This is the second instalment of Propsa’s ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series, where we speak with seasoned small business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way. Read other stories here.  

It all started when…

Natalie (pictured middle, below) and I decided we were going to have a kid, and we were trying to figure out a way we could parent together. I had been working in bookshops for a long time and Natalie was working in academia. We wanted to create a space where we could do the work that we both love, while also parenting the way we wanted to – together. We didn’t want to rely on systems that didn’t allow us to be with our baby.

We were lucky enough to be in a position to start up our own business, Rabble Books & Games based in Maylands, Western Australia.

We opened the doors when our toddler Pippin (pictured below) was 2 months old. So, the shop and baby have kind of grown up together – they’re both around two years old now.

Sam Baker, Rabble Books and GamesImage by Jan Nicholls

We wanted our business to be…

A place where everyone feels welcome. Inclusion is really important to us. We make sure we’re creating a community that’s for everyone. For example, we make sure the building and aisles are wheelchair accessible, and we highlight diverse voices in the books we promote and through our Drag Queen Story Hour. At these readings, there’s nobody in that room who just isn’t thrilled to be there. The enthusiasm you get from the adults and kids creates such a beautiful space.

I wish someone had told me that… Sam Baker, Rabble Books and GamesI wish someone had told me that… Sam Baker, Rabble Books and Games

Images: Drag Queen Reading Hour by Claire Alexander

By doing things like this, we end up finding the customers who align with our values. This all ties into the idea of starting a small business in the first place – if you don’t love it, if it’s not championing all the things that you hold most dear, then it’s not going to be worth the energy and effort.

It’s a really family-friendly space. If toddlers aren’t pulling the books out and throwing them on the ground, then something’s wrong. We’ve even got a room out the back for Pippin to play and sleep in.

We grow our business through…

Building our community through word of mouth. If people think we’re special, they will tell others about us with pride. We also grow that community through social media.

We always knew the kind of business we were going to create was going to be very focussed on the stuff we care about, such as diversity and inclusion. That focus gets even tighter when posting on social media. Natalie is very social media savvy, so she’s having a lot of the conversations and engaging with our online community directly, often about things that are happening in the world, not just content that’s related to our book shop. This creates an authentic connection with our customers.

If there was a detachment between the way Rabble operated online and the way we talk to people when they come into the shop, I think that would be disingenuous. Rabble isn’t just a brand, it’s a reflection of us and our community. We have to be properly engaged with our customers for that to work.

I wish someone had told me that…

You don’t have to be good at everything straight away. Things will take a little longer than you might have anticipated. You’ve got to have that vision of the amazing thing you’re going to build, but it most likely won’t be that straight away.

You also do really need to create an avenue for feedback. The community that exists around the shop now is just so big, beautiful and interesting, and when you get feedback from that community, you’ve got to take it on because it’s always something that’s going to enrich the business.

Building a community around our brand was important because…

Our brand and our community are not easily separable. We’ve developed a very supportive community around Rabble – they even helped us in the early days. We put a sign up in the shop window asking for help to set up the store, and we had people we’d never met before volunteering to come in and assemble IKEA furniture, while we were juggling the sleeping and feeding schedules that come with a newborn.

At the start of COVID-19, we really felt that local support around us. People wanted us to survive and they helped in so many ways, from buying books and games to volunteering their time to help with home deliveries. We would not be here without these people.