The Stables Surry Hills

After years of planning and a string of spaces that weren’t quite right, the gents behind The Stables in Bondi have finally opened their flagship space at 352 Bourke St Surry Hills. The space really speaks for itself, thoughtfully designed and appointed with the finest quality materials available – much like the brands they stock, and coffee they make. We popped in a couple of weeks ago to get a feel for the fusion cafe/retail space that is helping revive Sydney’s bricks and mortar shopping scene. With more of the space to evolve over the coming 6-12 months The Stables is sure to encompass a total consumer experience combining shopping, coffee, dining and events. We caught up with Benny for a chat about the unique concept.

Where did the concept for The Stables begin and how has it evolved over the past 3-5 years?

From its early inception to its current form The Stables has undergone a significant evolution. Five years ago we were a small distributer made up three partners and a semi-permanent staff member servicing our fashion stores. A big break was the offer to represent Moscot – this opportunity allowed enough growth to guarantee all three partners (now four) full time work and a semblance of a full time wage! The strength of the individual brands we had on our books gave us a good foothold in the Aussie market to continue our expansion from there.

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Essentially the retail avenue has been a bit of a distant reality for the last three years. We developed our retail concept over time and looked at a number of different sites. 352 Bourke St best suited our original concept. There are still a few elements coming together – we hope our customers will enjoy the rest of the ride with us.

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How do you see the menswear market in Australia compared to that of overseas, say Europe?
I am of the opinion that Markets around the world are all of the same mould. Especially when you delve into Menswear. We all want the same thing and there really isn’t too much room to reinvent the wheel with good menswear. Perhaps there are seasonal differences and challenges with each but at the end of the day we all want value in the product we buy and a certain level of service.

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Where do you source your brands from and what do you look for when doing so?
We are looking within the store to reflect what we do with our distribution brands and the first level has to be product. We are not seeking out the latest trends or following what is happening elsewhere. We aim to find brands with strong history and high quality product that will be appropriate for our customer’s season after season. Whillas & Gunn is a great example – sister brand to Australian company Kakadu Traders, who have been building hardwearing Australian outerwear since 1972 and share their expertise in manufacturing, technology and business structure with the next generation. This is the kind of energy we affiliate with, respect and enjoy and want to share with our customers.

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What challenges do Australian distributors and retailers face when looking to import and sell international brands?
Where do I start?! We are pretty fortunate to carry and represent the brands that we do, Moscot Garret Leight, Whillas & Gunn and Han Kjobenhaven. These are established global brands that we’re grateful to be partners of. The size of the market here is tough. It’s important to have partners who understand that whilst Australia is a big and relatively stable country, it’s a small market and expectations need to fall in line with our population size.

Talking menswear specifically, we’re constantly challenged to find a suitable number of good partner stores in the country to work with so distribution alone can be tricky, which is why we also retail a selection of the brands we distribute.

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Does the ever-present growth of online retailing threaten The Stables? What benefits does the customer have coming in store as opposed to buying online?
Online retailing poses a reasonable threat to The Stables as it does to all bricks and mortar business, its not peculiar to The Stables or fashion retail per se but across the board. What I do believe is that The Stables offers something that online can’t, in our service and a interesting enough brand mix and discoveries that customers will feel like a visit to us is time well spent and continue to support and invest that time with us. Above all we hope that our unique way of presenting ourselves across fashion and hospitality will result in an investment of time, more readily and easily made and customer satisfaction through service and experience.

On a side note there are so many businesses doing it tough out there, offering great service and product but also a with a cultural element and on top of all that, creating jobs. At the risk of sounding a little like Jerry Harvey, do your thing folks and support local business, its the right thing to do. Without solid and returning local support the business which you take for granted right now may not be there tomorrow, I see it far too often and its a shame that we all don’t do more. This applies to all business from your media, to groceries to next pair of shoes, support the business who will give it back.

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The Stables has long been the Australian distributer for a number of international brands you now sell through your retail space. How does that model affect the stores you wholesale to?
Hopefully it will encourage curiosity in our brands, promote awareness and become another avenue to share good product. We stock a select number of partner stores in the country that we consider the best. Where need be, we will restrict our retail presentation in honour of good business ethics and to show support to local shopkeepers that have stocked our brands in the past.

What brands should we keep an eye out for this summer at The Stables?
We have a couple of great retail finds that spring to mind for this summer. Alongside Whillas and Gunn and Han Kjobenhaven are Officine Generale, Highland and Norse Projects and for the Women; Edith Miller, 6397, ALC, Woman by Common Projects and Cecille. And for both him and her – Stevan Alan, a personal favourite for staples with a lift.

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Is the retail space the main focus or does the cafe share an equal focus – are the two vital for the success of the space?
Each part of the business is vital to the overall picture. One or the other is a lot tougher in a solo environment hence the desire to bring them under one roof and offer a different way to spend time and explore.

What advice would you give to those looking to start their own business?
Hard work and persistence will get you home. There are no secrets in business just a matter of how dirty you want your hands to get.

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James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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