Shelly Collins is a French poster lover, and The co-founder of The Galerie Fitzroy.
At our most recent event, Shelly shared her whole hearted journey and wisdom from 20 years of small biz life as we were surrounded by her beautiful space and works. Shelly encouraged us to ‘stay on our path and be who we want to be in our business’.
Here to get to know more about this self-described shop Gal, and her wonderful small business journey.
Brief background on you and your business journey:
The Galerie Fitzroy started life as Galerie Montmartre in October 2002. It was co-founded by myself & Stephan Trbuhovich, on our return to Melbourne from 7 years living in the US (San Fran & NYC, people!!), which is where we discovered the fabulous world of Original Vintage Poster art. We began as collectors, which became a true passion…and it would seem, calling! We started life as an online gallery, showing from a local storage facility & opened our bricks & mortar presence in March 2007. We were a crack business team, complimented each other well, we loved what we did, had untold amounts of enthusiasm & knowledge, all while bringing two little people into the world.
Life had other plans for us, however, as a major life crisis meant that I had to take over the reins in June 2010. Stephan was no longer able to continue his role within the business – he was busy fighting for his life & a whole new normal – & I have been at the helm ever since. We went from an on-street 7 day a week, 6 staff presence in a humongous old warehouse in a Fitzroy backstreet, to a one-woman (that would be me!) – 4 day a week, stunning bright, light ‘treehouse’ of a gallery & event space housed in a Victorian building over-looking Brunswick street. A massive transition that involved a great deal of thought, risk, a rebrand & a new way of doing things that would enable me to do what I loved, be the sole bread-winner to my little family, make it sustainable into the future whilst being fully available to my children…this year has been the first time I can honestly breathe again knowing that all is going to plan & whatever happens, we’ll be ok. And, most importantly, I have never loved working more in my life, as I can be fully present in the hours that I am at the Galerie & fully present when I’m home.
How did the idea for The Galerie Fitzroy come about?
The business has only been known as The Galerie Fitzroy for about four years now. Majority of our posters are French & I thought it was important to emphasise the fact that we are more than a retail space, that people can browse & treat the experience as simply looking & enjoying something unique – so using the word gallery made sense to me, but with a spelling that gave it a European flavour. Also, I adore gallery retail stores & thought that by using that word I was opening my world to be able to add a variety of products to the original posters, if I was inclined in the future. And honestly, the Fitzroy thing was a given, it was a nod to the fact that Stephan was pretty much born & raised in the area, and there was no other place we wanted to set up shop, having an intimate knowledge of this place & it’s people for 30+ years – it was important to me to recognise our past whilst re-branding & giving the business a fresh start.
What motivates you?
Connecting with people, leaving a little bit of magic in my day to day dealings with others, sharing my knowledge & passion to as many people as possible, conversation, creating something that is positive, unique & uses my natural abilities & talents & is 100% authentically me! Being a ‘good enough’ Mum, showing myself as human to my boys while raising them to be kind, thoughtful, insightful, funny, emotionally intelligent, content, independant young men.
What do you love most about your business?
That I can live my motivation every single day…and that I can work it to fit with my needs & that of my family. You own your mistakes & your triumphs in equal measure.
In one word, characterize your life as a start up/ business owner?
Who has been your greatest inspiration? Why?
Oh gosh, this is a really tough question to answer…I honestly don’t think there’s one. I feel inspired by so much & so many, honestly. I tend to gravitate towards women who are doing things with verve & spirit & belief in themselves in the small business arena. Since opening an actual retail space I now draw great inspiration watching others who have retail businesses I admire – I have a bevy of local shop gals & guys – owner/managers – who I call or email to chat about work, we are all in a similar boats even if our products are different. I love it.
Where do you get your creative energy from?
Well firstly, I think my family may have nurtured that in me. Dad is a writer & had a very successful career as a musician. My Mum is always creating something, a gorgeous courtyard garden, costumes for my boys, knitting, sewing, reupholstering & reimagining furniture. My Brother & I were completely immersed in the arts from the time we could talk. I love live music, theatre, art galleries, movies, travel & visiting other small retail spaces gets me super energised. I am also a big believer in self-care, baths, journalling, lazing around, day dreaming, regular trips to the beach, eating out alone – my best ideas come when I stop. So I stop a lot!!
What was a watershed moment in your business journey?
No doubt when Stephan collapsed with a grade 4 brain haemorrhage – he was the driving force of the business at that time, as I was home four days a week with our 4 & 2 year olds. I had to step up in ways I never imagined, it was an immense challenge to have to make so many decisions & have serious ‘business’ conversations under such enormous pressure. I felt stretched & overwhelmed. I made some terrible mistakes but I also made some smart choices. I never gave up, stayed optimistic & hopeful, even when everything wasn’t looking sustainable or possible anymore. People were downright mean, at times, but I found a freedom in that it made me go into myself even further. It’s really been the making of me, as it forced me to look at what I wanted for my life both personally & professionally. It was the beginning of carving a life that was simply about making every day as stress-free & fun as possible, while paying the bills, it taught me to say ‘no’ more & leave room to say yes to the stuff (and the people) that set my soul on fire. It also put me in a position of seeing what was other people’s nonsense & what I needed to take on for myself & learn from. I feel bloody invincible in every area of my life now, I don’t necessarily get everything right but I’m more honest with myself, my capabilities & my failings – and proudly own every single one of them. I also learnt that big isn’t necessarily better, so that gave me the freedom to re-think the way we operated & make some huge changes.
How is running a successful business different to what you may have thought it would be?
The fact that it sits in your head 24/7 – although, after almost 20 years of small business experience, you’ve pretty much faced every situation, so you know that you can get through whatever may present itself…therefore the 24/7 thinking isn’t quite as dominant or loud!
What do you struggle with most as a business owner?
My main struggle is cash-flow management, it’s easy to think when everything runs smoothly & you’re selling left, right & centre & everyone is blowing smoke up your butt, that’s the way it will always be. I’ve learnt that saving for a rainy day is absolutely essential in business…you never, ever, ever have the market sorted.
What’s next in store for you and The Galerie Fitzroy?
it’s time to get our headquarters up & running with events & exhibitions, some run by me, but mainly a hotspot for others to do their thing; continue to make the business as efficient as possible, financially & time-wise; I will be re-introducing my blog in coming months too…I love writing, it comes naturally, it’s time.
Given your experience, what pieces of advice do you have for women starting a business?
Stay on your own path! Usually the levels of enthusiasm & determination coupled with slight ignorance are at their highest in those early days – and I think you should hold onto all three as long as humanly possible!! If you believe in what you have & what you do, then do not be distracted by what anyone else is doing…it takes discipline, but it is worth it for peace of mind & in determining a clear path. It also sets good habits for challenging times, as you won’t be swayed by what so-and-so down the street may do, you have learnt to rely on your ideas. It means you remain unique!
Find like-minded mentors & cheerleaders; running a small business alone can be isolating & often misunderstood by those in your life who work for others; so find your tribe, those go-to people that you can trust with everything – if I was to sit my people at the one table, you wouldn’t get over how different we all are, but they all have a certain level of success in their chosen fields, I like who they are as people & how they go about life.
Keep your eyes & ears open to the world – never stop learning; watch trends, read newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, people watch, attend classes, conferences & retreats, travel…road trips an hour out of main cities are just as inspirational as an overseas jaunt, ask yourself what you’d like your life to look like in five years, then do all these things with that fuzzy plan in mind.
Any destination- where could we take you today?
Greece, my Grandfather’s birth-land – it’s time to get back & discover some new islands as well as return to his.