Thinking of You Gift – A small business success story by: Student Journalist
Freya Toussaint paving a future for herself in the retail industry. Photo: Jake Day.
This is service with a smile and if you are lucky, a hug; a true form of retail therapy.
Hidden in a corner of the second level of the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, is an initiative inspiring hope and creating business opportunities for people living with a disability.
Whether a frequent visitor or a curious onlooker, you cannot help but be compelled to visit the small kiosk bursting at the seams with an array of brightly coloured hand-made gifts, cards and chocolates.
The ‘Thinking of You Gift’ shop is headed by mother-daughter power duo, Donna and Freya Toussaint, who have driven their two-year success by supporting local and international microbusinesses.
“The business grew from finding something that benefited both Freya and myself,” Donna says. “Freya really thrives off of people, and our business is about building relationships.”
“What I am hoping to do is just for people who are interested in something like Freya is doing, by having their own work and lifestyle developed for themselves, rather than going off to a big organisation for work programs.”
Freya, 21, has microcephaly and bronchiectasis. She manages the gift shop every Friday with her support worker, and throughout the rest of the week, spends one hour with her mother as a retail assistant.
The young entrepreneur is expanding her microbusiness by creating custom printed bunting as a product for sale.
Freya cannot contain her excitement that her shop is now so successful, they will have a second anniversary party to celebrate, where she can embrace her love of performing for the audience.
“I will be doing dance, singing and ukulele,” Freya says proudly.
Her support worker Megan Ross says Freya is the driving force of the business.
“We collect and deliver the products from the wholesalers to our shop, and Freya writes all the emails to our suppliers, as well as designing the layout and look of the stall every Friday,” Megan says.
“She also counts the cash float, writes in the purchases and interacts with the customers.”
Donna Toussaint brought the store to life to create more choice and control for her daughter’s future, and to pave an alternative career away from a traditional model designed for people with an intellectual disability.
“The world presents itself in all different ways and I like to think we’re a ripple in somebody’s pond,” Donna says.
“When I stand here in the hospital, I think of somebody who has been given a baby that they didn’t imagine would be their life’s journey, and if they stay here long enough and have a chat to me, I become the seed that will take them on somewhere else further down their lives.
“If somebody makes their own product and has their own microbusiness, there would be an opportunity for us to be the retailer for their small business idea.”
The businesswomen market their stall by explaining that if you buy a gift from them, you are giving a future to another person – T.O.M. T.O.Y. T.O.O. – Thinking Of Me, Thinking Of You and Thinking Of Others.
“The first way to give a future is by helping Freya in her own business,” Donna says. “She is standing here making her own future, and employing herself through her own business initiative.”
“The primary aim of the business is to support small businesses around disadvantaged, and help to provide a future and opportunity for them; that is where my gift will come from first.
“If my product does not fit that criteria, if it’s not made through a social enterprise, then the other criteria for the gift is creative, artistic and colourful, or educational.”
Donna and Freya are continuing to explore how they can provide gifts that are a little unusual, by pursuing more online business and expanding their delivery services.
“People are still stuck with the helium balloon, a teddy bear and a box of chocolates. We have things that are a little bit similar, but different,” Donna says. “We don’t have a helium balloon, we have a paper balloon.
“Our whole business was founded on that paper balloon, which I called a Breath Balloon, and Freya’s physiotherapist uses similar principles to exercise her lungs and breath.”
‘Thinking Of You Gift’ shop has gone from strength to strength since their launch, with the team celebrating their second anniversary at the children’s hospital on Friday, October 20 (2017).
“The business is a true partnership founded on Freya’s skills and my skills, so I am not doing it for Freya and I am not doing it for myself, we both drive the business together,” Donna says. “We teach and learn from each other.
“The second birthday is a way to bring people together to celebrate what an amazing job Freya and I are doing, and also a pre-amble for Christmas gift shopping to encourage more awareness of our store.
“Thinking Of You Gift is just like all of us, it is just one little part of Freya’s life, her work.”