Sisters Ange and Lou Pannell run a beautiful boutique store located in the equally beautiful township of Woodend. Full to the brim with quality homewares, gardenwares and clothing for the whole family, Ange and Lou have carefully curated a range of largely Australian-made, sustainably-sourced products that are gaining them a solid customer base both locally and further afield.
Lou talked to Calder Western about the trials and tribulations of launching and running their beloved store, their design philosophy and their love of beautiful and practical products.
Can you please talk a little about the journey to establishing Woodend General?
We had talked about opening a store together for a few years; we just didn’t know where or how we were going to make it happen. After moving to the Macedon Ranges, we felt there was a market for this type of shop in Woodend.
I first saw the shop for lease last October, but we both felt the timing wasn’t right. Ange was pregnant after a long struggle to be so, and that was her focus, and I was loving my job in Melbourne as a visual merchandising manager. But after a few hectic months at the end of 2019, and seeing the shop was still available in January, we decided to pounce! We didn’t want the opportunity to be taken by someone else.
So from January to March, we pulled it together really quickly. We engaged Andy Johnston, a good friend of our younger sister Sarah Pannell to do our brand identity and the rest we did ourselves, with the help of our very supportive extended family. Our father painted and restored the shop interior and exterior, while Ange and her husband made some of the fixtures and fittings for the shop. I worked my job in Melbourne and Ange, with a newborn for company, pulled together all of the brands and products. I assisted but had limited time to do so, and I completely trusted her decisions. We were then due to open the week that the first Victorian COVID lockdown came into place which was pretty devastating and anxiety-inducing. But it enabled us to launch our online store and we had a “soft opening” over the following weeks which did work well in terms of easing into it and allowing us to test and learn as we went. Since then we’ve been so lucky to gain the support of so many locals, and visitors from further afield, for which we have been so grateful.
What is the philosophy behind the brand?
We wanted to create a relaxed and inviting store offering quality items for the home, garden and family that Ange and I love and would use ourselves. We curate our brands carefully, supporting mostly Australian brands and where possible Australian-made, with a strong focus on ethical production. Supporting this is our online store, which is ever-evolving, and we hope exudes the same relaxed feeling as walking through the doors to our physical store. As a local to this area, we wanted to create a place where people could pop in and find the perfect gift or item for their home, without having to rely on shipping things in from larger retailers online. It is all about making it easy for the customer and offering that service.
The store has a warm, inviting and organic feel. What is it about this aesthetic that you find appealing?
We are both quite relaxed and easy-going people and we love a range of styles, eras and design aesthetics. I think the design of the existing shop informed how we pulled the interior and style together. It’s a late 19th / early 20th-century typical weatherboard building with a wide veranda and a cobbled-together layout that has formed over the years.
We love this style of Australian building and the shop appealed to us because of this. We didn’t have a budget for an architect-designed shop fit so looked for both new and vintage furniture and fixtures, pieces that would work within the shop in its current form. Keeping a neutral interior has created the perfect backdrop for all of our beautiful products.
Has working with family made things easier, or enhanced the business in any way? Does it create any challenges?
It's super easy as we know and trust each other so well and quite often are thinking the same thing which is sometimes a bit scary and confronting!
We haven’t run into many challenges so far. We are both equally driven and relaxed, but in different ways and so I think we balance each other out well, and we always know how to have a laugh about things, which you have to be able to do when you launch a business during a global pandemic!
How do you choose the products that you sell? Are they mainly sourced from Australian designers, or do you look further afield?
Ange had a lot of product and brand knowledge as well as existing relationships with many brands from her previous roles, which has been invaluable. We drew on that experience and then also pulled in brands and products that we both love and use. We are conscious about the fact that there is just so much stuff out there and there is only so much of it that people need. Our focus is on sourcing quality made products that will last a long time, encouraging our customers to buy once and buy well.
We support mostly Australian brands and, where possible, Australian and locally made. We want to offer varying price points within the store to cater to different budgets and customer needs. In saying that, we also offer some products from international brands and there are a few more on our list that we are looking to stock. Living through COVID and the delays with shipping and fluctuating markets, however, has meant that we’ve kept most of our suppliers within Australia for now.
What are some of your favourite items that you sell in Woodend General?
There are too many! Something we probably use the most is our beautiful Merino jumpers; we have two styles across many colours on high rotation. Ange is a gardener and so uses a lot of our gardening range and I love our ceramics and candles and also our Tightology socks which have been keeping me toasty through these cold Woodend winter days.
My life right now is pretty close to living the dream, although obviously, my dream doesn’t involve a global pandemic!
Do you have any exciting plans or things on the agenda for the store?
We have too many plans! We already feel like we need to have a bigger space to stock all the things we’d love to offer our customers. More so, in the short term, we will look to refine our product offering, phasing some things out and making way for others, which is exciting as we lead into Christmas.
What are three things every home should have?
A soul, laughter and love; and beyond that, pieces that enable you to live your life more easily and to take pleasure in the everyday.
Does nature inspire you?
Yes. Living in nature has allowed me to take pleasure in the simplicity of looking out, or going for a walk in the trees and feeling calm and centred.
What designers do you admire and why?
Olli Ella. I think they have tapped into the joy of children’s play and all their products facilitate that in a beautiful and relaxed way. It’s not overdone, which I like.
Similarly, I love the simplicity and beauty of our handmade knives and collection of linen and wooden pieces from Mill Road Made. Cassandra is my best friend, and after a career in fashion design, she has turned her hand to designing this beautiful range of practical items for the home. We also commissioned her and partner Ben to make pegboards for the plethora of coats, hats and scarves one acquires living in the ranges, which have been very popular with our customers.
Kim Wallace. Kim and her team make the most divine and functional ceramics. We love their espresso cups and the new kitchen and bathroom tray, perfect for handwash and sanitiser.
What do you love about working in Woodend?
Being so close to home and getting to know the local community more intimately.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
Living in Warrnambool, where we were both born. The beach and going out on a boat wearing a Mickey Mouse life jacket!
What do you like to do in your spare time? Have you any hobbies?
[Laughs] We don’t feel like we have much spare time at the moment! When possible, Ange loves getting out in her garden and tending to her amazing veggie patch and beloved chooks. And I love being able to go to yoga, pilates or to draw. I love drawing and designing house plans. Or also getting out into nature; one of our favourite local walks to do as a family is Mt Towrong.
Have you had an experience that has changed your thinking in some way?
Having my third daughter sharpened my focus to want to live a slower life and work closer to home. Seeing that time goes so quickly - my older two daughters are now eight and six - gave me the drive to want to change things up and slow things down. And to also invest all that time and energy that we do for work into something that I was building for my community, myself and my family.
What music do you currently have on high rotation?
Do you love a good magazine? If so, what are your faves?
Who are some of your favourite local creatives?
Our favourite artist would have to be Elizabeth Barnett who we have had the pleasure of getting to know through our children’s school. We would both love one of her pieces of art one day!
We also stock some beautiful handmade pieces by local artisans. Our hand-knitted toys have been a firm favourite for baby gifts, by the talented Sue from Wild and Woolly; she cannot knit fast enough to keep up! And local craftsman Nolan Tyrrell from Tylden Good Wood. His unique one-off wooden spoons and vessels for the home are a labour of love.
What things do you recommend visitors do whilst in Woodend?
In “normal” non-COVID times we would say that you have to have lunch at cafe Fox In The Chamber, although you can still experience the joy of takeaway from this fab team. Take a wander next door through The Gardeners Path nursery, run by our neighbour Gordon, and visit cute-as toy store Karasmatic Kids a few doors up. Stroll further down along the high street and experience all the other fabulous local businesses we have in town.
A visit to Mount Towrong winery, right next to Mount Macedon, is a must; such divine Italian inspired food and wine! And if you are looking for somewhere to stay, we highly recommend Ranges Escapes; Jen and her team run several stunning accommodation options across the Macedon Ranges.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Finding a vaccine for COVID. More broadly it would be that our government, on all levels, taking climate change seriously.
You can host three people over for dinner, living or not. Who would they be and why?
Right now, I’d love to be able to host my sister Sarah and my grandfather who is 93, who are living in Melbourne’s Stage 4 COVID lockdown and whom we miss. And our Nana - Ruth Pannell - who passed away over 10 years ago, but who we would love to see again and share a meal with.
It is early Sunday morning. What will we find you most likely doing?
I would be making pancakes for my girls. A Sunday family ritual. Ange would be hiding in bed, attempting to catch up on the sleep she didn’t get the night before.
Imagine you are living the dream. What does it look like?
My life right now is pretty close to living the dream, although obviously, my dream doesn’t involve a global pandemic! I can’t wait for the shop to be more established and for us to be able to travel more widely for both pleasure and to discover new brands and artists to bring to our customers. I’d love to be able to build my own home, something I hope to do in the next few years.