If you’re into shabby chic and French Country Style, then a visit to the small country town of Boyanup in South Western Australia is something that might just be up your street, so to speak. For here you’ll find Rustic French Living, a quaint store owned by Jo McIntosh, situated in a small church on the main road.
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French Country Style a lifestyle business
Jo’s fascinating story includes a chateau and ancestry in Menton, France, and today is the second part of my interview with Jo, an inspiring West Australian woman who has some useful ‘been there, done that’ tips about running a lifestyle business for us too.
What did you do before you opened ‘Rustic French Living’, in Boyanup?
I have always had a home based business selling homeware, along with my own new and recycled ladies clothing ranges. As well as that I worked at the Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School as a Boarding Supervisor, a job which I still do at night.
What was the catalyst to the life changing decision?
My youngest daughter had left school and moved to Adelaide to go to University. I needed a new direction – so after having a pop up shop over Christmas and being offered the church in Boyanup for rent, I decided the time was right to open my store.
Why did you decide to open up a rustic French store?
I had always sourced and created homeware with a difference, and after being in France for a trip I decided to concentrate on that kind of style, trying to be a bit different – by sticking to a ‘rustic’ French country style rather than ‘pretty’.
I wanted to create a shop where people could come and have a pleasant experience, browse through interesting products, have time out and a cup of tea and some cake. A place where women could come and sit and read a book for half an hour if they wanted to.
Boyanup’s a lovely little town in South West Australia, but why Boyanup over somewhere bigger like Bunbury?
I opened in Boyanup because of the church and its wonderful character. I suppose it’s got a lovely feeling because it was once a church – it’s serene, restful and adds to the overall experience. You know, people come in and tell me their stories, that they’ve been married here for instance. I did look at places in Bunbury but the rents were much higher and the shops didn’t give me the ambience you get from a church. Also I wanted to provide ‘coffee and cake’ which is sought after in Boyanup. I wanted to create a ‘drive to’ destination.
What do you most like about French living?
The lifestyle, the history, the importance of family and food, the language and of course the gorgeous old stone buildings!
What draws you back to France?
To experience what it has to offer and to learn new things – also the shopping, especially the antique markets and brocante stores.
If you had to pick two items from the store right now to take home with you, what would they be?
The French Provincial style pottery made in New Zealand by Tony Sly (above) and the antique embroidered serviettes.
What do people tell you they like most about your store?
The fact that it is a mixture of old and new, that the stock changes all the time and they don’t know what they will find each time. They like the fact that it’s in a church and they love the free gift wrapping service too.
Which items, or type of items are most popular?
The linen is very popular – French country style quilts and throws, cushions, tea towels, washed wicker homeware, wrought iron and furniture.
How long has it taken to establish your business?
I opened the shop in August 2011 but I’ve built up a customer base through running interior decorating classes, as well as exhibiting at the Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School Monster Craft Fair and the Art Angels Exhibition group in Bunbury for the last 13 years.
These days I hold interior decorating workshops including a paint finishing course, in a small room at the rear of the chapel, and I teach people to use what they’ve got around them to create new things – get them to think out of the box and see things in a different light – such as putting tea candles in crystal glasses placed on an old mirror for a night time table decoration, for instance.
What was the biggest hassle setting up the shop?
I’d have to say it was getting permission to open.
Where do people come from?
Lots of people travel down from Perth, and people stop in if they’re travelling south for holidays, so do local people from surrounding towns.
If you had to give one piece of advice to someone opening a store in WA, what would it be?
Do your research on the products you’re going to sell, decide who your ideal customer is going to be, and try to set up with minimal financial risk.
How many children do you have?
I have two daughters; Melissa who is now 23 years old and Chelsea who is 20 years old.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Having coffee with friends, walking along the beach, gardening, reading decorating magazines and browsing through interior design books.
How long have you been in SWA?
We moved here as a family from New Zealand in January 2000.
What do you love about SWA?
The weather. The fact that you are not far from the beach or the bush. The wonderful friends we have made.
Where would you go for the weekend at the drop of a hat?
Either to Perth or down south, or to different friends getaway holiday places.
What is your favourite beauty spot, beach, or tourist spot in WA?
I love the Bunbury beaches in particular and often you can be the only one there.
Where would you like to be taken for a birthday dinner?
The Lighthouse Beach Resort – Glenn and Sandra are wonderful.
Best thing you’ve ever bought to sell in the shop?
The blue and white china ware from “Villa Maison”. I wanted a rustic sort of China that people would re-order, and they do.
What’s exciting right now?
The shop gives me the opportunity to travel to France and New Zealand to source goods and I’d like to bring more character furniture, crockery, vintage linen, and give people who aren’t able to travel, access to those types of things. What’s very exciting is that I have tentative plans to renovate a property in France and I’ve been asked to start up similar stores in Queensland, South Australia, Perth and New Zealand.
5 Favourite things about South West Australia
The beaches, the fact that you can go to the Ferguson Valleyfor the morning and the beach in the afternoon – I love the proximity of the bush and the sea. I love the weather especially the different seasons. Spring and Autumn are my favourites. I love the fresh produce we get here – there’s a great place for fresh fruit and vegetable in Donnybrook for instance. And of course the people – they’re friendly, and there’s a mix of different cultures.
Tips for women starting over, or starting a lifestyle business.
Go with your gut instinct and don’t have any regrets. I could have decided not to open this shop but I was passionate about it. I think if you’re passionate about something and love something, then that will shine through in whatever you do.
Lots of people look for a sea change or a tree change. Would you like to run a lifestyle business? What would you choose?