Read The Glenferrie Times special feature on the longest serving businesses on Glenferrie Road and find out their secret to longevity.
Endurance is an attribute often overlooked in favour of vainer qualities when it comes to business, yet it is the capacity for longevity that ensures a feeling of familiarity and ‘standing’ amongst the community.
Many shops come and go on Glenferrie Road, yet there are those, like that of Lawrencia Cycles, Continental Deli, Dobsons and Poloman, who have collectively displayed that durability is not only possible, but an asset to their business. Qualities like that of grit, positivity and passion are shared amongst these featured traders as reasons why they have enjoyed long-lasting
Founded in 1938, Lawrencia Cycles (756-758 Glenferrie Road), greets customers upon entry with a piece of history. By the front entrance there is a faded image of a gentleman by a bicycle. The man in the image is Gordon Lawrence Snr, who competed in many and various cycling events in his lifetime. His son and now owner, Gordon Jnr, recalls a contentious moment that has become tender with time. “Dad thought he had crossed the line… but he had actually only crossed the juniour’s line. Then... this other bloke passes him and claims a win! But he always said the win was his, by a technicality.”
Although the fundamental nature of Lawrencia has remained the same - the selling of quality bicycles - the business has changed immensely in many various aspects. Gordon Jnr recalls how the property was not only a store, but the home he grew up in. “We used to live upstairs” Gordon Jnr points upwards with his finger. He added, “The area just past the counter used to be our kitchen when mum and dad lived on site.
I remember from the age of about four or five, I was helping out in the shop every Saturday morning, and to this day I don’t recall ever not working a Saturday morning.” At the time, Lawrencia shared its premises with a butcher’s shop, but by 1955, Gordon Snr took over the business and expanded, once the butcher retired. “The bike frames used to be made on site”, Gordon recalls. “There was a big open fireplace (where the staff room is now) and they would heat up the steel in there and knock it into shape.”
But like all things, cycling has waned and gained in popularity several times over his lifetime, Gordon Jnr remembers, “In the 1970s, the Heart Foundation really got behind cycling and there was this overnight boom in trade.” During the early ‘90s recession, they struggled to scrape by until the fame of people such as Lance Armstrong influenced a renewed focus on cycling. During those leaner times, Lawrencia were in a position to rely on sales of alternative recreational supplies. Some of which Gordon had little fondness for. “This was, as they say, ‘a real man’s shop’. When I was in my early 20s, we sold guns and ammo, fishing gear and all that blokey outdoors stuff. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but anyone could just walk in and buy a gun.”
Gordon’s mixed feelings about the sale of firearms in his store ultimately led to him ceasing their sale as the 1970s drew to an end. “There would be little girls coming in to look at bikes, and over in the corner you’d have some bloke testing out a pump action rifle, and I just thought ‘there’s no way I can keep selling these things under the same roof’”. Gordon reflects. “The times were how they were.” He adapted his business model, concluding the sale of firearms long before the gun crackdown in 1996, putting him far ahead of the cultural curve. As for the key facets in ensuring a long-lasting business, according to Gordon Junior, “you should treat people as you would want to be treated and always pay your bills.”
“I’d often have people come in with their kids saying, ‘you looked after me when I was a kid.’ It was a nice feeling.” Ian Dobson, the current proprietor of Dobsons (667 Glenferrie Road), was just 5 years old when he first went to hang out at his grandpa’s shop. Dobsons was established in 1918, a mere 100 metres away from its current location on Glenferrie Rd. Now, Dobsons is one of the largest retailers on Glenferrie Road serving today as an expansive uniform and workwear emporium. The shop, however, has undergone enormous change since first opening as a small men’s fashion boutique in December 1918.
By the early ‘70s, Ian became involved in running the business and has since added two sons, Warwick and Allister, to the family business. In Ian’s lifetime, his business has changed in ways that have kept it relevant. He explains, “Fashions change so quickly, and it was actually Warwick that said we should be more uniform-centric. I was a bit resistant to it at first.. but I think it’s what’s kept us going. Warwick runs things more than I do these days.” He exclaims, “Whereas Allister is more involved in sales.” Ian, left the running of the Glenferrie store in 2014.
Never one to rest on his laurels, around ten years ago, Ian decided to go back to university and update his knowledge of the clothing retail trade and how it relates to sustainability. As a result, the business proudly lays claim to almost 100% recycled stock. “The rag trade is the second biggest polluter in the world.” He explains, “A lot of the old artificial fabrics contained plastics and so we decided to get in on eco-uniforms and up-cycled and recycled fabrics for our stock. So I went back to school and it really invigorated me.”
In conversation, Ian displays a conscientious attitude and thirst for knowledge. Rather than emphasise his many years experience, he enthusiastically embraces change and a desire to ‘do better’. This characteristic is undoubtedly key to long-term survival, though Ian puts the ‘secret of longevity’ down to the simple point, “you just gotta love what you do!”
Australia’s European immigration history is marked in no small part by the presence of urban delicatessens. Locally, the Continental Deli (shop 8-10 / 674-680 Glenferrie Road) in the Glenferrie Centre Arcade fulfils that niche, and like many of Hawthorn’s ‘old guard’ businesses, has thrived on customer loyalty, reputation for quality and a strong family bond.
“We’ve been trading for 42 years,” current owner Christine Yianni enthuses. Along with husband Gary Yianni and father Chris Barlas, the family unit that make up Continental’s crew are all strong, quirky characters with a palpable love for what they do. Christine is very much the spokesperson with a-hundred-and-one thrilling and heartwarming stories. Gary is knowledgeable, business focused and camera shy, while Chris is passionate and customer-focused.
The business was opened in 1980 by Chris and his late-wife, Vicky Barlas. Daughter Christine and husband Gary started running things on a permanent basis in the mid-’90s after Vicky’s health declined. Christine remembers the very early days of the deli as a place where older local members of the Greek community would congregate. “Some of them didn’t have much social contact I think, so they would come to hang out and meet here. It helped them feel connected to their culture and got them out of the house.”
Aside from providing a community hub, during the ‘80s and ‘90s, Continental Deli even garnered some celebrity clientele. Celebrated chef Gabriel Gaté, who used to run a cooking school in Burwood Road, would regularly buy his supplies from Continental. But it was comedian Mark Mitchell and his Comedy Company character, Con The Fruiterer who really put them on the map. “Chris was the inspiration for Con!” Christine divulges. “Mark used to come in here and ask all about the Greek lingo and culture while he was working on his act.”
The famed TV fruit shop owner, Con belonged to a tradition of parody known as commedia dell’arte, in which a stock character from everyday life is played for laughs. Far from being offended by Mitchell’s portrayal of a migrant shop owner, Christine saw it as a fond acknowledgement of the Greek community’s growing visibility in Australia. “Mark was a friend to us. We thought Con was hilarious.” Nowadays, there are fewer camera crews and comedy stars at Continental, but what has remained is the focus this deli’s team has on customer satisfaction.
Christine says, “The key is to build upon your reputation.” It is a trait immediately felt when conversing with Christine, Gary and Chris. “We know many of our long-term customers by name and we are serving their grown-up kids now.” Despite being somewhat hidden away in the arcades off Genferrie Road, Continental rarely enjoys a quiet moment. They thrive on reputation and warmth of character, which is the best advertisement for longevity you could ask for.
The retailer, Poloman Menswear (705 Glenferrie Road), owned and operated by Charles Miscamble, is one of those boutique men’s clothing shops that seemingly ‘forgot to’ make way for the bigger, dominant chain stores. The shop retains a quaint, slightly out-of-time atmosphere and inside, we find proprietor Charles , who is the very picture of the classic ‘well-dressed man’. He describes his arrival at Poloman with confident certainty that demonstrates a strong affection for his trade.
“I started August 20, 1986” He proclaims. “Before me, the business was run by David Bosbeck for around 25 years as the Sportsman, first opening on Glenferrie Road in 1964.” Charles renamed the shop Poloman in reference to a love of the titular sport. “I was actually at a polo match when I got thinking about the name”, he explains, “I knew I wanted the word ‘polo’ in it, and by adding ‘man’ it just seemed to fit with what we do.”
Charles comes from a lineage of clothing retailers. He notes, “Well my godfather ran Bradman’s - a bag shop - in Brisbane and he gave me my first ever job in the retail trade. My father also ran Holeproof - a ladies undergarments store - so the family have been involved in the clothing trade for many years.” Charles’ own children gained some retail experience through Poloman. He recalls, “When they were in school, my youngest two sons Connor and Fraser used to help out casually whenever I needed them. But they ended up carving out their own paths. One of them is going into medicine and the other is a solicitor now.”
Charles notes that he believes that survival in trade is all about the personal touch. “We have a terrific clientele base. That’s the point of difference between us and say, a big chain store. We offer actual personalised, bespoke service. In fact I prioritise it.” In his time trading in Glenferrie, Charles has seen a lot of change in retail, on the other hand, what hasn’t changed is interest rates and economic downturn. I remember very well the market crash in 1987 just after I took over, and it’s happening all over again.”
Although gruelling times come around like clockwork, these businesses have managed to overcome what has been thrown at them before. It might appear simple: Love what you do, earn respect amongst the community, understand the cultural climate, change when needed, a personal touch. Although it is simple to comprehend, it is very difficult to do. Businesses like Lawrencia, Continental Deli, Poloman, and Dobsons have defied the odds in cultivating longevity, when many have failed.