Iconic Montville Clock Shop staying in the family
Author: Nina Gartrell Date Posted:4 November 2020
The first week of the COVID-19 outbreak was never going to be an auspicious time to take over a family business. And yet, this is exactly how events transpired for husband and wife team Daniel and Holly Hoffman, who assumed ownership of Montville’s iconic Clock Shop on the 20th of March this year. Nestled at the southern end of the quaint hinterland village, the Clock Shop is a landmark beloved by residents and visitors alike. The faceted roof, a mosaic of over seven-and-a-half thousand Western Red Cedar shingles, is overlooked by a canopy of gingkoes, tree ferns and camellias, which are a remnant of the shop’s earlier function as a garden centre. The front door is reached via a footbridge that fords a shallow pond, and opens onto a bright interior that hums, sings, chimes and rings with the sound of myriad handcrafted German grandfather and cuckoo clocks.
Although these days, the doors to the Clock Shop can be found flung open, welcoming a steady stream of curious shoppers and day-trippers, a few months ago, the outlook was utterly different. Dan explains the context in which he and Holly took over: “It was such a weird scenario. We settled on Friday. Immediately, we had a meeting with staff to announce the takeover, reassuring them that nothing would change. The following week, restrictions were introduced. By Monday, we had to tell our staff not to come into work. It was highly stressful. For about six weeks we were completely shut down.” Looking after staff, Holly agrees, was the single most challenging aspect of assuming ownership. “It was such an anti-climax. After this being in the pipeline for over two years, I could not believe how bad the timing was. Knowing that families were relying on us for their income was incredibly stressful.”
Despite it being the worst possible time to become business owners, Holly and Dan are excited about the opportunities the Clock Shop presents. “It has been a dream of mine for nineteen years to go into business with my husband, and it has finally happened,” says Holly. Phil and Fran Hoffman are naturally delighted that the business is staying in the family. “There are no better people for the job than Holly and Dan,” says Phil, his voice filled with quiet confidence. “There are not many businesses in Montville that are inter-generational,” muses the retired Clock Shop owner, who was the same age his son currently is, at the time he and wife, Fran, opened the business back in 1993. “Something we’ve worked hard to put together will be preserved and grown. It has grown so much already in the few short months since they took over. For Hol and Dan to take this on is big.” The stress is on the last word. With an annual buying trip to the Black Forest, relations to maintain with master craftspeople in Germany, a thriving online store to promote, and a busy service and repair centre to oversee, not to mention the couples’ ongoing immersion in their three children’s schooling and extra-curricular activities, theirs is a commitment that spans continents, generations and roles.
Despite the obvious strains and struggles generated by events of the past few months, the atmosphere inside the Clock Shop remains upbeat, even festive. “The most common word visitors utter when they enter,” says Fran, “is WOW!” Stepping inside the half-timber and stone Clock Shop is indeed like stepping into an enchanted world of hand-carved clocks, music boxes, weather stations, beer steins and snow globes. The timber-scented interior abounds with Black Forest iconography: pine cones and bears, stags and flower-boxes, elves, cowbells, and figurines clothed in traditional folk costume. In stark contrast to the traditional timepieces and folk objects, are the specially selected range of sleek, modern wall clocks and watches that sparkle with German chic. German craftsmanship, design and engineering are what unite the disparate pieces on display.
In a world typified by fast food and mass-produced, placeless trinkets, one of the greatest pleasures of visiting the Clock Shop is the nostalgia it evokes. “People are genuinely delighted by what they find,” says Dan. “They tell us that they haven’t seen objects such as these since they were children, often when visiting their grandparent’s house.” A theme that crops up in conversations with both the ‘old’ and new owners of the Clock Shop, is the emphasis on providing a rare and personal ‘experience’. Speaking about the intangible character of the Clock Shop, Fran says, “It is not just retail. There is an essence about the business. The ticking of the clock is like the heartbeat in the home.”
The pleasures and amusements afforded by the Clock Shop strike one as even more rare and valuable in a COVID-era world. During the weeks directly following Queensland’s lockdown, visitors to the Clock Shop were hungry for human connection and new experiences. Holly recalls: “After being cooped up in the same four walls for so long, coming here was an escape. Seeing the smiles and wonder on the faces of our customers was heart-warming.” When asked how business has changed since the arrival of COVID-19, Dan is thoughtful. “People who would normally go to Europe, but who are staying home due to travel restrictions, wish to treat themselves. Last week we sold a grandfather clock to a man in Tasmania. He said it was something he’d always wanted. Now he has one.”
Although Daniel’s decision to involve himself with the family business strikes one as fated now, the sense of inevitability did not always prevail. Phil and Fran contend that they never anticipated that one of their four children, let alone their youngest son, would take over the family business. “We wanted Dan to go out and explore the world, try lots of things,” Phil explains.
This is precisely what Daniel did. In the early years of his marriage to Holly, the young couple did what many curious young Australians do – head to London for a few months of fun and travel. Their visit, which was originally intended to last for three months, burgeoned into a three-and-a-half-year working holiday. “We loved it so much,” says Holly recalling life in the English capital. During their time in London, Daniel tried his hand at several jobs, including childcare, retail, hospitality and landscaping. Holly, who studied to become a high school teacher of drama and English, embarked upon a new career in London, as a personal trainer. By the end of their residence, Holly listed some of the capital’s most rich and famous amongst her clients.
So, what changed? Dan explains: “Holly fell pregnant, and then the Global Financial Crisis hit. The GFC changed the conditions of our lives so much that it became untenable to stay. We decided to come home.” Dan’s rueful grin registers an ironic awareness that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first dramatic global event to have shaped the young couple’s lives.
Following their return to Australia in 2009, Dan tried his hand at several jobs. Despite years of dabbling, says Dan, “nothing quite stuck”. That is of course, until Dan found himself working alongside his father once more at the Clock Shop. This was not the first time Daniel had shown an interest in his parents’ business. “We have a photo of him age 12,” says his mother, Fran, “serving customers in the shop and wearing the black corduroy lederhosen that I sewed myself. Already he was so into the business.” The black corduroy lederhosen are gone, but the sense of homecoming and belonging is palpable. Pointing up the road, in the direction of Montville Primary School, where his daughter Nina Eve is currently enrolled, Dan recalls that it was here he attended Grade Seven. A little further up the road, what is now Altitude on Montville but was once the site of Mirabelle Restaurant, is where Holly and Dan first met, waiting tables for brides, grooms and their revelling guests. There’s a sense that the couple have come full circle. So how important is Montville to them? “All of my teenage work was here – the Clock Shop, Montville Memories, the Ice Creamery, Mirabelle’s,” says Dan, referencing several businesses that no longer exist. “Montville has a special place in my heart,” says Holly.
Holly and Dan’s three children, Julian, 11, Nina Eve, 9, and Charlie, 4, share their grandparents’ confidence that the essence of the Clock Shop will be preserved and enlarged by Holly and Dan’s thoughtful stewardship. The three kids move about the shop with an intimacy and sense of proprietorship that is endearing in people so young. When he’s not at kindergarten, four-year-old Charlie takes pleasure in greeting customers in the shop. “When people laugh at the Clock Shop, I laugh!” For Nina Eve, the most wonderful objects inside the Aladdin’s cave of cuckoos and Christmas decorations is the extensive collection of hand-painted animal figurines. When asked whether they would consider taking over the shop in the future, both Nina and Julian answer in the affirmative. Julian is especially emphatic. “Yeah I would! Because I want to do what Dad does. I want to be part of the community here, because it seems like a really nice community.”
Given the rich family history and the unique nature of the Clock Shop’s myriad treasures, Holly and Dan’s children’s enthusiasm for the Clock Shop is thoroughly warranted. Although some visitors state they would be driven “mad” working amid the constant sounds of clocks chiming and birds cooing, there is a sense in which the Clock Shop is truly timeless and enchanted. “The distinct smell of timber as you walk in, the ticking, cuckoos, chimes... It is such a unique business, filled with historically fascinating wonders of engineering that are still hand crafted in the modern era. This is what I love about it, that as technology changes and we’re drawn into a developing world of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are still enjoying timepieces and music boxes that are powered by the storage and transformation of energy. These clocks and automata worked the same way over 200 years ago. I love that.” Tradition, craftsmanship and the provision of a unique and joyful experience are values held dear by two generations of Clock Shop proprietors. Three generations of Clock Shop owners, now would that be asking too much?