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‘Shopmates’ share the wealth – and risk – to improve fortunes in challenging retail times

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Anyone who’s ever shared a house can run off the benefits of having a flatmate: cheaper rent and bills, added security and the chance they may have an attractive friend you can date.

But there are also the pitfalls: less privacy, having to be accountable to someone else for the dishes/cleaning/maintenance and that the relationship will come to a bitter end.

Megan Park (left) and Annie Abbott in their shared store in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Megan Park (left) and Annie Abbott in their shared store in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Photo: Joe Armao, Fairfax Media.

It’s exactly the same for retailers who are joining forces as “shop mates”; just replace the dishes for window displays and the good looking friends for customers.

Fashion designer Megan Park and shoe designer Annie Abbott, of habbot, are experimenting with sharing a space in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.

The exterior of the store maintains separate identities, while inside, customers can browse both brands simultaneously. The exterior of the store maintains separate identities, while inside, customers can browse both brands simultaneously. Photo: Joe Armao

The pair, who each have their own stores elsewhere in Melbourne, hatched the plan over coffee before Christmas and launched the joint space this month.

Park said there was a synergy between the brands that made a physical collaboration feel natural.

“There’s that love and use of colour, there’s a slight quirkiness to it, we’re both local, it just seemed like a great opportunity,” she said.

Abbott said having a similar customer base was also critical to making the idea work.

A pair of habbot's signature brogues. A pair of habbot’s signature brogues. Photo: Dan Abbott

“It’s a commercial thing. If it was … an exhibition, where it was more about the pure enjoyment, it wouldn’t matter. It needed to make sense for both our brands,” she said.

“It was important that both spaces blended but that there is differentiation.”

Gertrude Street is becoming a fashion shopping destination to rival other Melbourne strips. Gertrude Street is becoming a fashion shopping destination to rival other Melbourne strips. Photo: Stefan Postles

habbot has two stores in the Melbourne CBD, while Park’s biggest store is in Armadale, so the Fitzroy venture offered a chance for both brands to grow.

“Even though Fitzroy is close to the city it’s a different mindset,” Abbott said.

Park said Gertrude Street was starting to attract more international visitors as well.

“We wanted to amp up the energy of the store. It seems like such a natural and obvious collaboration. It adds another layer and texture to the store,” she said.

Retail consultant Martin Ginnane​ said retail collaborations could create a triple win scenario for retailers, landlords and consumers.

He said it’s taking the department store model of a one-stop shop or a shop-in-shop and applying it to the high street.

“[Retail experts are] all talking about experience and making friends with customers. This is another way of building that relationship,” he said.

Mr Ginnane said retailers needed to be clear in their messaging or it could end badly and confuse customers.

“It’s important to have an understanding of who that other brand is and how they will complement you and not detract from you,” he said.

“We’ve all moved in with someone over the years and realised it’s not going to work. It’s harder to move out than move in.”

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