Dirty Janes – A Place All About The Vintage Experience
Have you been to Dirty Janes?
The best way to describe Dirty Janes is that it is a maze where around every corner you will find something that will halt your journey for another ten minutes.
From experience, your eyes will want to wander in every direction, you will be mesmerised by all the unique products as you get lost in the store.
Meet Jane Crowley, half of the father-daughter business that sells all things retro and vintage.
The duo, Crowley and Athol Salter, opened the first Dirty Janes in 2009 which is located in Bowral. The opening of the store came after a successful 20-year stint at their previous business, ‘The Shed’. In March 2020, Dirty Janes opened a second store out the back of Fyshwick, and on the eve of its first anniversary, Jane sat down and spoke about her rapidly growing business with me.
The store has been around for only one year in Canberra, but I can already see the warehouse becoming a staple as one of the go-to spots during a weekend outing.
“[online vintage shopping] cannot replace coming in and having human interaction and being able to pick up an object and physically hold it, look at the texture, judge its weight and picture that object in your home or picture that piece of clothing on you, you know you can’t replace that so, we focus on that.”
So first off, what made you decide to start this business with your father?
That’s a very good question. I think with vintage things, they’re in your blood, you know, they’re part of you. It’s a way of life that you grow up, and you’re always recycling things and repurposing and renovating. When we opened Dirty Janes, it was a combination of opportunity and very good timing. It wasn’t really planned, it was just an opportunity that we saw and we went, yeah, let’s have a go, and it was literally that casual. I think we did sums on the back of an envelope and said, you know, we could make it work, and away we went.
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So you got the store Bowral obviously. So, what made you realise or made you think to start a store in Canberra as well?
My dad Athol had opened a shop in Canberra back in the early 1970s, which is a very long time ago now, and he had a store in Hall. So, he was bringing antiques from England and doing a lot of importing of antiques to Australia, and he then sold that business in the late 1980s. So, Canberra’s always had a big affinity for us. You know, it’s drawn us back the whole time. We felt we really knew the market and Canberra people; Canberra is more like a big country town than a city. And I say that with a lot of affection. I don’t mean it is a patronising terminal, and we just saw again an opportunity here. There’s a fabulous vintage scene here, but it wasn’t really shown as well as it could. There are great dealers here in Canberra already, but they didn’t have a lot of opportunities to showcase their wares, and again we found this building and just went well. That’s an opportunity we can’t walk away from. Have a go!
What did you learn from your first actual retail venture with ‘The Shed’? What was the main takeaway?
It really helped my education about antiques, and during that time we went and lived over and lived in England for three years so that we would be able to be exposed to that market. We think we’re great here, we’ve got 200 plus years of European history where we have antiques. Over there you’ve got thousands of years, so your education is just amplified, 10 times. Every time you go to an auction, you just read a catalogue and you’re learning about what things are. So, you had to hone your education like that was fantastic.
So, what would you say is your target audience if you had to say one demographic?
This’s really interesting because, like a lot of retail businesses, our main customers are sort of women late twenties to early fifties. Okay, because women of the primary shoppers for their home they choose the couch the husbands might. You know, Male partners might think they’re choosing the couch, but they don’t really choose the catch. The wife chooses the couch. They are the ones who are decorating their homes. So, they’re the majority of the customer that walks through the door. We don’t simply target that market. You’ve only got to walk through the store during a weekend and you will have young people looking for something funky, you’ll have older people shopping for a birthday present for their grandchild. You get young men in here who are after vintage clothing.
You’ll get people who love 50s style coming in dressed in 50s style. So, I think this is where the business works so well because we are such a melting pot. And the main reason that people love us is that we have that vintage element and that vintage element, whether it’s retro or French furniture or early Australian, appeals to such a broad range of people, so narrowing it down to a demographic is actually we find it really hard.
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Have you actually noticed much of a resurgence from the young demographic? Getting back into vintage
Very much, very much. There’s a term called ‘Granny Chic’ and ‘Granny Chic’ is all about the younger generation, sort of up to the age of 30. They’re looking at the technology today, and they’re saying, It’s so fast. I want to grab hold of the generation where things were slower and that takes them back to their grandparent’s generation so they might love, you know, an embroidered cushion. But that embroidered cushion might have a take on it or might remind them of something that’s quite modern. They’ll go for a vintage teapot. It’s going back to the grandparents and seeking solace and comfort from there, and I also think that the younger generation expects businesses to have an environmental policy and vintage, vintage wares encompass that perfectly. They’re aesthetically fabulous.
You’re upcycling something or recycling something. So, it’s not any uppers landfill. So, it nurtures the soul to say, ‘I’m buying a vintage teapot rather than going and buying a new teapot from somewhere else’. So, I think the young people are really shaping how we look at the store. It’s all very well for us to have all the customers. But if I want to be here in 10 years time, I’ve got to be targeting 20-something-year-old’s because in 10 years time, hopefully, they’ll be buying a house and they want some furniture to put in their house.
As a young person, I definitely see that more vintage items also have, more art and more character behind them.
Absolutely. You can get something that’s completely unique, to you too. You know, if you go to some of the more modern furniture stores, you’re buying something where there are thousands of that item. If you buy something vintage, it’s unique, and it’s personal to you and that allows you to really stamp your apartment or your house or your room or whatever it might be with your own style and being able to do that in a world where I mean clothes or another aspect. But we all tend to take easy options with clothing, you know. So, I think furnishings and the surroundings you could have in your home. That’s one outlet where you can say ‘this is me and I’m really individual’. So yeah, it’s good.
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In recent time, vintage online websites have come about, you know sites such as ‘Etsy’. How have you been able, to compete with them and keep your attraction?
It’s really easy to get on an electronic device and buy something, so easy. A couple of finger taps and enter your credit card if they haven’t got it already stored and you bought it, and that gives a certain level of satisfaction. But it cannot replace coming in and having human interaction and being able to pick up an object and physically hold it, look at the texture, judge its weight and picture that object in your home or picture that piece of clothing on you, you know you can’t replace that so, we focus on that. That’s the aesthetic part of Dirty Janes and the curated stands the other thing that we absolutely focus on is customer service. So, customer service is our North Star. We can have 2000 square metres filled with the most amazing stock.
It means nothing unless we have amazing customer service. So that’s why in our stores say to the staff, okay, we have the person behind the counter, the rest are walking the floor, and that is so that they can go up to customers and say, I can open that cabinet for you are I can measure that sideboard for you. We need to have touchpoints.
And people crave that interaction because selling is an art form, selling is an opportunity. To meet a stranger and to bond over a particular item, and there is an element of joking with it. And you learn about their life. They learn about your life a little bit, and it’s a really lovely sort of exposure for those moments where you’re selling something in doing the transaction, and then you wave bye to them and off they go really pleased with what they bought. And the staff members sort of says, well that was great. You know, that was really good fun, and it was successful. So, let’s do that again. You know, I’ve got a look at it and feel it. Touch it, shake it out.
I was just noticing that there was a café part of Dirty Janes. I believe there is also one in Bowral, I was just wondering what the main reason behind it is? Is it to keep a nostalgic feel to it, or is it to be more welcoming?
It’s very much welcoming. We look at the amount of time that customers spend in Dirty James, and the average customer spends between two and three hours at Dirty Janes and I don’t know about you but after that kind of shopping experience, I need a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, and it is part of the whole customer service. If we’re talking to a customer and they’re trying to decide whether they buy a sideboard or something, it’s really nice to be able to say, ‘how about we buy you a cup of coffee? Go on, have a cup of coffee, talk about it, think about it and then come back and talk to me’. It’s very hospitable. I do a lot of buying trips. Well, I did do a lot of buying trips overseas, and I go to these vast warehouses. Everything from converted chook sheds to big purpose bill warehouses where I buy antiques and it’s a very hospitable way of doing business.
As soon as you walk in, they offer you a cup of coffee, and it just it’s like welcoming someone into your home I suppose so, we really want a café to being in wherever we do our Dirty Jane’s because it’s just that lovely feeling of well, I can have a cup of coffee and then I could go back in if I want to, we don’t want it to be a rushed transaction. Come and spend all day if you want to; pat the goats, talk to the chooks.
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Any plans to expand on the Dirty Jane name? Do you think to go online? Do you want to do more stores?
All of the above, so we’re about to launch well we have just launched our online store, which was a really tricky thing to navigate because you look out at the inventory we have on the floor, 95% of it are one-off items. So, what we had to do is we had to hone down because we do have some new items here. So, we had to hone down to what those new items were. We had to say All right, can we put that online?
When I go overseas to do buying, I’m buying things like fabulous German beer hall settings. Now they come out of Germany and they use them in the beer halls over there, and after a few years, they have to take them off the floor because they say okay, they’ve been used. So, I buy those, and I can buy 10 at a time, which means that I can put that item online because I’ve got another one that I can put online after it sells. I buy French Cheese Board the lovely round French cheese boards; I buy multiples of those. So sometimes with vintage things, it is about being able to buy multiple items. Those sorts of things have gone online.
We are going online and there are definite thoughts in the pipeline to open more Dirty Janes’s is that even a word? I think that will roll out in the next few years. It’s very exciting
If you are, you’re a young person and you want to start a business. Having a stall in a place like Dirty Janes is just this perfect way to enter the market. It’s like dipping your toe in the water and saying, ‘Hey, I’m good at this. Yes, I could do it’ because it’s so hard these days with rent. And you know, if you got open your own individual store, you need to staff it, pay rent, get insurance, work out your banking.
You’ve got to have a social media presence, and that’s before you even stock it. So that’s taking one person and saying you need to be experts in all of that and then you can open your store and it’s really hard to do. I mean, I really take my head off to someone who wants to open their own store because there is a lot to it. But if you can come into an establishment like ours and I have my social media experts and I have my financial team and I have my marketing team. And you know, we do staff training. You’re able, to, pull from that pool of knowledge to kick start your business.
So, I look at it and go, why wouldn’t you?