We had a chat with Heather Hobbs, owner of The Cup and Mug, to learn more about her love affair with Polish pottery.
How did you fall in love with Boleslawiec pottery and get to do this if you’re not Polish?
This is the question I’m asked more often than any other.
It’s interesting in itself because nobody goes to a store that sells Chinese made goods and asks “How did you decide to do this when you’re not Chinese?”
I guess people can immediately see that this crockery is not just a commodity, but because of its beauty and quality it has an intrinsic value. And it has a very distinctive style.
My discovery of Boleslawiec pottery is one of life’s serendipitous moments. I had been looking for a career change for a number of years. (read Gabby Stroud’s book “Teacher” for a great explanation of why).
My parents died in 2008 which gave me a small pot of money of my own. Around this time I also had breast cancer which gave me a lot of time to lie in bed and think. I decided I’d like to have a little shop which sold loose leaf tea and related goods eg teapots and cups.
My physiotherapist at the time, Kate Rogers, is not only highly skilled in her area but also has much wisdom regarding surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, parenting …. which she quietly gathers and imparts as she gently works on women’s damaged bodies. When I shared my dreams with her she told me where she’d just bought a lovely Polish teaset. I later saw a very small selection in that shop and immediately fell in love with the beautiful, robust pieces.
My small business mentor, Erik Ruebens, was very sceptical about the viability of my tea shop. I showed him the results of my research into Polish Pottery and he promptly declared that to be a much better idea! Erik advised me against opening a shop, saying “people don’t make money in retail”. (I now understand what he meant and would love to revisit the discussion). He was keen for me to import and wholesale the crockery. I attempted to do this in conjunction with selling to the public online and at markets.
I soon gave up on the wholesaling idea. Cold calling and fast talking and supercilious rejections were not for me. Markets and events were also problematic because most will only allow goods made by the seller, Australian made or at the very least, designed in Australia.
After a couple of years of struggling along in this way, I decided I would go for broke, rent a premise and open a store.
At the same time my older son, Tim, who had worked in hospitality while at uni was unsure about his future direction and tentatively suggested we could work together. I was thrilled by his offer and we opened the store and coffee bar in East Kew.
We have seen many changes since then and Tim no longer works with me except on Polish Festival days when we need all hands on deck. We have moved to a new home in North Fitzroy and no doubt the business will continue to evolve.
Very early on I was on the receiving end of more than one spiteful comment and asked some friends of Polish extraction if they thought it was presumptuous of me – a non-Pole – to be starting this business. I was so encouraged when they firmly answered, “Not at all. We just dismissed this as old-fashioned Polish stuff and now we see it with new eyes because of you.”
I feel privileged and glad to be able to bring this beautiful, high quality, handmade product to customers of a great diversity of backgrounds.
Any tips for people in the audience wanting to start a business or follow their passion?
Do something inherently worthwhile.
Find ways to avoid putting yourself under financial pressure.
Make sure it is your passion so that the non-financial rewards:
· feed your soul
· keep you motivated
· make it a valuable thing to have done even if it doesn’t succeed financially
How can people support you or buy from you?
· Come in person to our physical store at 153 St Georges Rd Fitzroy North
· Purchase from our online store at https://www.thecupandmug.com.au/
· Phone 0408 310 409 for personalised service
· Send an email to email@example.com
· Give gifts purchased from us
· Recommend us others by word or example eg use a Polish mug at work
Many of our customers were originally the recipients of a gift and love it so much they then purchase for themselves and for gifts
What’s the future goal for the Cup and Mug?
· Have more customers take up our offer of ‘shopping by appointment’ at a time that suits you. We recognise that it is hard when you work, live a long way from us and have other commitments but seeing the products in person is quite a different experience to seeing a photo.
· I’m not sure about ‘goal’ but the ‘dream’ for the Cup&Mug is something very unfashionable. I’d love to prove by example that it’s possible to run a modestly successful business dealing directly with the makers and customers, using other businesses that provide practical, essential services in the process eg transportation services but avoiding the parasitical aspects of the modern ‘retail industry’ as far as possible.