Proud local creates shop window for Barossa producers

Long-time winemaker Shelley Cox has founded a cost-effective way to promote and sell brands from her community.

Shelley Cox is the founder of Makers & Merchants Barossa, a collective store showcasing the work of local creatives and producers. Shelley pivoted from her 20-year winemaking career in 2018 to start her consultancy business guiding small businesses in the Barossa. In so doing, she identified the need for a collaborative space for the region’s freelancers and small businesses. Shelley established Workspace Barossa, the region’s first co-working space, in July 2019. Now in its third year, Workspace Barossa has dealt with the challenges of COVID-19 and continues to foster the Barossa’s entrepreneur ecosystem, reaching 90 per cent capacity – the space has 49 permanent members – and servicing over 200 businesses within the region. Shelley is a proud, committed community member who strives to provide support across both industry and regional organisations – as well as on the netball court!

Building on that spirit of collaboration and promoting the region’s businesses, Shelley’s latest venture is Makers & Merchants Barossa – a fully serviced retail and online space conceived to share regional producers’ stories and sell their products.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity”

Makers & Merchants Barossa was conceived in early 2020 as a pop-up store to showcase the best of what the Barossa region has to offer – from established brands to emerging designers, artists and makers. But it wasn’t long before Shelley realised that there was an opportunity to create something bigger than a temporary shop.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity to our region’s creatives to grow their brands,” Shelley explains. “I saw the connections and collaborations members in our other business, Workspace Barossa, were forming. And I decided we could do the same for local makers and merchants.”

Shelley was inspired to create a welcoming retail space that supports those in product-based businesses. She wants to help consolidate costs and minimise risks for such businesses. She realised that shop-front opportunities invariably come at a prohibitive cost in prominent tourism areas such as the Barossa, so she set about finding a more cost-effective way for the region’s producers to showcase their wares.

“It’s an area popular with tourists, so this is a brilliant opportunity for local makers.”

Making the most of the pandemic-induced boom in eCommerce, Shelley realised that an online store would allow for greater exposure, plus national and international shipping, all the while allowing the region’s makers to concentrate 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 – Shelley is passionate about the regionality of each brand, which is much like a wine and its terroir, and the way in which each brand and its products represent where they are from.

“That’s why we wanted to bring the essence of this special place to you, wherever you are,” Shelley avers. “We want to share some of the unique people, products and places that make the Barossa such an incredible place to live and visit.”

Makers & Merchants Barossa is now a permanent retail location in the heart of Tanunda, housing 16 bays filled with handmade and locally sourced goods. The enterprise’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 curated range of products from our collective members, which means we can ship the Barossa direct to you,” Shelley says.

Taking on COVID-19, and other early challenges

Makers & Merchants was just getting going and Shelley was approaching potential members for their participation when COVID struck here in Australia. “This obviously presented a huge challenge – no one has seen a situation like this that is so volatile for us in our personal lives but also in business,” she laments. Shelley is eternally grateful to her foundation members, who believed in her vision and, although the concept was untested, gave her their support and their brands to share.

“It has been very stressful, as we support a local team, as well as 16 small businesses who are also under pressure,” Shelley says. “Lockdowns across Australia meant tourism wasn’t an income stream for the first 12 months. We’ve been supported by our local customers, as well as sending the Barossa interstate through our online platform.”

It took 12 months for Makers & Merchants Barossa to obtain a liquor licence to sell bottled wine and gin in-store – for a small family business, that took its toll. “Having to navigate contested submissions, appeals, emails, phone calls and requests for support and expedition meant that we finally got our licence approved in February 2022, having submitted our initial application in October 2020,” Shelley explains. “But we are now excited that the wine and gin offerings in-store complete the total offering.”

Makers & Merchants is determined to create a sustainable and engaging platform to support regional business. “In-store, we have a dynamic team of passionate locals who love being brand ambassadors for all of our members,” Shelley says. “Behind the scenes, a team of marketing, administration and logistics specialists support our collective. We have people who look after copywriting, brand strategy, social media and logistics.”

She says sustainable business practices are a core element of the enterprise, and she focuses on being fair, transparent and ensuring her members get the best value for their involvement. “Throughout my winemaking career a dear mentor, Stuart Blackwell, would remind me, ‘Do it once, do it right’,” she enthuses.

A vision to share

Shelley understands that managing and effectively marketing an eCommerce store takes skills and time, which many creatives don’t have. Makers & Merchants Barossa looks after its producers’ website design, SEO, analytics, retail design, and merchandising. “We help regional creatives and producers diversify business by taking on the day-to-day marketing and selling so they can focus on making,” Shelley explains.

She endeavours to help each of her makers reach a broader audience; for example, by showcasing their products in bundles alongside complementary merchandise, such as food and wine products and gift bundle ideas. “We have worked out what we can do best, so that they can keep creating, thus fostering regional entrepreneurship and building the local economy and its businesses’ skill sets,” Shelley says.

The next step is cementing Tanunda as the enterprise’s flagship store, then Shelley aspires to share her vision and mission of creating an eCommerce and retail platform connecting regional businesses in Australia with their local and interstate markets via a licensed model.

“I want to share my skills and expertise in building the Makers & Merchants brand, and showcase the sustainable model, which can both share the creativity, quality and story of the producers of each unique region and provide a practical, low-cost, business-boosting service and incubator for product entrepreneurs,” Shelley enthuses.

Passionate about fostering local collaborations, Shelley sees Makers & Merchants as more than just a store for the region’s makers and merchants to sell products. “The website helps artisans reach new customers, leaving them more time to create,” she explains. “Makers & Merchants Barossa provides professional support with marketing, content and product photography.”

We collected a few insights into what being a part of the collective has done for businesses, from some Makers & Merchants Barossa members:

Carol Dadds, Sunshine Barossa Australia

“I understand the work that needs to go into marketing to be successful. I’m excited about the retail store space in the main street of Tanunda. It’s an area popular with tourists, so this is a brilliant opportunity for local makers.”

Dan Eggleton, winemaker at Ben Murray Wines

“The new store in the heart of Tanunda allows members of the collective to host tastings, workshops and events. We joined Makers & Merchants Barossa, as it fits with our direction for the brand. We don’t sell Ben Murray to many retail outlets. We sell our wine where it’s understood, appreciated and championed, and not seen as a commodity. Makers & Merchants Barossa offers this same philosophy and we’re proud to be part of it.”

Libby, Barossa Supply Co

“The highlight has been growing our brand, Barossa Supply Co, from when we started a few years ago, and building relationships with new wholesale suppliers. It’s been such a busy year, but one that we’re so very proud and excited about. Our membership with Makers & Merchants means that we have more time to dedicate to our new product development, as well as a great new product launch opportunity.”

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine