With more than four decades of footwear experience between them, Neville Colaianni and Anthony Barbieri know a thing or two about the shoe industry.
"We both got tired of selling mass-produced products," says Neville of the moment the duo decided to launch 124 ShoesOpens external site, giving the brand the tagline "Not for the ordinary". Indeed; the individually handcrafted from leather by Italian artisans – many of them sixth generation craftspeople – the shoes they now sell are about as far from commonplace as you can get.
Since opening their first store in Melbourne in 2011, Neville and Anthony have expanded the company with purpose, upping the number of brands sold from four to eight, growing to a team of six and opening two more boutiques, another in Melbourne and one in Sydney.
"We're definitely looking to develop more in the future as well," says Neville. "But because our product is limited as it's made by hand, it will never be a mass operation.
"No-one else sells the shoes we do in Australia – they're exclusive to us. And all are available in limited numbers so if the artisan makes 12 pairs, we might be allocated five. We're all about quality, not quantity, and people feel exclusive when they wear our shoes."
Neville says finding a niche is the top tip he imparts to others looking to enter the SME space in Australia. "I give every start-up the same advice: if you're going to set up a business, make sure you're offering something no-one else does. Do your homework on where you want to position your business in the market."
While 124 Shoes also has an online presence, Neville says that the products they sell are incredibly tactile.
"We do have online sales, particularly from New Zealand and New York. Overall, however, we find our shoes are so unique that people want to touch and feel them before they take them home. Because of this connection we have a lot of loyal and repeat customers. In fact, some of our regulars have amassed more than 30 pairs of our shoes over the eight years we've been in business."
The fact that 124 Shoes is importing current styles into the Australian market, means that the company's three buyers – Anthony, Neville and his wife – need to be in Italy on a regular basis. "We all travel domestically between stores in Melbourne and Sydney and also fly internationally at least twice a year. We're looking to increase our frequency of visits, as we've begun to actually work with artisans to develop our own specific styles.
"Flights to Europe are not cheap, especially at the times we want to fly to coincide with various fashion weeks. As a small business, where cash flow needs to be managed so carefully, getting Qantas Classic Flight Rewards tickets through the points accumulated in our Qantas Business Rewards account is really amazing.
"The other way we use points is to upgrade economy tickets. It's a long way to Italy so if we can hit the ground running after a stretch out in Business Class, then this means we can really maximise our time away."
The main way 124 Shoes is accumulating points for its Qantas Business Rewards account is through Live EftposOpens external site, which is essentially a mobile Eftpos terminal to process customer purchases.
"We get Qantas Points for every customer transaction. At first I thought, wait, what's the catch? But there isn't one." says Neville.
"We've recommended this to so many other SMEs as well because it just makes financial sense."
The company also has a points-earning credit card, "which means we earn one point – sometimes more – for every $1 we spend on the card. These are things we have to buy for the business anyway so it's great that we can be rewarded for this.
I just wish we'd become a Qantas Business Rewards member sooner – it's amazing how many points you can accumulate from everyday expenses. The money we've saved by using points to make purchases, rather than cash, has been channelled into buying additional stock. It's really allowed us to invest in the growth of the business."
As a Qantas Business Rewards member you can earn up to 1 Qantas Point per $1 transacted with Live eftpos black*Opens external site