Owner Kylie tells us what it was really like running her small business during 2020 and into 2021
Hello, boss lady Kylie here!
I'm not one to post too much about myself but with another year spent in what mostly feels like lockdown, and our social media superstar who has been telling me for the last 12+ months to “put myself out there so people know who is behind AQOF” — here I am!
Ultimately I’m a massive introvert, terrible at writing about myself and having my photo taken, hence my presence on social media is kept to a minimum!
Putting myself on social media isn’t something that comes naturally, and as such, it’s something I’ve largely outsourced to some savvy team members and collaborators to manage on my behalf — hence seeing some other faces on a more regular basis!
But, I am still here, running things behind the scenes, and I've been convinced this is a good opportunity to share some thoughts and insights into what it's been like running a small business over the last two years.
In January/February 2020 I was convinced that I was going to have “the best year ever”. By the end of February, early March, that all went out the window! Instead it’s been the most difficult challenge I could ever have imagined facing as a small business owner and also on a personal level.
I think the first lockdown we faced I just went into fight or flight mode.
Everything happened so quickly and everything in me said fight, so it was weeks (or months) of adrenaline, panic, and being in survival mode trying to adapt to keep things going.
Needless to say, you can’t survive for long in that state, so by the time the second lockdown came around I was utterly exhausted — but being a business owner you can’t just quit one day. You have rental obligations, staff who are relying on you for employment, suppliers who you owe money to for stock (who are also facing the same challenges!).
So, I tried my best to soldier on and do everything I could to meet those obligations.
We were thrown in and out of lockdown in Melbourne throughout 2020, as most of you will know — and when we were allowed to finally open our store doors again there was the anxiety of reopening a retail store during a worldwide pandemic.
I was incredibly unprepared for what was to come.
We were so, so busy! I thought people might take time to come out of their shells, but I was wrong!
I was already absolutely exhausted. The store was so busy I couldn’t find the time to hire staff and train them to help take the load off. I had succumbed to the fact that I’d just have to buckle down and work every day in the store for the months of November and December with the skeleton team of staff I had, as I just didn’t have the time or mental capacity to get more help amongst the chaos.
Then, in the first week of December 2020, I died...
One night my heart decided to stop beating, just like that.
I was put into an induced coma, I spent a few days in ICU, and ended up with a pacemaker, at the age of 33! Receiving a pacemaker is something people can generally bounce back from within a week or so, however due to complications I was essentially ordered to 2-3 months of bed rest to recover.
Despite the ordeal, I feel incredibly lucky to be here. It was only due to quite a few very very lucky quirks of fate that I am still here today!
So after the stress of COVID and everything that comes with it I ended the year with a near death experience that meant I was unable to work the most important few weeks of the retail year! Luckily with help from family, friends and extra efforts from staff, notably Claire who is an absolute superstar and went above and beyond. The shop managed to successfully get through the busiest period without me!
Starting 2021, I had a very slow recovery health wise, only really starting to feel considerably better around March. Given my “incident” I decided that after nearly a decade of running AQOF by myself that it was time to take a huge step back and find a better balance and to outsource as much as possible in order to achieve that.
In relation to AQOF in 2021 it’s definitely been a rollercoaster!
Who would have thought that we would face another year essentially like that of last year, back in lockdowns. It has been a difficult and stressful year but I think due to my new outlook on life I have managed to approach things differently this year.
I am very thankful to have some great side-kicks this year in Claire, who is our main shop person, and Samee who has been a social media content-creating, website-managing, newsletter-sending superstar. If it wasn’t for them I think it would be fair to say AQOF may not still be standing! I can’t thank them enough for sticking by me and AQOF the last 12+ months.
I am also so incredibly grateful for the amazing AQOF customers from all across Australia! Thank YOU for supporting AQOF this year!
Notably, it has to be said:
Thank you to the local Darebin community who have the greatest sense of comradery that I think exists anywhere.
There’s not one person who would have escaped the last, nearly two years without being affected in some way, and the support that we’ve received despite that has been heart warming to say the least.
With a reopening date now announced, whilst there is excitement and relief, I’d be lying if I said there isn’t also a growing sense of anxiety within myself after the experience of reopening and the lead up to Christmas I had last year. And whilst I haven’t asked Claire on their thoughts, I think I can confidentiality say on their behalf that they're feeling quite anxious too!
We can’t wait to see all our regular customers — we’ve been trying to stock the shelves nice and early so it’s one less thing to deal with when we’re open.
We’ve just this past week welcomed some new team members to AQOF, and I now have a pacemaker so there will be no dying from “heart failure” this year! I am hoping this year we’ll have a smooth, fun, drama-free lead up to Christmas (all fingers crossed!)
Whilst you may not see my face around as much as you have in the past, or hear from me on social media very often, please know I am still here, I am still around and I am still as grateful as ever for your ongoing support!
lisa guarnaccia said:
Thanks heaps for sharing your story + the update.
When I last saw you at Northcote Bakeshop + you told me of your ill health I was flabbergasted : yet is so good to virtually see you here smiling now…. YOU are incredible!
We at Humphrey Law Socks are always very grateful to the support of you, Claire, Samee + co at AQOF.
I look forward to visiting “one day” soon to begin my Chrissie shopping.
Till then, take care + keep up the fab work.
What a year! You’re amazing, Kylie, and the shop and community you’ve created is amazing too. Thank you for not giving up and for running one of my favourite go-to shops. Lots of luck for the next bit! Xx