucial to us – seeing what’s going where and when, and tracking forecasts and future orders.

The ease of functionality and accessibility of Xero has also been a fundamental part of learning where to delegate as we grow. We now engage a bookkeeper, and she has been able to take total ownership through Xero over the last few months. That’s been especially important as we’ve grown – but we know the functionality and understandability still makes Xero right for us as business owners too. We’ve never needed to even try a competitor’s software.

As the first store in Melbourne to do what we do, I’m proud that we’ve converted a lot of people to thinking more about what they buy and why they’re buying it. The aspect of having a shop that is also a community is really important for us. I always think back to the opening night of our two new stores as an example of that. The turnout was huge and very supportive.

It felt like we had successfully built a community out of an idea, and that’s the beauty of business for me.