Bliss Gifts and Homewares: A tale of family, hard work and a little Ulladulla store with more clicks than Kmart

BUSINESSWOMAN: Bliss Gifts and Homewares owner Melissa Stone. Photo by Sam Venn Photography.
BUSINESSWOMAN: Bliss Gifts and Homewares owner Melissa Stone. Photo by Sam Venn Photography.

It's the little showroom with a huge warehouse, a massive online presence and one of the biggest success stories to come out of a tumultuous 2020.

Bliss Gifts and Homewares in Ulladulla on NSW's South Coast started six years ago, selling out of car boots at local markets. Today it has a higher click rate than Kmart.

Owner Melissa Stone grew up living and breathing the retail world.

Her grandfather started importing gifts and homewares and revolutionised the game as a wholesaler. Her father followed in his footsteps and also owned a string of retail chains.

It's a tough gig though and Melissa swore the long hours, wall-to-wall boxes and constant buying and selling wasn't for her.

For 10 years she stuck with her convictions and worked at Westpac in George Street, Sydney.

The time came though when she felt like a change and 11 years ago she took a 'gap year' and ended up working six months in her in-law's business, The Star Hotel in Milton.

She took to her bar gig with ease, and chatting with her, it's not hard to see why she won the Friendliest Employee in the Milton Ulladulla Business Awards during her time there.

While she'd always said retail wasn't for her, the pull proved too strong and Melissa soon noticed many of the unique products at an affordable price weren't available here.

Google mini documentary, Bliss Gifts and Homewares: Growing against all odds'. Source: YouTube.

Calling in her industry connections, family products, and armed with her mum and daughter by her side, she began selling at Kiama, Ulladulla and Milton markets.

The venture quickly became a much bigger success than she'd imagined.

"We were selling out at every market. Poor mum had to go home to the garage six times and come back with more," Melissa recalled.

"It was insane."

Their philosophy of selling things that they would purchase themselves for their own home, at prices they would pay, resonated with people and in 2016 they opened a bricks and mortar store in a tiny Milton location.

The original entrance hall to the Milton Hotel had been sitting empty and in 2016 Melissa opened Bliss Gifts and Homewares as a pop-up shop.

Melissa spent 12 months monitoring sales during the busy tourism months through to the quieter winters and continually reinvested every year back into training and developing the team, most of whom were family.

"Last year definitely taught us that we need to find that balance, have a weekend off, enjoy a better lifestyle and it's so important to do the right thing by our customers but also keep our staff happy and be happy to come to work."

Melissa Stone

In 2017 they opened an online store and dedicated countless hours to learning and growing.

"The team's my mum Glenda, my 19-year-old daughter Sky, my brother and sister were there at one point, we've had my best friends there, and none of us had any formal training in retail but it's about being genuine, working hard, making sacrifices and learning through trial and error," Melissa said.

"We invested in training and used every free tool available, every email with information, every click on, we clicked."

It wasn't long before they'd outgrown their Milton store and started a two year hunt for a retail space that had enough room for an office and the 10-20 pallets of stock they were getting every week.

FAMILY: Melissa (centre) with her daughter Sky Hession and mother Glenda Thoroughgood. The shop now employees 12 women who've learned all their retail knowledge through on the job learning and Melissa's investment in their training. Photo: Sam Venn Photography.

FAMILY: Melissa (centre) with her daughter Sky Hession and mother Glenda Thoroughgood. The shop now employees 12 women who've learned all their retail knowledge through on the job learning and Melissa's investment in their training. Photo: Sam Venn Photography.

Their search quickened after the devastating bushfires of 2019/2020 and the impact of COVID-19.

In June 2020 they moved to a warehouse with a showroom in the Ulladulla industrial area. Within six months the figures for the showroom were more than Milton and their online sales had grown 400 per cent.

Their astounding figures, particularly for a regional business, attracted the attention of Google.

In November last year the Google crew produced a $280,000 mini documentary sharing their success story.

While their soaring success has been welcomed, like many of us, 2020 gave the busy team a new perspective and Melissa has made the tough decision to close the Ulladulla showroom from February, 2021 and focus on online only.

The showroom will still offer a click and collect for locals between 10-2pm Monday to Thursdays.

"We were selling out at every market. Poor mum had to go home to the garage six times and come back with more."

Melissa Stone

Bliss now employs a team of 12 local women who've learned everything on the job. Many have young families and Melissa hopes the new direction will achieve the work life balance we all need.

"Last year definitely taught us that we need to find that balance, have a weekend off, enjoy a better lifestyle and it's so important to do the right thing by our customers but also keep our staff happy and be happy to come to work," she said.

"There was four years there where my mum and my daughter and I couldn't go for brekkie or coffee together because someone always had to be in the shop."

While she understands it might be tough for some local customers to understand, Melissa hopes loyal shoppers will soon embrace the online store and the huge range of goods set to come its way in 2021.

Furniture, the popular Moroccan range, kitchenware and indoor plant pots have been a huge success.

Branching into the international space, home styling, selling dinnerware to Sydney restaurants and continuing to focus on staff development are just a few of the exciting goals for Bliss Gifts and Homewares this year.

And of course, remaining true to their values remains a top priority.

"We're going to focus on what we do, do it well and have a happy year - we're going to find that balance," Melissa said.

EVOLVING: The store's astounding growth rate attracted Google's attention last year and a mini documentary 'Growing against all odds' was recently released. Photo: Sam Venn Photography.

EVOLVING: The store's astounding growth rate attracted Google's attention last year and a mini documentary 'Growing against all odds' was recently released. Photo: Sam Venn Photography.

This story A tale of family, hard work and a little store with more clicks than Kmart first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.