Michelle Hespe catches up with the dynamic Australian duo behind TheSuperCool – a pop-up store that is growing some roots – in cyberspace and soon on the ground. It was one of six retail stores from around the world to become a Global Honoree at the 2014 gia Global Innovation Awards in Chicago.
The reputation of the husband-and-wife team, Kate Vandermeer and David Nunez (aka Noonie), quite literally precedes them. They are the dynamic duo behind a mobile emporium called TheSuperCool, from Melbourne, Australia. Their reputation reached the ears of Martin M. Pegler, one of the gia expert judges, before they had even made it to America. Pegler caught word of the fresh, mobile retail concept from his base in New York. Around the same time, an Australian trade consultant in the retail industry also heard of TheSuperCool’s successful break into retail and nominated them for an award. So before they knew it, Kate and Noonie had been nominated for a Global Innovation Award (gia), won the gia Australia competition, and were on their way to Chicago, with their three-month old baby in their arms.
Things just kept getting better for the pair, as at the gia gala dinner and awards ceremony held in Chicago on March 16, they became one of six Global Honorees. Since the awards launched 14 years ago, there have only ever been five Global Honorees chosen from the 20 or more entered from around the world, but this year, the judges were so impressed that six winners were announced.
The gia awards were launched in 1999 by the International Housewares Association, and since then has established itself as the Oscars® of the home and housewares retail industry. The awards run on two levels. First, a national winner is chosen from each of the over 20 countries competing in the awards, and then that winner journeys to Chicago to compete against the other national winners. A panel of four gia experts and a panel of judges from retail publications around the world then decide on the winners. Martin M. Pegler, Wolfgang Gruschwitz, Scott Kohno and Henrik Peter Reisby Nielsen are the four expert judges, who dedicate themselves to the growth of gia every year. They all have careers that span retail, design, academia and business and are on hand to consult with the global nominees during their International Home + Housewares Show and gia experience.
“Entering gia gave us the chance to stand back and look at things in our business from a macro level, as we had both become so caught up in the micro level – as you do when you are first establishing a new business,” comments Kate. “We knew we had a strong brand, but we just didn’t put ourselves at the level of some of the other winners at that stage – having recently started the business. To be in among the world’s best was a real surprise, even shock, to us.”
“When we realized that Merci (the gia national winner from France) was up against us, we thought we had no hope!” says Noonie. “What an amazing store! That’s one of the stores that we’ve always bench-marked ourselves against, so it was another level of amazement when we became honorees alongside them.”
Kate has always been a creative person. As a child she was into all sorts of creative pursuits such as decoupage, sign writing, music, life drawing and anything else of a creative nature that she could get her hands on. She has a background in Visual Merchandising, so the leap into retail is not that much of a stretch of the imagination. Noonie on the other hand, was more into music and sports when younger, and has a background in engineering and business. Both of them however, have a great sense of personal style, and they love design, art and new ideas.
The couple had always looked for something that they could do together, and while on their honeymoon, they thought – why not something mobile? Pop-up shops were all the rage, and so in August 2011, they got their show on the road. “Right from the beginning, the idea of the store was based on the vintage peddler idea – taking wares from town to town.”
TheSuperCool does just that – taking the wares of up-and-coming, and funky established designers and artists from suburb to suburb in Melbourne, announcing their pop-up stores to a loyal following online. Social media has obviously been crucial to the store’s success in this sense, as they need to keep their customers in the loop as to where they will be next and what’s on offer. But some might think that this concept doesn’t bode well for retaining great staff. Kate and Noonie, however, found it to be quite the opposite. “The staff who applied for the roles love the fact that they are often working somewhere new. That’s what drew them to wanting to be a part of it all,” says Kate.
Even though the mobile store will continue on its merry way, the couple’s eclectic, handpicked offerings have been so popular, that they are opening up their first flagship permanent store in Fitzroy, Melbourne, in May.
So now, after their journey to America where their newborn baby shared in their success, it’s back to more hard work. But with a gia award under the couple’s belt, it’s certainly time to spread word of their success. “Winning a gia award gave us a boost of confidence, in the appeal of our concept on a global level,” says Kate. “It is incredibly humbling, in that the judges and the jury saw something in us that they find worthy of encouraging,” says Kate. “It made us realize that what we are doing is something unique.”
“The encouragement and the support from gia and the International Home + Housewares Show means so much to us,” adds Noonie. “The panel of experts is amazing, and they cemented the idea in us, that we really do have something to offer, something of value, on an international stage and level.”
For more information about the gia (Global Innovation Award) program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2014-2015, contact Piritta Törrö at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information on the gia program is also available online at www.housewares.org/gia.
For more information about the International Home + Housewares Show and to pre-register for the 2015 Show, taking place in Chicago on March 7-10, 2015, please visit www.housewares.org.