Long-time winemaker Shelley Cox has found a cost-effective way to promote and sell the brands of her Barossa community.
Cox is the founder of Makers & Merchants Barossa, a collective store showcasing the work of local designers and producers. Shelley pivoted from her 20-year winemaking career in 2018 to start her consultancy business guiding small businesses in the Barossa. In doing so, she identified the need for a collaborative space for freelancers and small businesses in the region. Cox established Workspace Barossa, the region’s first coworking space, in July 2019.
Now in its third year, Workspace Barossa has risen to the challenges of Covid-19 and continues to foster the ecosystem of entrepreneurs in the Barossa region, reaching 90% capacity – the space has 49 permanent members – and serving more than 200 businesses in the region. Shelley is a proud and committed member of the community who strives to provide support to both industry and regional organizations – as well as on the netball court!
Building on this spirit of collaboration and promoting businesses in the region, Shelley’s latest venture is Makers & Merchants Barossa – a fully equipped retail and online space designed to share the stories of regional producers and sell their products.
“I wanted to offer an opportunity”
Makers & Merchants Barossa was conceived in early 2020 as a pop-up store to showcase the best that the Barossa region has to offer – from established brands to emerging designers, artists and makers. But it wasn’t long before Cox realized there was an opportunity to create something bigger than a temporary store.
“I wanted to give creatives in our region the opportunity to grow their brands,” says Shelley. “I saw the bonds and collaborations that members of our other company, Workspace Barossa, were forming. And I decided we could do the same for local manufacturers and merchants.
Inspired by creating an inviting retail space that supports product-focused businesses, Cox wanted to help consolidate costs and minimize risk for these businesses. She realized that showcase opportunities are invariably cost-prohibitive in prime tourist areas such as the Barossa, so she set out to find a more cost-effective way for producers in the region to showcase their wares. .
“It’s a popular area with tourists, so it’s a great opportunity for local manufacturers.”
Making the most of the pandemic-induced e-commerce boom, Cox realized that an online store would allow for greater exposure, as well as domestic and international shipping, while allowing manufacturers of the region to focus on creating without having to worry about where or how they would sell their products.
Describing the Barossa as more than just a place – “It’s a feeling and a way of life”, she says – she is passionate about the regionality of each brand, which is a bit like a wine and its terroir, and the way each brand and its products represent where they come from.
“That’s why we wanted to bring the essence of this special place to you, wherever you are,” says Cox. “We want to share some of the unique people, products and places that make the Barossa an amazing place to live and visit.”
Makers & Merchants Barossa is now a permanent outlet in the heart of Tanunda, home to 16 bays filled with locally sourced, handmade goods. The company’s permanent brands include Sunshine Barossa Australia, Ben Murray Wines, Anthea Louise, Black Cat Gin, Katespots and Barossa Supply Co.
“In addition to our stand-alone store, we have a website selling a range of products selected by our collective members, which means we can ship the Barossa directly to you,” says Cox.
Addressing Covid-19 and other early challenges
Makers & Merchants was just getting started and Cox was approaching potential members for participation when Covid hit Australia. “It has obviously presented a huge challenge – no one has seen a situation like this which is so volatile for us in our personal lives but also in business.” Cox is grateful to the members of her foundation, who believed in her vision and, although the concept was untested, gave her their support and brands to share.
“It has been very stressful, as we are supporting a local team, as well as 16 small businesses which are also under pressure. Lockdowns across Australia meant tourism was not a source of income for the first 12 months. We have been supported by our local customers, as well as sending the Barossa Highway through our online platform.
It took 12 months for Makers & Merchants Barossa to obtain a liquor license to sell bottled wine and gin in-store – for a small family business, which has taken its toll.
“Having to navigate disputed submissions, calls, emails, phone calls, and support and shipping requests means we finally got our license approved in February 2022, after submitting our request initial in October 2020,” says Cox. “But we are now delighted that the in-store wine and gin offerings complement the total offer.”
Makers & Merchants is committed to creating a sustainable and engaging platform to support regional businesses. “In-store, we have a dynamic team of passionate locals who love being brand ambassadors for all of our members,” says Cox. “Behind the scenes, a team of specialists from marketing, administration and logistics supports our collective. We have people who take care of editorial, branding, social media and logistics.
She says sustainable business practices are a core part of the business, and she focuses on fairness and transparency and making sure her members get the best value for their involvement. “Throughout my career as a winemaker, a dear mentor, Stuart Blackwell, reminded me, ‘Do it once, do it well,’” she recalls.
A vision to share
Cox understands that effectively running and marketing an eCommerce store requires skills and time that many creatives don’t have. Makers & Merchants Barossa takes care of its makers website design, SEO, analytics, retail design and merchandising. “We help regional creatives and producers diversify their businesses by taking over day-to-day marketing and sales so they can focus on manufacturing,” says Cox.
She tries to help each of her creators reach a wider audience; for example, presenting their products in bundles alongside complementary merchandise, such as food and wine products and gift box ideas. “We have determined what we can do best so that they can continue to create, thereby promoting regional entrepreneurship and strengthening the local economy and the skills of its businesses,” she says.
The next step is to consolidate Tanunda as the company’s flagship store, then Cox aspires to share his vision and mission to create an e-commerce and retail platform connecting regional businesses in Australia with their local and interstate markets through a licensed model.
“I want to share my skills and expertise in building the Makers & Merchants brand, and showcasing the sustainable model, which can both share the creativity, quality and story of producers in each unique region and provide a practical and inexpensive commercial solution. – a stimulating service and incubator for product entrepreneurs,” says Cox.
Passionate about promoting local collaborations, Cox sees Makers & Merchants as more than just a store for area makers and merchants to sell products. “The website helps artisans reach new customers, giving them more time to create. Makers & Merchants Barossa provides professional assistance with marketing, content and product photography.