Once upon a time there was a farmer and a school teacher, who after deciding a tree change was in order for their family, purchased Book City Ballarat. Moving from a small town in the Mallee so their four children could have a more extensive education, Lyle and Tracey Willersdorf had always loved books and reading, and thought it was the natural way to start a new chapter in their lives.
Fast forward to the present day and the couple are living their own fairytale, working out of one of Ballarat's beautiful historic buildings and awarded Collins 2018 National Franchise of the Year. The Willersdorfs ran their successful bookshop in Sturt Street for more than a decade before opening Collins Booksellers on Lydiard last year. "Running your own business is very hard work and our work ethic has always been exemplary," says Tracey. "We believe you need to work hard to reap the benefits (and) always believed it was important to reach for the stars and never assume that everything will be alright, as complacency can lead to failure."
The couple also made sure they kept a balance between their work and home life. "Our children's education was particularly important to us, as well as their extracurricular activities and time with their friends," says Tracey (their kids are now aged 23 to 28). "Our family has always been our main priority, and we always made sure that we were an integral part of it. All four children have always valued our ideas and been involved in our goals and achievements. They all have the same desire to succeed, and possess that inner strive." The Willersdorfs currently employ 10 people, with all or their kids having worked in the family bookstore at some point, either processing and serving customers, or working on returns and helping with the financial side of the business.
The heritage-listed building that houses the Willersdorf's bookstore belongs to the Old Colonists' Association of Ballarat and dates from 1888. It features an architecturally significant Classical Revival façade, which derives from Renaissance design, and has a unique interior and detailing, including a pressed-tin roof, old-style bookcases, timber floors, open fireplaces, a heritage front counter and old-fashioned signage. Internal walkways connect the three parts of the shop, which are dedicated to fiction, nonfiction and children's/young adult titles.
Given its unique beauty, it might seem like a natural fit to be awarded Collins National Franchise of the Year for 2018, however Tracey says it's a reflection of their hard work, and the ability to make a difference for their customers. "Our aim for our new store was to create a destination bookstore for Ballarat," she says. "We love our new store and it gives us great pleasure to know that it is valued by others. It was such a surreal moment when our name was announced."
Lyle and Tracey have plenty of further ideas for their bookstore, a visit to London this year no doubt inspiring many future plans. "We want our bookstore to continue being special and unique," says Tracey. "We anticipate the next chapter in our new bookstore will be exciting and one we can't wait to share with everyone."
This story is from the 2019 edition of Ballarat Business magazine. You can read the entire magazine online here.
Running your own small business? The Willersdorfs recommend the following books:
- Start Before You're Ready by Mick Spencer
- It Starts with Passion by Keith Abraham
- Work with Me by Simon Dowling
- The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber