This year marks nine years that the delightful Shelley Panton has had her one-site store open in Melbourne, offering a carefully curated array of artisanal homewares, objects and accessories. During that time the store has changed locations once, and today business is thriving in its Prahran premises, with Shelley still personally creating her range of wheel-thrown ceramic tableware in tandem. This woman has a lot on her plate (see what we did there?!) and we’re in awe of Shelley’s hands-on approach, along with the way she continually champions small batch and artisanal makers. The Dharma Door has been lucky enough to stock a range of our wares with The Shelley Panton Store for many years now, so it’s with great pleasure that we shine the spotlight on Shelley with this interview.
Tell us about your business, The Shelley Panton Store. When did it start and what path led you to opening?
When the GFC hit in 2008 I found myself unemployed from my role as an Event Stylist and Producer. Around this time I’d been yearning to set up my own creative enterprise – something with longevity. When I started looking for a house and studio to rent I stumbled across 88 Park Road. The site was a quaint century-old former Butcher’s shop and dwelling in the beautiful back streets of Middle Park. I knew I had found the right spot to have a go at starting my own store. I started to build a foundation for my pottery and to create a hub for other things I loved working with. In 2013 the Middle Park store was relocated to 440 Malvern Road, Prahran. And nine years on I am still making pottery alongside running the business, which trades seven days a week.
We are still just a one-site store with a tight knit team. I’ve never had a desire to grow my store to a multi-site operation. The thought of that doesn’t appeal to me. I created my business so I could have a job doing what I love doing. Keeping it small means I still get to do the things I love, which includes working on the store floor looking after my customers.
Where is the business based and what’s your space like?
We’re based in Prahran, an inner-city suburb of Melbourne. Our site consists of our retail space, my pottery studio, and the back-of-house facilities to run the store. Alongside my pottery we offer a range of indoor plants and gardening accessories, books, tableware, furniture, baskets, linens, soft furnishings, man gifts, goods for the little people, and utilitarian objects for the home.
Could you briefly describe your customers? What are they seeking?
We don’t have a typical customer. Rather we cater to a broad blend of locals of all age groups, as well as travellers, hipsters, pottery aficionados, interior designers, and architects. I think they’re seeking an experience, connection, ideas, eye candy and inspiration – a store with a considered edit of items for good living, and a place where they know they’ll find something they love for a gift, or something to take home and use themselves.
You have a strong commitment to building community. How would you say this has panned out through the life of your business so far?
Community remains the pulse for most small businesses. I’m passionate about working with smaller companies and makers, and helping them get their product to market. We still work with this sentiment today, however as the business has grown and many new suppliers have come on the market I have to be very selective when looking at new stock, as we only have so much shelf space, and I’m loyal to our many suppliers whose products are still well-loved by our customers.
Time management also means I no longer have the luxury of speaking with every supplier who drops in. In the beginning I would gladly make time for anyone, with or without an appointment. As the business has grown I’ve had to be really structured with my time and only meet suppliers by appointment, otherwise I’d never get anything done.
When I first started my business a handful of creative business people whom I admired from afar were very generous with their time and knowledge. I’m forever grateful for their generosity and make a point of paying it forward. For example, when new businesses who present a range that may need some more consideration with the costings or the way they are approaching other retailers, I’ll offer some feedback.
You curate a wide range of beautiful products – how do you go about selecting your stock? Does it have to meet any particular standards?
I pick products that I feel a connection to and are well considered by the maker or supplier. I’m generally drawn to goods that are made from natural materials, and have a good balance of form and function. I also look at the longevity of a product: will it age well, and is it eco-friendly? The Dharma Door ticks all of these boxes for us.
Wares I consider stocking must be correctly costed between the wholesalers and retailer. And the suppliers should be relatively organised and easy to deal with. Bricks and mortar retailers have high overheads to run a store, and limited admin time, so if a range isn’t costed correctly or if a supplier isn’t easy to deal with it makes me think twice about re-ordering.
What are some of your key style influences/inspirations?
Travel, time in nature, good living, sustainability and longevity are probably my biggest influences.
How long have you stocked The Dharma Door products? What drew you to them, and what items do you predominantly stock?
I’ve been stocking The Dharma Door since 2012. I loved that their jute products are hand woven and fair trade, made by makers who Mick and Shannon have personally met. The quality is excellent, meaning our customers can buy once, and buy smart.
I also share a common thread with Shannon and Mick having all spent our childhoods in Queensland in the 1980s. There’s an unspoken understanding between our senses of humour and our love for good living. They are lovely people to deal with.
What is your best-selling The Dharma Door product? And why do you think that is?
We are long-term stockists of the jute baskets. Our clients love their timeless design and ease of use. They are both functional and smart, can be moved from room to room, and can easily change purpose and still work.
As well as running your bricks & mortar store and online shop, you also create your own range of pottery/tableware. Tell us about this? How do you divide your time between the different tasks?
The pottery is the heart and soul of how my business started. Nine years on I still love my studio time. My passion is to create functional food vessels. As the business has grown I have had to really structure my time. Some days at the store can be very unpredictable between deliveries, drop-ins, and general day-to-day trade. My store team mostly run the floor these days, which frees me up to focus on my pottery, admin, ordering, planning, and general backend management. My Bookkeeper and Digital Content Assistant work a day a week from their own offices, which frees up my office space and allows them to work in their own time.
Describe how a good day in your pottery studio might unfold? And what do you love about ceramics as a creative medium?
If I’m throwing in the morning I will start the day with an early walk with my dog to loosen up before arriving at the store before anyone else. I usually throw my pots in batches of 10–20 pieces per session. These pots need to dry for 1–2 days before they must be turned. Between February and October I usually allocate 2-3 studio sessions a fortnight. The best windows of uninterrupted time for me are between 7.30–10am or, 4.30–7pm. My studio sessions are only 3–4 hours long. Anything more is a luxury, but also my back and wrists start to get sore if I sit at the wheel all day, so short sessions suit me fine.
I love that my pieces will make it into peoples’ homes to share food across a table. Eating and drinking from pottery makes everything taste better. It’s tactile, hearty, and wholesome.
You just mentioned walking your dog, and you’ve often posted photos on Instagram of these park walks. Tell us more about your beloved shop dog!
Jess is a sweet 11-year-old Labrador. I adopted her when she was three and a half. As my first store and home was combined, Jess only knew life with me at work. So when we moved the store to Prahran and my home to a separate address it seemed natural to continue taking Jess to the store each day. She’s part of the team and many of our customers ask after her if she’s out the back taking a nap.
What collaborations have you been working on lately?
Over summer I hosted a couple of Meet The Author evenings with local authors of books we stock, including Jason Chongue of The Plant Society, Tess McCabe of Creative Minds Publishing, and Kylie Lewis of Of Kin. On these nights I interview the authors to share their back-stories and the books they have written. I love sharing other creative stories.
I usually always have 1–4 commissions on the go for various chefs within Australia. I say no to overseas enquiries unless they are coming to my store to collect themselves.
What are you looking forward to from a creative point of view? And also from a more general life point of view?
The creative projects I am looking forward to in the coming months are: a glaze masterclass with ceramicist Kevin Boyd; a Ukulele making workshop in Castlemaine with Benedict Stewart; and a 10 day trip to Kyoto to explore independent pottery studios.
And in general I look forward to that time in my life when I can afford to have a home and studio in the country. It’s been a dream for many years. It just may happen in the next 12 months…
To wrap things up, we’d love you to share:
A fav dinner
Spaghetti Vongole, at my place or out.
A memorable holiday moment/destination from the last three years?
Reading Ken Done’s biography while holidaying on the Amalfi Coast was pretty good. I’m a sucker for the sea and a good book.
An album or song you've been listening to lately?
Nightmares on Wax - Carboot Soul
Photography by Inez Brookes.
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