Model for business

SHIRLEY Putnin’s enterprise is a small business – it builds and sells homes, but they will fit on a table, and their occupants will sit on your hand.

In her miniature world it is possible to buy not only a model home (she rejects the term “doll’s house”) but all the accoutrements - Lilliputian furniture for a score of rooms, floor coverings, wallpaper, light fixtures, cornices, skirting, tea sets, kitchen utensils even garden tools and genuinely miniature paintings.

It is not an enterprise that will make even a miniature fortune, but as she points out: “If you have a business that is also your hobby, what more can you ask for?”

For a quarter of a century Shirley conducted her small business among much bigger ones, a few metres from Parliament House, in the midst of affluent West Perth.

But the museum she had there - It’s A Small World - was demanding of her time, and several years ago she closed it, storing her 10,000 items and moving her shop and tiny factory to Kardinya.

She sells only a few dozen model houses a year, mainly to collectors – only near Christmas do many go to children.

“Women collect model homes and their fittings in much the same way as men play with model trains. Some of my customers have rooms full of houses and shops,” she said.

She and a sub-contractor make her homes, either one of the 10 basic models in her range, custom-designed houses, or modifications of the standard plans, in much the same way as a builder will provide a house “off the shelf” or modify his standard homes.

She will build a house from a customer’s sketch, or offer ideas to fit a collector’s needs.

On display in her shop is the top model, a mansion costing more than $1000 – and some people buy at that price, but a more modest bungalow is $155. No first-home buyer’s subsidy is available, however

The figures painstakingly placed in the homes are not described as dolls by their collectors, but as people.

Great care is taken to acquire furnishings and furniture appropriate for a home (or shop).

Contrasting with the timelessness of her vocation, and the passion of her collectors, Shirley Putnin has an Internet homepage, but has been disappointed with this new tool.

While up to 50 people a day open it, not one sale has been made through the Internet since she was given it, as a birthday gift from her son, nine months ago.

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