GRIT ‘N GRACE
KEEPING THE FAITH AND PASSION ALIVE DURING A RELOCATION WAS A TRUE CHALLENGE FOR PARNELL STORE OWNER KIM HELAS, WRITES SARAH SPARKS.
ome time ago while working as a chartered accountant in the UK, Kim Helas had an unfulfilled dream. “All these guys came in with these boxes. I thought if they can run their own business – why can’t I?” That’s where her business idea all started, she recalls.
Inspiration finally came through a visit to Italy. Seeing the beautiful stationery sold there provided the necessary spark to launch Passion For Paper in Auckland almost 22 years ago.
Like a typical business owner, Kim does everything ‘hands-on’ – from product sourcing, ordering, pricing and warehousing to merchandising.
Her reverence for past traditions and manners instilled from a young age around acknowledging others were key business drivers. She could see an opportunity caused by “everything going electronic”.
“When people want to write a letter or a thank-you note they want something nice – it’s elevated people so when they do it, it’s more of a ceremonial type of process.”
Today her inventory sourced from around the globe is all-encompassing. Passion For Paper clients also use papers for decoupage, book binding, and a multitude of other creative endeavours. Then there is the extensive selection of premium stock invitations for weddings and parties. Kim’s suppliers are hand-picked, usually from family businesses spanning multiple generations with provenance.
“That’s an attraction for me – I look for legacy with a history behind it.”
Four years ago, a historical factor within her own business proved to be a test in self-belief.
The store originally opened its doors in a Victorian-style Parnell building built in the 1880s.
By 2014 Kim needed to move out to allow refurbishing and earthquake strengthening.
For 12 months after vacating, Passion For Paper traded online only.
“After being told it would take a year and then coming to the realisation in July 2015 it was nowhere near being complete, I had to make another decision on what to do,” she says.
In frustration she looked around at other retail premises. However, loyalty to the building kept bringing her back to the same location.
Across the road was plan B. “I secured a temporary lease moving for four months, in theory. Two years later I was still there.”
Finally in September of 2017 she moved back into her original address. The landlord had strengthened, rewired and reconfigured all four stories of the heritage-status structure. And while the building transformed, Passion For Paper had transformed as well.
Kim had used the temporary, larger space to have fun. There were inaugural events brainstormed with other artisans, ranging from jewellers to florists. Tea tastings with edible gold nibbles showcased fine Italian stocking fillers.
“For me it’s just another experiment that I know I can do – little ideas come to me,” she explains. “I like collaborations creating new experiences with products coming together.”
A local institution, Cartier For Flowers even created orchid floral halos donned by pets and photographed on premise to raise funds for the SPCA.
Upon reflection Kim wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s been the worst three years, yet the best three years of my life,” she admits. The disruption strengthened her patience and taught her how to go straight to the core of an issue without emotion.
Hanging in there with grace waiting, was the right choice. Customers flowed back rewarding Kim’s convictions.
“It proved that I’d made the right decision – to always go with my instinct even though you naturally start to doubt it. Especially when things don’t start to pan out as quickly as you want them to,” she says.
The energy of the reopened building was like a magnet. The high ceiling, the light combined with beautiful product, music and fragrances wafting down the road from one of the oldest pharmacies in the world (Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella), drew familiar faces back in. “The amazing thing about being out of that shop for so long was the amount of people saying ‘ thank goodness you’re back in Parnell – we’ve really missed you’,” she says.
“It was a good reminder to keep the faith in your own intuition.”