The store keeping community at its heart
7 July 2021 at 8:32 am
Over the past 10 years, LoveLuvo has become much more than a store selling gifts and homewares. It’s a community hub providing jobs for vulnerable people, while doing its bit for the environment, writes Maggie Coggan in this month’s Spotlight on social enterprise.
Sue has struggled for most of her life to hold down a job.
Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 25, she found many of the places she worked over the years lacked understanding or empathy for her illness.
“People who aren’t used to working with mentally ill people take it the wrong way,” she said.
“Working in an office, for example, I always wanted to go out for a smoke because I get anxious, and they told me off for that and a lot of other things. Then my contract wasn’t renewed.”
This year however, marks a decade since she first started working for LoveLuvo, an employment social enterprise that breaks down barriers to work for people like Sue.
“This is the longest long-term job I’ve ever had – way longest. So I’m very proud of myself,” Sue said.
Tucked away in the inner-western Melbourne suburb of Seddon, LoveLuvo opened its doors in 2011 to support the Westgate Community Initiatives Group (WCIG), a charity running training and support programs across employment, disability and youth.
Before LoveLuvo, the space was used to house WCIG’s first social enterprise, Cleanable – a commercial cleaning, gardening and property maintenance business that provides employment for people facing barriers to work.
As Peter Collins, WCIG’s social enterprise manager, explains, the idea to open a retail store came about very naturally.
“The space Cleanable was operating from had a shop front that the business wasn’t really using, so we decided to turn it into a retail store to provide an additional revenue stream for the charity,” Collins told Pro Bono News.
“It was also about providing more employment opportunities for people who face barriers to work… And what we found was that there were actually some staff within the Cleanable team that also had retail skills, so we were able to move some of those people into LoveLuvo.”
Employees such as Sue can complete retail courses through WCIG, to then find work with one of the charity’s enterprises. In the past year, LoveLuvo has provided over 1,000 hours of paid employment to people facing barriers to work.
A fixture of the community
The enterprise’s main product focus to begin with was refillable cleaning products like detergent, soaps, and laundry liquid. Back in 2011 this was a relatively new offering, and as Jacinta Manivong, WCIG’s marketing manager, explained, something that the local community was asking for.
“We started selling environmentally friendly cleaning products in response to people coming in and asking,” Manivong said.
“Doing this was a major point-of-difference which our community really responded to… because alongside our unique and distinctive product offering, and empathy towards people with barriers to employment, we’ve developed a strong and loyal customer base.”
In the past year, the refillable bottle service has also helped to clean up the community by saving 2,345 plastic bottles from being tossed into landfill.
Collins says that a major part of LoveLuvo’s growth as a business was how it could become an important part of the community – a place locals loved going to.
“We’ve really focused on how we can play a part in being the community heart of Seddon, which is a great and loyal community,” he said.
While the refill station is still a big part of the store, LoveLuvo now also sells a range of soaps, beauty products, gifts, and homewares that are either made in-house or are sourced from other ethical, local, and environmentally friendly brands.
Collins says that choosing products made by other social enterprises was a big focus in terms of impact.
“So if there’s a demand for a product, our first goal is to look at who we can get to supply that locally. And if there is a way for us to promote a social enterprise for that product, we choose that first,” he said.
“A good example might be our Kenshi candles, which is a social enterprise that directs half of its profits to charities and worthy causes.”
While LoveLuvo is only one small store, Collins says that over the years the organisation has been able to connect with like-minded customers to create awareness of the social enterprise movement.
“We’re not necessarily going to move thousands of units. But what we are able to do is provide our customers, who align with our mission and vision, to be able to learn about other social enterprises,” he said.
The challenges and setbacks of 2020
Like all retail stores across Melbourne, LoveLuvo’s doors were shut for the majority of last year.
Jessica Sims, LoveLuvo’s store manager, said that as well as ensuring the business survived through the long shut down, helping staff regain their confidence was another hurdle after so many months off work.
“It was hard for the staff who returned after months off work, there were some that had their confidence knocked a bit,” Sims said.
“It’s just been about slowly introducing someone, who might only be comfortable doing little duties behind the scenes such as labelling products, to the actual retail store.
“Watching their confidence grow and then becoming super confident and actually really enjoy the work they are doing is amazing.”
For Sue, building confidence has not only helped her in her job, but in her everyday life as well.
“It’s a confidence thing… even if you’ve got a job as a cleaner, it’s [building] confidence. You’re holding down a job. You’re not just a mentally ill person,” she said.
Building a sustainable future
While Collins says LoveLuvo’s current model is financially sustainable, the focus now is to create brand awareness and expand into wholesale to not only increase the business’ impact, but provide a security blanket for future challenges.
“We are really looking forward over the next year or two, [to] developing more brand awareness and a bit more equity in our products so that we can have our products stocked in other businesses,” he said.
“What that will do for LoveLuvo is help us achieve more employment and create more opportunity, but also help us to weather the storms of potential closures and pandemics that pop up in the future because we will have more than one income stream.”
Check out LoveLuvo’s online store here, or if you’re in Melbourne, head down to their store at 174 Victoria Street, Seddon.