Tess Robertson is the owner of a lifestyle and home decor store based in Victoria’s glorious Mornington Peninsula. While her retail shop, Loft, is currently keeping her busy — even amid the state’s lockdown — the store is a dramatic seachange from her prior career as a flight attendant.
Not just any flight attendant, Robertson has flown around the world with some of the world’s biggest names. Alongside the rich and famous, she explored a number of countries, including Germany, France, the Maldives, India, Monaco and many more, toured with renowned musicians, and even farewelled her long-standing career by serving none other than Beyoncé on her final flight.
Now, as she navigates this next chapter by establishing herself as a beloved business owner in the popular weekend destination, Robertson tells us of her life in the air, and her story of planting her feet firmly on the ground.
Hers is an inspirational tale of changing careers, even after retirement, but just like all really good stories, this one is better told from the source.
Katie Skelly: Tess, please tell me more about your early career as a flight attendant!
TR: I started my first role in the air, training with Ansett in 1978. I was 25. Back then, there was only first-class and economy, so I worked extensively in first, which would turn out to be beneficial for my career down the track. I worked full-time until I had my first child, where I was then off until September 1987, as I elected to stay off work as I had my second child.
After I had kids, I went back to flying for a corporate airline called Associated Airlines, now known as Rio Tinto. I worked on a casual basis where I accompanied the board of directors, chairman and CEO on various international and domestic trips.
My first big overseas work trip was to Antigua which we had a beautiful three days off to explore. On other occasions, I flew to Chile, Brazil, Vietnam and Easter Island. I also flew to Russia and I saw lots of Australia, though mainly mining areas and capital cities.
I stopped flying in 1992 to focus on family and I didn’t know that I wouldn’t fly again until 2004 when I retrained with Qantas at 51 years old as a casual flight attendant. I flew mostly domestic and regional, which meant many trips to Hong Kong and Singapore.
Some time later I was approached by my previous colleagues of Associated Airlines to work as one of two private flight attendants for The Gandel Group. John Gandel owned the Chadstone Shopping Centre at the time. I did a few flights working with him and his family, and many chartered flights for celebrities.
KS: Wow! Can you tell me about one of your highlights in carrying out this job?
TR: In 2006 I did a six-week trip to Europe with Mr and Mrs Gandel. We flew to Nice, I had six days off in Nice and got to see their private yacht which had won an award in Monaco. Then we went to London, and I went shopping with Mrs Gandel at Harrods to buy new cushions for the yacht.
Then we flew to Paris and picked up some guests of theirs and flew back to Nice where we dropped them off as they were going to be cruising the Mediterranean. We flew to Berlin for the plane to be serviced where we got a week off in Berlin. We returned to Nice to collect the passengers and came home. In those days, we even got paid on days off.
“In those days, we even got paid on days off.”
KS. OK, wow. Also, I haven’t forgotten that you mentioned working for celebrities… Who exactly are we talking about here?
TR: In 2006, I chartered a flight to Cape Town to pick up Billy Joel for an Australian Tour. I was lucky enough to then be the flight attendant for his tour of Australia which went for most of November. It was just his manager and three staff with him. He was lovely, by the way, and he gave us tickets to each show and was genuinely quite charming.
I also worked on the Eric Clapton tour of Australia in 2007, which was his first tour of Australia in 17 years. I got to go to all of his concerts except one. Much like Billy Joel he was easy to work for.
His favourite foods were fresh pasta with fresh pesto sauce or a cheddar cheese and Branston pickle sandwich. He was delightful, and at the end of the charter he made the effort to find me, gave me a hug and said “God Bless”.
And finally, Beyoncé. She had been in Australia and had flown herself from Sydney to Melbourne to meet the aircraft. We were chartered to fly her to Europe for an Emporio Armani Diamond fragrance shoot.
Aside from Beyoncé, she only had two security guards, her manager and stylist. She had specific menu requirements but was otherwise absolutely delightful. We landed in Maastricht where she was met by private cars and taken to her shoot. We returned to Australia without passengers which was nice for a change. She was my last flight as a flight attendant in 2007.
KS: Talk about going out on a high note. But why did you retire?
TR: It was suggested to me that I was too old to be flying, which I fervently disagree with. You are only as old as you feel, and I loved working. However, I was most looking forward to spending time with my family.
We got a house-boat, so instead of the air, we spent a lot of time on the water. One daughter was living in London and the other in Sydney. My husband and I were looking forward to visiting our children.
We sold our family home, busied ourselves with a stint living in South Australia and have now found our forever home on the Mornington Peninsula. Thankfully, both of my daughters have relocated with their families to Melbourne just before COVID so whilst now we are close, albeit still apart due to lockdown.
KS: Now, tell me about your business, Loft. Why did you begin this next chapter in retirement?
TR: It had always been my long-held ambition to have a business that I could share with my girls, and when I came across the Loft business, it was perfect. A small retail premises that I could comfortably work in, mostly on my own and to my own steam. It had a collection of brands and categories which I was keen to continue, and I was thrilled at the opportunity to introduce new brands to complement the business.
I have always enjoyed working and I enjoy the opportunity to set my own hours and decide what days I want to work. It’s challenging, but it gives me a lot of purpose. Secondly, I love to interact with people and build relationships. It’s something I loved about flying, and now I have the chance to do the same with the local community.
KS: What did you want the store to be for the community in the Mornington Peninsula?
TR: Loft has a small footprint but it has a wonderful place in our community. We showcase uniquely curated products with knowledge of what our local community know and love. My own interests across art, design, fashion, travel, entertaining and family ensures our product selection is varied. I believe that in today’s ever-evolving world, our lifestyles are changing and the Loft offering reflects that.
We have unique lifestyle collections, inspired by extensive travel which I believe is grounded by our simple, seaside home. With a granddaughter, grandson and two daughters, we also stock a curated a range of sustainable and ethically considered businesses across Australia and New Zealand and find this an important aspect of our offering.
We want the store to be a place where our community can feel comfortable that when they purchase from us, that we are all working towards contributing to a better future for all our children.
KS: That’s beautiful. Tell me about some of the challenges you’re facing at the moment?
TR: Most challenging of all was to have just developed relationships with the local community and then to not be able to open to see them and meet their needs.
The uncertainty is challenging. I closed for six weeks during the first lockdown. At that point we were not legally obliged to, but thought I needed to put my own health in the forefront being in my 60s. I reopened for Mother’s Day when Victorian restrictions relaxed and it was the best period that the store has ever traded. I am incredibly grateful for the support, and for the face-to-face interaction with my regular customers
The second lockdown, unfortunately, means we will be closed for Father’s Day which is incredibly difficult for our community and also for our business as a peak trading period.
KS: Where are you at now. How are you pivoting around the restrictions?
TR: Due to stage four restrictions, I am currently closed to the public. We’re running our online store, except it’s only got about 10% of our entire store inventory. We took the time to redesign and update our website which was a lot of work but hopefully will have better resulting sales.
We’re also taking phone orders and doing local deliveries. We’ve had to keep placing orders for new stock with the hope that when September 15 comes and we can trade again, we will have customers on our doorstep. It will be so close to Christmas that we are going to work on the likelihood that many Australians will be visiting our beautiful holiday town this Summer, instead of taking overseas holidays.
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New online ~ these darling Shell Bags from @olliella. Captured here by @littlepeachandpip 🐚 Available in a natural rattan straw and a sweet rose coloured rattan. They make charming room decor when not in use. The handle folds inside the bag to showcase the shell shape. Big enough to house two or three Holdie Folk, they make a perfect home for the new Holdie Folk Mermaids – coming soon! #playmatters #openendedplay #dollsaccessories #holdiefolk #sustainabletoys #finemotorskills #playbasedlearning #shell #timelesstoys #invitationtoplay #rattandecor #coastaldecor #shoppingforbaby #childrensgiftideas #kidstoys #mindfulnessforkids #olliella #mindfullliving #loftlifestylestore #shopsmallaustralia #kidsinteriordesign #decorinspo #kidsdecor #kidsroom101 #kidsinteriorstyling #loveforhandmadeaustralia #vsco_kids #letthembelittle #handmadeau #littlepeachandpip
KS: I really hope so. Keeping my fingers crossed for you, Tess. Is there anything we can do to help your business along?
TR: We understand that everyone has their financial concerns during such a testing time, so the old adage of engaging with small businesses is really the easiest way you can support a business like ours, and it genuinely helps to keep us afloat.
We have a beautiful, local, loyal customer base but without regular engagement — on social media I mean — they might miss posts that are relevant to them. So if you can, please support small businesses by commenting on their posts (‘likes’ do help, but comments are a really simple way to show you like what someone is doing).
Doing so assists me in knowing what to buy with direct feedback that someone likes something. It will also hopefully result in our posts being seen by more of our local community and in turn, increase sales.
A community page on social media called @the_smallbusiness_community is calling on the hashtag #supportsmallseptember to encourage everyone to buy local next month, which we really hope that Australians can get behind.
Lastly, we would really appreciate it if you could purchase your Christmas presents early this year — we are all guilty of leaving Christmas to the last minute, but if you can plan ahead and shop in September, you’re helping small businesses to stay afloat after a very hard period of forced closure.
Shop Loft‘s collection of curated products now online, and add the store to your travel bucket list upon your next visit to the Mornington Peninsula.