Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

predicting business success


I write often about the successes and failures of small businesses in Fitzroy, including how the area is used to test new business ideas that sometimes become very successful and lead to the creation of franchise empires.

I sometimes get comments from readers that I am too critical of businesses. This is not my intention. My aim is to offer a pragmatic critique and interpretation of something that is rarely written about.

I write from a consumer’s point of view about how businesses present themselves to me and treat me as a customer. Too much writing about consumer oriented businesses is banal marketing rubbish that assumes that customers are gullible automatons who will buy whatever they are told to. I don’t like being treated like this.

A donut shop recently opened on Brunswick St where Timis gelato used to be. It appears to be a caterer and wholesaler who has chosen Brunswick St as its first retail outlet.

Big Lou’s website features terrible copywriting with numerous errors, including no spaces after full stops. I’m a professional writer and editor so naturally I am pedantic about such things, but beyond my personal distaste for such amateurish efforts I also think that this poor presentation has a negative impact on many educated middle class consumers.

It’s not in a business’s interest to discourage potential customers but that is exactly what places like Grumpy’s Green, American Vintage and Big Lou’s are doing with their poor writing. My theory is that a business cannot be a success if its aesthetics are less sophisticated than those of its audience. Ta-co’s choc shock cafe was a typical example.

Can Big Lou’s be a success? I’m not sure. You have to sell a lot of small items like donuts to pay the rent on Brunswick St. Is the product unique or special? No, and it’s not new, like churros were to the general public a few years ago. Donuts are not a trendy product enjoying an upmarket resurgence like chocolate or craft beer.

I’ve been watching local businesses long enough to be able to predict with a degree of accuracy whether a business will succeed or not. Rhombus surf shop and The Wick cafe are two businesses whose viability I questioned at the time and was proven correct about.

I predict that Big Lou’s will not be a success and it is unlikely to remain on Brunswick St beyond a year. It’s nothing personal. I wish the owners well, but their enthusiasm is not enough to make them a success. I simply can’t see them selling enough donuts to prosper there.


  1. If only they had a photobooth, jukebox and pinball machines, like this awesome donut shop I have known:

  2. Yes, i am the owner of big lou’s and i pitty anyone who judges a book by its cover as you have done here. You know nothing anout the business, the people behind it, our history and were we’ve been and what we have done.

    Judge us for all you will due to some typos made on a website, abd thats what they are, typos and thats why they’re called typos. Cause they are a mistake, we know better and know they must be fixed. Yes in fact our Donuts are unique! Where have you seen a lemon cheesecake donut before, totally nuts? A donut with crushed crunchies, cryshed kit kats filled with caramel, donuts and crushed oreos, show me a donut shop in Australia that makes Bear claws! Do you even know what they are? I guess not cause your a professional writer right? You dont know the donut industry or donuts. We have been catering our donuts to shows such as melbourne shows for past 3 years producing some 60k donuts in 11 days year after year. I’d say thats a pretty good indication dont you? Rather that focus on my dotted i’s and crossed T’s how about you focus on the donuts cause its all about the donut. Its time you wrote reviews on book cause your a writer and leave the donuts to someone who know about them. Abn before you atrack me once again for my spelling and grammer i appoligise in advance for i am just an ignorant donut maker aren’ t I :)

    • My discussion is about urban consumers and what kinds of businesses work in Fitzroy. It’s nothing personal about you. It is unfortunate that some small business owners can’t see the point of the discussion and insist on misinterpreting it as a personal criticism. People walking down Brunswick St are having the same conversation every day. I write it down so more people can read it and participate in the conversation. This is how social media works, and it is what consumers want, so you’ll have to get used to it.

    • I think it’s a real shame that you seem to have missed the point of the article. I’m sure you’re suitably proud of your store and your achievements in the donut field, and like Brian I wish you well. However, getting upset over his honest observations and protesting that his opinion wasn’t formed by taking into consideration your history and a bunch of detail from behind the scenes of the business is just foolish.

      How many potential customers know your history? Unless you’re a household name, most passers-by can only decide to patronise your business by “judging a book by its cover”. Do I decide that I feel like trying a donut or a bear claw when I’m just wandering past because you worked hard to develop the business? No, I’ll come in if it looks appealing, or if I’ve read positive reports of your product. If I pass by and am interested but can’t stop in, I might Google your name and yes, I would find your website off-putting.

      It might seem petty or even shallow to you for a potential customer to pass up a good donut for the sake of a typo or two, but you’re seeing it from your perspective, where the business of donuts means a lot to you. For the Fitzroy consumer, what do donuts mean to them? If I’m not excited or passionate about your product already, the least you can do is avoid turning me off your business.

  3. You are free to discuss any opinion you like I have have no objection to that whatsoever, All i ask is when discussing ANY business let alone mine it is important to state the facts as they are. In this case your Opinions and reviews regarding MY business were inaccurate stating that we do not do anything new or different. The whole concept about our Business is that it is different and new so all i ask is to be accurate in your descriptions…………

  4. Your opinions are based on not knowing the facts. Example, we are not just a retail business, Many business have other legs of their business in order to survive and generate income. You make judgements and draw opinions and conclusions without knowing all the facts behind the people or the business. In my book, thats called judging a book by its cover. Being an Author I would think you you “read” the book before writing a review.

    • I described your business as ‘a caterer and wholesaler who has chosen Brunswick St as its first retail outlet’. You appear not to have read what I wrote. As of today your website doesn’t even mention the Fitzroy shop and only lists an address in East Doncaster. I call that a communications failure.

      • You know Brian, I get your website and I enjoy it. But I also can see why business owners feel offended by some of your remarks. Criticising someones business is a bit like calling their baby ugly. You may well be spot on, but the owner of said business/baby is going to feel very protective and offended.

        Having written that, I also agree with you that bad writing on a professional website doesn’t reflect well on the business. If Big Lou is smart he’ll get that fixed up right away. Will it stop me from having a donut there.. nope :)

  5. Thats Fine Lauren and Brian, as I said before your welcome to your opinions, be it shallow or not your are entitled to it, But over a typo your turned off a donut and a business? Well I’ll leave that to you :) I can see it does not propose a professional view of my business at all which is in fact why we have been working on our updated website all day, I totally agree, its one of those things that has been put off and off in favour of more important things, but whats more important when your running and building a business, Its all important. Where to start first is often the question. None the less

    Moving onto a more positive not, if you do choose to pop in one day and try a product or 2 , let yourself be known and ill love to sit down and have a chat and im sure you will find the conversation more than pleasant, we are a friendly team doing the best in a new adventure and working hard on all aspects to make it so, we have chosen your neighbourhood to bring our new venture and bring something new to the area. MANY potential customers walking past during our 4 month construction made it noted that we were very welcome to the area as the was nothing of the kind here, We enjoy being here, we like to get along with all our neighbours and customers. I apologise sincerely if I have misread your reviews and opinions. Come ind and try a bear claw, Im sure you wont find one anywhere in Australia other than here and id say that makes us pretty proud to choose Fitzroy to do it, Yes i am the MOST PASSIONATE person you will ever find in everything i do and this is the reason we will be here to stay, when your passionate you do everything from the heart as we do here at Big Lou’s

    Kind regards and hope to see you all soon.

  6. I’ve been working as a chef thoughout Australia, New Zealand and Canada for more than 10 years now and have had the great pleasure of working with Lou for the couple years at his largest events in Australia. I’ve seen him take over poorly managed sites from Krispy Kreme and make them hugely successful and go from using a bunning’s table to roll out dough in his first year of the Royal Melbourne Show to an open plan exhibition stall with a full commercial kitchen this last year. He routinely gets offered contracts to the largest events in Australia because of his great personal relationships with all his clients and customers and his commitment to a quality product. He knows where every major donut chain in Australia get all their products from, how they make them and gets advice from other wholesale donut businesses around Australia. Even his shop has been planned out to catch your eye, seduce you into a bite of soft donut goodness followed by a great cup of barista coffee, mmm. Delicious ice cream and milkshakes will be available soon and if you can’t get your Big Lou fix in Fitzroy? Don’t worry because we are now supplying to businesses across Melbourne.

  7. Yeah huh it does because you just walked by the shop, took a picture and thought “I think I’m going to blog about this on my website today” and then merrily skipped off home without a care in the world to tell the world that Big Lou’s will fail. Meanwhile in the depths of the Big Lou’s laboratory we are hard at work making every donut, lighter, fluffier, tastier than anything you can ever imagine. One guy asked me if we put cocaine in our hot jam donuts because he just has to have more, I assure you that we do not put cocaine in our donuts, they are just that good.

    • I didn’t say Big Lou’s will fail. I said I think it won’t prosper. Learn to read moron. And another thing. Your IP number is the same as ‘Mike’ ( who is commenting on my ‘just a blogger’ post. If you are an employee of Big Lou’s ‘Chris’, you have just done your employer a serious disservice by astroturfing on their behalf. This is dishonest and unethical and future comments from this IP will be banned.

  8. …. And Philippa’s does Bear Claws. You’ve heard of them Lou?

  9. I went to the shop today due to this blog post and bought a box of 6 fancy donuts, the two I have had so far are great. Next time I will buy a bear claw and a drink and sit for a while.

  10. Hi Essjayeats I havent heard of them but great so see someone else doing them, I must go see their version. Our Bear claws have gained large popularity on the short time we have been opening, they guys from China Bar come over EVERY night asking for them and one guy bought one and drove to the city before he ate it and turned around and came straight back for another it was o good. They are a time consuming Donut to make, we make the the old fashioned PROPER way, but they come out the best. Feel free to call us on 9416 4000 before you come down to make sure we have them, we usually have them more so towards the end of the week,

    Thanks for the great feedback Tim!!

  11. Haven’t heard of Philippas? Given Philippas runs a large number of artisanal bakeries in Melbourne, with breads and pastries widely distributed to any and every upmarket food store across the state (including several around your ‘patch’ of Brunswick st alone), you might want to do a bit of reseach into your market…

  12. We predominantly focus in donuts, Not breads and pastries :)
    We know the donut market very well. I tend not to focus on what other people and businesses do otherwise you find yourself following them. We are leaders in what we do and confident we do it best. We get amazing feedback daily, in fact just today a customer used that exact word “amazing” to describe the donut he bought.

    Thanks for your advice :)

  13. Working on Brunswick St, I walk past Big Lou’s everyday and admire the neon shop front signage/ branding every time – really striking and it captures the product perfectly as does your packaging!(cudos to your designer). It would’ve been great if the branding was carried through once you step inside the place (walls/counters/ menu), you sort of feel a bit let down after the sign sets up great expectations but this is coming from a graphic designer so I can be a bit picky. The Big Lou’s branding has great potential for a seriously fun and attractive website – the current outdated one certainly lets the user down, doesn’t entice new patronage or represent the new look – I’d be hurrying on that front. Being able to see the prep and baking area is a cool idea and the donuts themselves (most importantly) are very tasty and so fluffy. Good luck Big Lou’s hope you sell a truck load there and are part of the landscape for years to come.

  14. Personally, I think the ‘Big Lou’s’ brand just doesn’t belong on Brunswick St.

    No offense ‘Big Lou’ and co (who clearly check this blog post regularly), but, come on, Brunswick street is supposed to be the heart of alternative Melbourne (yes, yes I know, how dare I suggest people dress well and live somewhere nice in no-tall-poppy Australia etc).

    This brand just kind of looks like something that might be more at home in a Northlands Mall type of place.
    And also, who the hell still eats donuts in 2012?? Don’t people care about….NOT dying?

    • I’m not arguing that Brunswick St must be anything in particular, but it has a certain culture now and this new business does not, in my opinion, fit in with the prevailing culture.

  15. I’m obviously late to the party with this comment, but I think all the above comments raise valid points regarding both the particular business and the state of businesses on Brunswick Street in general.

    One question I would ask though; does the author have any experience in managing/owning a business on the street or in the area in general? If one were to look up and down Brunswick Street these days, one would certainly notice the increase of empty retail premises, even in comparison to recent years.

    In terms of predicting the success of a business, regardless of location, often viability relies on so many other factors other than the appropriateness of business to location (in my opinion)

    Specifically, in the case of Brunswick Street, the retail rents make it difficult for any business to prosper, for example the cases of Heist and the Untitled Shop. All I can say is that I wish Big Lou all the best.


  16. Ell is a classic point in gentrification gone mad. Thanks to people like you and Brian Fitzroy has gone the way of places like St Kilda and Prahran. The life is slowly being strangled out of the place.

    • erm haven’t Prahran & St Kilda changed from being highly alternative to being full of chain stores? Ell & Brian as far as I can see are arguing against this …

    • Yeah….I think you missed the entire point of my post. I am opposed to the ‘gentrification’ (I think you should look up the meaning of the word) as personified by chain-store-style shopfronts selling fast food (aka Big Lou’s).

      I mentioned that I wanted to PRESERVE the alternative nature of Fitzroy. Are you seriously suggesting tacky desert-stores with plastic facades are ‘the life’ of the area? Or did you simply not understand my post/ the original post?

  17. Is Big Lou’s a chain store? Pardon my ignorance on the subject of doughnut shops.

    • As my article clearly states, this is Big Lou’s first retail location.

    • Larry were you referring to my comment? I was actually pointing out that Ell & Brian in fact seem be very against Fitzroy losing it’s character, rather than the cause of it as Notafan states.

      • Exactly- what Nicole said.

        While Big Lou’s is not a chain store yet, I am suggesting that it physically resembles one (in the style of Northland Shopping Centre’s foodcourt etc).

  18. I find this post tainted by subjectivity and a sort of malicious elitism which typifies the ‘too cool’ attitude of a considerable percentage of Brunswick st patrons. I hope Brian recognises that this blog and its predictions for a business’ future does contribute to whether it is a success or a failure. But really, how much? The misgivings of Big Lou’s Donuts website seem to be the cornerstone on which Brian deems the business to be an eventual failure. To me there is a real air of pomp and arrogance in assigning so much importance to the BLDs website, and essentially the internet itself. It reflects how much importance Brian probably assigns his own blog. In my opinion the merit of the store should have moreso considered the product sold, the blog does not make mention of any product being sampled.

    Websites are notorious for lagging behind small business. It is a problem, and presentation is important but it isn’t the be all and end all for a store such as this. I see the store having a tough road ahead but what small business doesn’t? It is a blog such as this that actually bullies and contributes to the downfall of such endeavours, what is the point in calling out a small business on a public domain and blackballing it as a failure? There is something sadistic about relishing in an “I told you so” attitude when the person’s actions actually contribute to the outcome. Brian is a classic example of an internet troll, however this writing effects not only the cyber sphere, but the humble endeavours of small business owners.

    As for Ell’s comments that a store like BLDs has no place on Brunswick St but rather a mall this is nothing but elitist and snobbish. Ell no doubt considers herself open minded and progressive however her post demonstrates her conservative and prejudicial nature. She is one of the ‘too cool’ crowd I mentioned earlier.

    Personally I find BLD’s aesthetic pleasant and eye catching. The staff are friendly and the product more than reasonably priced. I think the choice of location for the store is brave and particularly smart. Brian criticises the donut as ‘not new’ however the store’s context is ignored, and context is everything. The choice to set up shop in the middle of Brunswick street’s ‘souvlaki strip’, whether the store succeeds or fails, is in my opinion excellent. For what BLDs offers, donuts, may not be ‘new’, but the product is distinct from surrounding business, and that is what is important.

    The recent inclusion of savoury items such as the bacon cheese donut and hotdog introduces a reasonably priced high quality alternative to the surrounding souvlaki stores’ offerings and caters appropriately the patronage of Brunswick st, particularly the nightlife crowd which I believe is the bread and butter for these businesses.

    I have never before encountered a donut like those of BLDs, and I never before considered myself a particular fan of donuts. However I will say that in my opinion Big Lou’s Donuts are unique, delicious, and I will go as far to say special. Yes they will have to sell a lot of small items to be a success, but wouldn’t that be nice. My only gripe with the store is the option to roll with the American spelling of doughnut, but that I can understand, no matter how it shits me.

    I wish BLD’s every success and I believe their business decisions can take them there. The most important factor in this success lies in the elbow grease and passion for quality displayed not only by the owner but the staff as well. According to Brian enthusiasm is not enough to bring success, but by golly is it important, and Big Lou’s Donuts has it in spades.

  19. As much as you say that Fitzroy is this urban trendy area, the strip we are in is more catered towards 20 something people on a night out and what they want is good fast food and a good time. We sell the most from 8 pm onwards and Friday and Saturday night after 9pm is the busiest time of the week. We are constantly working to improve quality and minimize costs and wages so I appreciate feedback, even if it’s negative. We have been growing steadily over the last few months and will continue to do so, especially over the winter period and with the wholesale accounts and producing for all our normal events on top of the shop. We try to cater for everyone and will always do special requests such as on demand birthday cakes, specialty decorated or any other request you might have.

    I don’t really get Lou’s obsession with America either but he says it’s because that’s where all the great donut connoisseurs are.

  20. Big Lou I could not find your opening hours on your website??
    Please put them on your website so people don’t need to keep calling to find out if you’re open?

    • That’s a new website they’ve got – completely different to the one I was viewing when I wrote this post. It now lists the Brunswick St shop but as you say does not include the opening hours. It also contains many of the amateur formatting errors of the previous version, such as different fonts and text sizes on different pages and missing full stops. Oh dear…

  21. Dear Brian

    I would just like to mention one point which is that being a vegetarian, Big Lou’s Donuts are a Godsend for me. I and many of my friends are donut-holics and it is EXTREMELY difficult to source donuts not containing animal fats. Big Lou’s shop interior specifically state that its donuts do not contain any animal fats and this is a big draw-in factor for vegetarians and the eco-conscious like myself. This is what makes Big Lou’s so special.

    They taste so good without all the unnecessary animal fats and whenever myself or my husband are passing through the area, we always manage to come back home with a couple of delicious animal-friendly donuts.

    Thanks Big Lou’s!

  22. I’ve just been to the shop today, 4th Jan 2014. Guess you were a bit off with your 12 month prediction. I cant comment on the viability of the retail store, but the donuts were delicious.

  23. Just been to the Melbourne Show this weekend and had some of Big Lou’s divine doughnuts. Great job guys, will be visiting your shop to get more!!

  24. Haha got this one so wrong. Your statement about them not being a “trendy” product seems wrong aswell. Look at all the doughnut shops opening now including one by Raph grime beat box kitchen that has queues outside it everyday.

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