December 22nd 2009
Twenty years with a Magnetic Touch
Twenty years ago a single mother with two young boys arrived on Magnetic Island. Her name was Kay Ford (now Colewell) and this month she celebrated twenty years running a very well-known Magnetic Island business, Magnetic Touch.
Kay had discovered the Island some years earlier when visiting her older daughter Jo Ford who was undertaking a trainee course at the Arcadia Resort.
Kay experienced the magnetic attraction to a lifestyle on the Island and saw that it would be a great spot to raise her boys, Martin and Terry. She sold up her house in Mackay where she had been a dress maker and shared two wholesale bread runs with her ex and headed north.
She bought a house on Sooning Street within the commercial precinct and, as her dressmaking had earned her a number of fashion awards under the name of “Magnetic Touch” she planned to, “Sew and sell,” But discovered she liked retail better. So she registered the shop as “Magnetic Touch”.
Although Kay moved her business to Harbourside Plaza some years ago the original house and shop (which Kay and husband Mal have for sale) remains with its distinctive magnet shaped entrance. It was a very different sight when and the business began in what had been her boys' bedroom. But, having met Mal, a bricklayer, not long after she arrived and marrying him in 1991, it was, as business increased, that his building skills became very useful as she had to knock out the wall to her bedroom then later a door was removed so the shop could spread into a courtyard as well! Kay had soon moved from ladies fashion to include men's and then children's wear.
It's a common saying, if not original, that to run a small business on Magnetic Island you need to arrive with a big one. Kay by example has shown that this isn't necessarily the case. Kay has run a successful small business on Magnetic but, it ain't that easy and, after twenty years for Kay, it's not much easier.
Acknowledging the usual drawbacks such as competition from nearby mainland stores and the extra costs of transport to the Island, we asked Kay what she though it took to survive in business on Magnetic Island. Her first answer was, unsurprisingly, that one must, “work hard at it” but added that she was helped by not having to pay rent as she was working from home. Another comment was, “ You have to be aware of what clothes were right for the Island lifestyle and climate and you have to cater for all tastes, not just your own,” but added with a grin, “But even then you don't always get it right.”
As for the big store competition Kay claims she can offset her unavoidable shipping costs against the higher rental costs in Townsville.
“A lot of it is just good luck and gut instinct” she adds.
Kay recalls fondly the many charity fashion shows she has been part of over the years raising funds for cancer research, MI Community Care and the Blue Nurses at various locations such as the old Horseshoe Bay Sport and Recreation Club, the International Resort (now All Seasons) and the Golf Club as well as at her old Magnetic Touch shop and residence. And while the shows never led to many sales - her main customer base is wedding related - they served well to maintain her profile.
It seems clear that the biggest pleasure of her business has not been the sales and marketing of her clothes an apparel but the simple fact that she loves working with people.
As a testament to her gift for friendship and connection with others, there was almost nobody who walked past the table, at the Harbourside Kiosk as we conducted our interview, who didn't stop to say hello to Kay.
“It's a small community. I've often said, wouldn't it be horrible to go down the street and not know anybody,” said Kay.
Her people skills are obvious and she clearly appreciates her staff. “Good staff are totally important. They virtually run the business and when I'm not there they represent me.” She recalls Lorraine Tamblyn - “Lorraine was my memory person and with me for seven years” and now Rae Wakely, “who's been with me for eight.”
Kay has observed that on Magnetic there is also loneliness and that a shop such as hers has a role to play. “A lot of people come in for a chat and I encourage it. It's all part of a small community.” she says adding, “I have had women approach me who simply wanted to come and work for free. I think they are lonely but we really can't allow that.”
On the counter sit the three wise monkeys. “It's a very very important element – maintaining confidences,” says Kay who adds, “Honesty with customers about how clothes look on them is important. You need to give them an honest opinion.”
That honest opinion and an ongoing struggle to buy stock that isn't tied to the packages sold by the major chain fashion wholesalers, but enables Kay to have a little bit of everything – including bigger sizes, may well be some of the other factors that have helped her survive.
She is certainly with the trend when it comes to larger sizes. Kay stocks up to XXXXXXX size for some mens' clothes and up to size 30 for ladies. “I don't sell many size 10s any more. Ten years ago size 16 pulled it up but now the average size is 14 to 16!”
Kay doesn't expect to be still running her shop in another ten years but, for now, she believes she must keep working away and, “seven days a week” too.. She tells of the flying pig that hangs above her counter. “You've got to believe it!” she laughs. “I'm not gonna take him down.”
But while Kay sees hard work continuing, she believes there are some good business prospects to be had on Magnetic. “There is definitely an opening for homewares. Anything to do with the décor of a house would go for sure!”
And while future business prospects cross her mind, Kay is disappointed that their old shop and house on Sooning Street is yet to sell (click here for more) as she believes it is an ideal opportunity for a home based business – particularly a dive shop.
But twenty years of hard work doesn't come without some regrets. “I'd like to be spending less time here. I'd like to be stepping back a bit at the moment. Kay has inklings for another life and admits she'd love to be involved, “behind the scenes with anything musical”. Her son Terry and daughter Jo are both musicians.
Another escape she does occasionally achieve is to a friend's place on Pelorus Island, “Where there is nothing! Mal won't even go there but it's where your mind can just shut down and you just fish!”
Story & photo: George Hirst
Photo includes from left: Martin, Jo Mal Kay Terry and Piper
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