REGIONAL towns need to buy local and support local businesses so they can continue to thrive.
Carmen and Sebastian Degenaar owners of Thing-a-me-bobs variety store and recently opened homewares store The Rustic Vault in Narrogin, know this only too well and to support that theory, they have been buying everything they possibly can locally to support other small businesses in the region.
"Shopping local is so important because without this support, the services we offer in small towns like ours would cease to exist," Carmen said.
This supportive spirit also extends right throughout the township's group of small business owners, who regularly collaborate to ensure each store is offering different products and services to the community.
"A few of us go to The Melbourne Gift and Lifestyle Fair every year to source new products and while there we openly talk to each other about what products we are interested in," Carmen said.
"If someone else has ordered a product range and we are aware, we will get something different, giving our local customers more variety and choice.
"That's where communication is key.
"There's around 600 suppliers that go to The Melbourne Fair and it takes us about three or four days to walk through it.
"Our goal each year is to establish relationships with new suppliers, source new products and get sneak peaks and pre orders of the new ranges being released.
"This keeps our stores always fresh and on trend."
In choosing products for the Rustic Vault, a quintessential country homewares store, Carmen continually researches high quality local products and is picking up more local suppliers.
"One of our suppliers is Amanda Tassone who has a company called Diamonds and Dust," Carmen said.
"She pours her own candles on her 100 acre property just out of Narrogin and they smell amazing.
"We are also stocking handmade jewellery from a lady based out in the Swan Valley.
"I really liked her jewellery and when I found out it was Western Australian made, that was the icing on the cake".
Carmen started her career working at the Amcal chemist in Narrogin.
"Mr and Mrs Twaddle taught me a lot, they sent me on a retail traineeship at the Perth College of TAFE which sparked my love for retail," Carmen said.
"After six years of employment I got itchy feet and wanted to try being a business owner myself.
"Working at the pharmacy I saw the need for a discount variety store in town so Thing-a-me-bobs was born.
"It was 1998, I was 23, young and ready to take the plunge.
"It was back when discount stores like WA Salvage had just started popping up, so after careful consideration, I decided to give it a go."
Carmen applied for a small business loan and leased a little store on the corner of Federal and Egerton Street.
"My mum and dad were a godsend from the start, they used to come down after work and give me a hand until I got it up and running," Carmen said.
Thing-a-me-bobs has moved three times since then, due to outgrowing the space, and is now located in the old warehouse building of the Narrogin Observer.
Carmen relocated and renovated at almost eight months pregnant with the help of her family, parents and friends.
"My baby boy is now 15, how time flies" Carmen said
"By then I had already employed my mum and she worked for me full time for many years before she retired."
A few years ago, Carmen and her team started diversifying and began selling good quality homewares at Thing-a-me-bobs, and although it sold quite well, found it hard to change people's perception of Thing-a-me-bobs as anything other than a variety store.
When the space next door came up for sale, Carmen and Sebastian jumped at the chance, seeing it as an opportunity to showcase all things homewares and design and share their passion.
They aptly named the store The Rustic Vault, as the building was a bank originally, and they have kept some of the building's history, setting up the old vault as a display bedroom.
"We moved all of our beautiful homeware products over to The Rustic Vault and added to them, introducing linen, pendant lighting, kitchenware, soft furnishings, prints and products you can't find anywhere else in Narrogin," Carmen said.
"We try our best to provide Narrogin with a large variety of choice - the store is also different from a lot of city stores in the fact it's totally independent, giving us the freedom to stock whatever we want.
" A lot of care is taken in finding our products so our customers can take home something that is unique."
Completing a lot of the renovations themselves and with the help of local tradesman, the interior has a rustic, industrial feel, with old exposed wire-cut red bricks, flashes of galvanised steel, pendant lighting and timber floors, making the space in itself an experience.
"At The Rustic Vault we pride ourselves in providing our customers with a beautiful shopping experience without the high price tag," Carmen said.
"All our homewares are very affordable.
"We wanted the fit-out to be a talking point and to provide some inspiration to people for their own homes.
"It also makes showcasing our products so much better."
Being next door to Thing-a-me-bobs makes it easy for the couple to manage both stores, rotating a few of their staff between the two.
"We are so lucky to have an amazing team of people who are passionate about the stores and having them side by side really complements each one, with two different markets captured," Carmen said.
"Customer service is paramount to us and all of our staff have been in retail their entire working lives and understand exactly what our customers need."
The entrepreneurial gene seems to run in the family, with Carmen's grandfather and parents previously owning plant nurseries in Narrogin, and her father owning a panel beating and spray painting business.
"My parents were business orientated people and I believe my sisters and I learnt a lot from watching them," Carmen said.
"You do tend to follow in your parents footprints.
"One of my sisters has owned a few hairdressing salons and now has her own photography business which is proving very successful, while the other two have careers in teaching and nursing," Carmen said.
"I'm very proud of them all."
Next year, an online store for The Rustic Vault will be launched, giving everyone the opportunity to purchase their products
Sebastian, who is a software developer by trade, will build the online store.
"He's very handy to have around," Carmen said.
"He also designed the business websites and logos.
"These days online shopping is competing with small retail, so if you can't beat them, join them."
If you haven't already been in to check out the new store, they would love to see you.