Spoilt at Subi is the store you head to for a special gift you won’t find anywhere else, says Lisa O’Neill.
If you’ve ever received a beautifully wrapped gift, embellished with bright string and colourful circles, you’ve been Spoilt.
Behind the carefully chosen gift, is a store owner equally as delightful. Eighteen years into her tenure at 20 Subiaco Square Road (overlooking the train station), Jo Ballantine is well-loved by her loyal customers, some who have been popping in for thoughtful gifts since the beginning.
“I think when I opened as a newlywed and only 24 years old, some of my customers were just buying something to help keep my dream alive of running a business!” Jo says, laughing. “When I questioned what I was doing in the early days, those lovely customers helped more than they’d know.”
Before the doors of Spoilt opened, Jo earned herself an agribusiness degree, dreaming of marrying a farmer and immersing herself in a small community. Once she met her city bloke, Reid, a new career plan was needed.
“I considered working in a bank, but an office environment wasn’t for me,” Jo says. “I used to love visiting the beautiful shops like Style House on Hay Street, admiring how they creatively displayed their high-end products – all the colour and design!
Jo and Reid were drawn to Subiaco, with Hay Street still bustling and new life blooming around Subiaco train station with Café Café the ‘it’ place to eat breakfast and drink Illy coffee. So, in October 2004, Spoilt was the first tenant to fill the row with Cino’s Café (now Grill’d) opening as a fabulous new coffee spot that drew large crowds.
“It was a hip and happening area, the Pavilion Markets were still open, and we’d go there every Friday night after work for dinner with dessert from the lolly shop,” Jo says. “With new apartments just built above us, we moved into an instant community, with residents constantly popping in and introducing themselves.”
While Jo appreciates her customers ‘shopping local’ with her, it’s a philosophy she also embodies as the shelves of Spoilt are filled with Australian-made products and as many local brands as possible.
“We wanted to support Australian brands from day dot,” Jo says. “We’ve forged friendships with their creators and designers, and I love that connection. In retail, you love your customers, but when they’re not there you’re connecting with suppliers and developing relationships with them, too.”
One of Jo’s favourite local suppliers is Elk, who has been with Spoilt since they were both fledgling businesses and remains, despite growing into a much larger entity.
“The owner of Elk walked into the shop with a tiny cardboard box full of earrings and necklaces, and asked if we’d consider stocking them,” Jo says. “I said we’d give it a go and now Elk has grown into a conscious fashion label with stores in Melbourne and hundreds of stockists across Australia, and we’re still stocking them which is really special!”
Beyond ‘shop local’, Jo says Spoilt’s policy is ‘buying good and buying once’ rather than cluttering your home with things that don’t last or have special meaning.
“When you buy Australian made, you can trust they’re made to last,” Jo says. “I bought my girls Uimi knitware blankets as babies 12 and 14 years ago, and they still have them on the end of their beds, and I have some Elk handbags that are pushing 10 years old.”
Some brands don’t stay in Spoilt forever, which Jo explains is all part of the fabric of business and life.
“We’ve seen a lot of Australian brands grow into big ones, like Mozi and Mimco, and often they’re bought out by department stores and I love that for them,” Jo says. “And sometimes, people go through a season where they create something that serves a purpose while they’re parenting small children.”
Jo’s intention is to keep vigilant with who she supports in-store, most are also small, family-run and owned businesses, and ideally led by women. From beautifully illustrated cards made by a mum from her kitchen bench to the natural-bristled Smoogie hairbrushes created by a Floreat mum and inspired by her daughter, Spoilt’s shelves are stocked to the brim with stories like these.
“Supporting other women in business is so important to me as we bounce ideas of each other and at the end of the day, they understand me and the work/mum life balance,” Jo says. “If I can keep the dream alive for these women, like my customers have done for me, that’s a pretty special ripple effect.”
And 18 years in, is Spoilt a local success story? Jo blushes at the question.
“I’m not sure when you run a business whether you ever feel like a success? Thankfully I have customers who come and celebrate us whenever we hit milestones – five years and ten years in, they came and popped champagne with us!” Jo says, before tearing up. “The customers are our biggest cheerleaders, it makes me emotional just thinking about them.
“We’ve been through the GFC, Claremont Quarter opening was a big hit too with its free parking, and then COVID, but throughout it all, we’ve had our loyal customers.
“Big shopping centres are great they don’t offer unique products, gift wrapping and conversation – wondering who I’ll chat to in the shop is what gets me out of bed each day.”
Find Spoilt at Subi at 20 Subiaco Square Rd, Subiaco.