Melanie Grant Owner of Winton Newsagency and Travel Service grew up in the outback steeped in family business. Two years ago, she purchased the Newsagency, with a vision to create an outback retail experience for both her local community and tourists. Winton Newsagency now carries a treasure trove of unique homewares and gift lines that outback travellers can’t resist, and which can’t be found elsewhere.
How did you transition from your family transport business to a retail business?
They are worlds apart and I had never done retail. It was a steep learning curve. The first 12 months was very hectic and finding our feet, as there wasn’t much of a handover and my husband Dave and I were thrown in the deep end.
I had worked in the family transport business for 14 years. Dad was really diverse in what he did and I have gotten that from him and applied that to our retail business. Mum and Dad started off with one water truck which turned into cattle trucks and an array of machinery, but said you can’t rely on one stream for income. I learnt a lot from my Dad. He was a good businessman and a very hard worker. I wouldn’t be in the shop if it wasn’t for both my parents. I wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. My Mum is a strong woman and I thank her for giving me the strength to reach my goals and to keep working hard.
So when we bought the newsagency, I knew we needed something else other than newspapers and magazines and I had a vision of what the shop could do for Winton. So I went into homewares, giftware and garden art. I could see the potential and the need for our small community.
We also diversify the business through other contracts. The newsagent is also a Bus Queensland agent and since August 2018 we have had the contract to deliver Australia Post mail to the surrounding sheep and cattle properties. When we bought the Newsagency in November 2018, we were pregnant with our second child and in the process of selling my parents business, so it was a busy time. With the Australia Post contract, Dave has to do a 600km round trip twice a week, so he is out of action from the Newsagency for two days a week and it is a seven days a week business. In tourist time, that is a lot of pressure.
Why do the local and tourist community love your business and how does Winton’s business community support each other?
In the main street, everyone is very close and helps each other out. The baker has helped me with freezer space for our ice cream and I help him by typing his advertisements. You scratch my back and I scratch yours. My Dad grew up like that and that rubbed off on me.
The locals are excited they can walk in and find a gift for someone. That was a goal for me being a born and bred local. If you order online, you are going to get stuck every now and then. A lot of people have commented that they love our broad range and that we can help them out when they need it. I put items on Facebook and people walk in immediately, or they live 300kms away and then they ask me to put it away. I don’t have a website but Facebook and Instagram are the salespeople that don’t sleep.
With tourists, they come in looking for Lotto and are surprised we don’t have it. Funnily enough it is the menswear shop down the road that has the contract, and it is a Winton institution. But asking about Lotto still brings tourists in. When they come in, they have a look around. Some of them come in for the paper and magazines and others just want to see what is on offer in a local town. We are in the Matilda Country Magazine and people know we stock the best nougat in Australia from West Gosford.
People like seeing what you can find in an outback shop because it is a a story you can tell people when you get home. Surprisingly, we sell 1.8 metre high tin emus and expensive lamps to travellers. I can’t believe what people buy and transport back to the city and what they will store in the caravan. I didn’t expect tourists to buy these homewares. But the feedback from customers is that homewares and giftwares are very generic in the city. They just have chain stores. I just buy what I like and hope others do too. People like that our stock is different and we are independent. With COVID too, everyone is spending money on homewares, which is great for our business.
Our shop is also inviting. It is cool on a hot day and we always have music playing to create atmosphere. Tourists also like talking to me as a local. If you talk to a couple, one will chat and the other one will go and buy something else while they are waiting. If you show that you are in a rush, people will want to leave your shop. But if you make them feel welcome, they are happy to stay.
Why should people visit Winton?
There are four main festivals this year. Winton Way out West in April, which is a music festival, the Queensland Boulder Opal Festival, Vision Splendid Film Festival and the Outback Festival in September. We have one of the very few open air picture cinemas in Australia and the film festival is turning into a big thing. It started because so many films have been made and produced in Winton, but it has evolved from that. Every year they also bring out film students for a competition and they have to make short films in Winton, which are shown at the last night of the festival.
We are also the dinosaur capital of Australia and that is evolving all the time. The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is big attraction. We also have the Waltzing Matilda Centre, which focusses on the story of Banjo Patterson and the story of Waltzing Matilda. The original centre burned down in 2015 and people are coming back to see the new rebuilt centre.
We also have opal mining here and it is the birth place of Qantas. People need to spend a week here to see everything. We have great tour guides that show you all the amazing stuff. And apart from the tourist attractions, the people are nice and we have a nice looking town. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
What are you most proud of?
I have a hard time accepting compliments and would rather be behind the scenes and not in the limelight. People tell me to stop and listen when they are giving compliments, and now I do. I think I was so busy in the past 2 years that I didn’t stop and realise just what we have accomplished.
I wouldn’t have been able to live this dream without my partner Dave. He is my go to man for anything and everything! I am proud of what we have built here and where we have come from. I had a vision and it is coming to life. We have managed to juggle work and life with a nearly two year old and a five year old on a seven days a week business.
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