To celebrate International Women’s Day, we thought we’d pay tribute to two of the ace-est women we know - The Block Shop founders, Sarah Armstrong (that’s Block Shop Sarah to all you Block super fans!) and Emma Garland.
These ladies - who also happen to be cousins - are responsible for the outright awesomeness that is The Block Shop. We bow down to your amazingness, girls! Read on to hear more about how they got started down their road to Fab-Town, via this great chat we had with Emma….
The Block Shop founders - and awesome boss ladies - Emma Garland and Sarah Armstrong.
So Emma - spill. Who actually came up with the idea for The Block Shop?
Well if one thing is for sure, it’s that in this partnership, Sarah is the ideas girl! A few too many wines plus the creative brains of Sarah and her Block-producer husband, Julian, and they hatched the genius idea of The Block Shop.
Sarah pictured with her Block-producer husband, Julian, hatched the genius idea of The Block Shop.
How did you come to be involved?
Sarah and I were both working with Channel 9 at the time, and we were well-versed with The Block audience. In my role as social media manager, I was answering hundreds of questions a day about where to buy all of the amazing furniture and homewares seen on the show. So the idea of connecting the viewers with the products they were seeing on screen made perfect sense to me.
How did you go about setting it up?
Well, after the wines wore off, we quickly realised that setting up a shop was one thing - but as The Block is an International phenomenon, we knew the store needed to be online. Unfortunately, we had no experience in building websites. But thankfully we knew someone who did - my husband, Nick! He’s a genius when it comes to technology, and after some grovelling (and more wine) he agreed to build us The Block Shop.
Nick, however, doesn’t do anything by halves, so rather than just building us a website - he built us a fully-fledged marketing and e-commerce platform that allowed us to retail thousands of products from hundreds of suppliers! The site that he built back in 2012 is still the same site we are using today!
Nick, pictured in the back corner, with The Block Shop crew after an epic day trading at last year's Open for Inspections.
What is it like working together?
Well if you didn’t already know, Sarah and I are cousins, and have been like sisters all of our lives. Neither of us got our own sisters (only brothers), so we spent countless childhood hours together doing what we do best - talking. We’ve always followed in each other's footsteps - both studying communications at the same uni, both pursuing careers in PR and Publicity and both finding ourselves working at Channel 9. So it was only a matter of time before our professional lives merged - and The Block Shop was the perfect opportunity to tackle a project together.
Aww! Mini Sarah and Emma: "We have been like sisters all of our lives."
These two beautiful mums are incredibly proud of their daughters' achievements so far.
How do you find working with a member of your family?
We may be related, but thankfully Sarah and I have completely different brains. We both bring very different skill-sets to the table, and really do complement each other. Sarah is the ‘Ideas Girl’ and is always coming up with some crazy hair-brained idea. I’m ‘The Implementer,’ who loves nothing more than to bring Sarah’s ideas to life! We’ve learnt over time that the best way for the two of us to harmoniously work together is to spend our time doing what we do best - and to stay out of each other’s backyard. The reality is: the business only works with both us - we couldn’t do it without each other!
What are you most proud of about setting up The Block Shop?
When we started The Block Shop I had two tiny children and was juggling a thousand tasks - it was quite obvious that both my husband and I couldn’t pursue corporate jobs in the city. So Sarah and I set about creating a business where we could still be with our kids, but could satisfy our brains and our love of working. Although the early days were ridiculously tough - we didn’t have a weekend for about three years, nor did we pay ourselves and there were never enough hours in the day to do it all - but over time, we achieved exactly what we set out to do. We have a business that allows us to be with our kids when they get home from school, but also have fulfilling careers. But the aspect of the business that I’m most proud of is that because our values and motivations for starting the business centred around work/life balance, the business has attracted the most wonderful bunch of Mums who also are seeking the same thing.
"Because our values and motivations for starting the business centred around work/life balance, the business has attracted the most wonderful bunch of Mums who also are seeking the same thing."
What do you love most about working with the other person?
That’s easy - I love Sarah’s completely different outlook on everything we do. Although Sarah and I work in different states (she is in Victoria and I’m in NSW) we talk on the phone at least once a day and discuss whatever each of us have on our plate so at no time do you feel alone. Having a business partner who can be a sounding board is such an asset, because talking is sometimes all you need to get clarity on whatever decision/issue you’re working through.
Who are your female entrepreneur role models?
Good question. As my team will tell you, I’m a huge fan of podcasts and I’m continually listening to entrepreneurial/ecommerce podcasts that really help keep me motivated and the ideas flowing.
Can you recommend any?
I’ve recently been listening to Brene Brown who is an American research professor who has her own successful business in research and education. Well worth a listen! I also really admire Deb Sams, who co-founded fashion label Bassike (and also happens to be my neighbour!). She has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me. But my most recent female entrepreneur crush has to be Jo Horgan from Mecca. After listening to yet another podcast, I was amazed to learn that the powerhouse brand that was started by Jo in South Yarra now turns over $100 million annually!
Where would you like to see The Block Shop go in future months and years?
The Block Shop never sits still! Sarah and I have a list of ideas as long as our arm, but this year our focus is on two things - opening a new Pop Up Shop in St Kilda and re-platforming our website. These are two enormous tasks that will involve a lot of our attention. Longer term, we would love to see the business continue to grow and expand. Our business priorities are based around three things: curating a beautiful selection of 'must-haves' for the home, using leading-edge technology to make the online shopping experience first-rate, and making sure that every customer that comes into contact with us has an exceptional customer service experience. If we can get these things right, I believe we are on track to becoming one of Australia’s leading ‘go-to’ furniture and homeware stores.
Sarah and Emma, pictured with Scotty Cam at the Melbourne St Kilda Block Shop pop-up store opening last year.
Shelley Craft with 'The Sisterhood' - the team behind The Block Shop!
We will give the final word to the very inspirational Ms Shelley Craft...
“ It’s always inspiring to hear of people who’ve had a vision or an idea and actually turning that into reality and made it work. In fact, we see a group of people do that every year on The BLOCK and that's what keeps us all coming back for more, season after season. What Sarah and Emma have achieved with The Block Shop is just as – if not more - impressive because not only have they turned their vision into a reality, they have also helped launch many artists/designers and homewares brands, helping them gain recognition for their work - and more importantly, sales! I like to think of it as “Build it and they will come,” which they did, and they have, and shopping on The Block Shop gives me a great rush too – there's nothing better than shopping with heart, hey?”
Shop 365 days of the year online at The Block Shop HERE - it's seriously a one-stop shop for EVERYTHING home.
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