Their business is one born of passion, sleepless nights, trial and error.
Chilean sisters Patricia and Verónica Avila migrated to Australia with their parents as children in 1986, and as adults have been reunited with their heritage through the success of their small business.
What began as a market stall back in 2003, by 2007 the sisters had the confidence and motivation to turn their casual venture into a full-time enterprise.
Verónica says it started as a crazy idea. Her background was sociology and history, and sister Patricia was an interpreter. “But she was also more business minded. She kind of just said ‘let’s start a business’ – and I was only 23 or 24 so I just said ‘oh yeah, let’s do it’ – I didn’t really think about all the dimensions,” Verónica says.
“We trialed lots of different products at first, some Asian products, but there was no passion or connection to what we were selling. Then we came across a wholesaler who had some South American jewellery and it was amazing. When we found these products, and we started selling them it was like, ‘Wow – we really love this stuff, and we’ve got to get more,” Verónica says.
It was then the sisters to travel back to South America in search of handicrafts and unique wares. Once they met with suppliers and discovered the full extent of available products, the sisters realised what they really wanted to do was to showcase handmade products from the other side of the world. “There weren’t a lot of people supplying these sorts of products, and the types of reactions we were getting from people were ‘this is so beautiful and unusual’,” Verónica says.
The Latin Store opened in 2007 in Ashfield, and has since had a home in Newtown before now arriving in Sydney’s landmark Queen Victoria Building.
Verónica says their small business journey has been a learning curve, and dotted with challenges. Given the chance to do it all again, she says there are things they could do differently. “Being passionate doesn’t necessarily give you a roadmap on how to run a business correctly. We had a lot of trouble with importing at first, and sometimes we had trouble communicating with the suppliers,” Verónica says.
The sisters also found they were up against different work ethics, and they learned that in South America everything can always happen tomorrow. “But sometimes tomorrow never comes!” Verónica laughs, adding it takes patience and resilience to keep going. In the beginning, their vision also wasn’t clear, and the sisters didn’t know how far they wanted to take the venture.
Since opening their store, the online retail market has continued to grow, and unlike many boutique retailers the sisters have invested in maintaining an online presence as well. “Being in the QVB has been good for the tourist trade, we’re finding that we get people from interstate ordering items online when they can’t physically come back to the store, so it’s a really important channel to have, and really it’s another window to your shop. Without an online presence you become hidden,” Verónica says.
Asked whether the onslaught of online retail represents a threat, the sisters are emphatic. “When someone comes into our store, we invite them to travel to Latin America through all of our products available; the textures, the history behind each item, the designs… All of this transports them to our country and I really enjoy telling my customers about stories that I loved and learned from my travels in Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Mexico,” Verónica says. The sisters know the stories of every single product in the store, and sharing these stories and their passion for the culture with customers is what they believe keeps people coming back.
“As wonderful as online is, at the same time, you can’t experience the same thing as you would experience meeting someone face-to-face. And so it’s about being more creative, more passionate about what you offer – and that’s what keeps people coming back to your actual store,” Verónica says.