Toot Garook – Indie Trader of the Month
“There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another” -Edouard Manet
Written by Stella Nicholls
Toot Garook is a name that captures the imagination, and as I stepped into the shop on Queen Street, the images that the name had evoked were not disappointed. My senses were met with an array of beautiful goods and clothing as I was transported to a colourful paradise.
Jude Durham, owner of Toot Garook, is such an interesting person to chat to, she soon had me captivated with stories of her life and how she got to where she is. With her love of travelling, colour and unique goods, her adventurous spirit is reflected in all things that Toot Garook has to offer.
Jude, originally from Sydney Australia, came to the UK with her family when she was a child. Her parents, who had only intended to stay for two years, took advantage of the time to travel all around Europe and beyond. Meeting other cultures and seeing how differently other people live, was the best education for Jude, it opened her eyes and brought with it an acceptance and interest in other people, regardless of their race or culture.
Jude moved back to Australia in 1980 but decided to return to the UK, where her parents still lived, in the early 1990’s settling in Exeter. Having previously trained as a buyer and possessing a keen eye for picking out beautiful items, Jude decided that she wanted to start her own retail business and in 1995 won the tender to run the shop in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM).
Although this was a very successful venture, after a few years Jude felt the need to be a little more flexible with her opening hours, especially around the busier periods and managed to find premises across the road from the museum, where she has been trading since 1999. Jude jokes that people who have lived in Exeter for years sometimes come in and ask how long she has been there, as they hadn’t often been to that part of town, and are surprised when she replies, ‘19 years!’.
The fact that Toot Garook was a finalist for an Exeter Living Award and more recently nominated for the 2018 Muddy Stilettos Awards, Devon – Best Gift Shop, Best Interiors Store and Best Women’s Store – is a clear indication of Jude’s passion and vision for the shop. In fact, Jude pioneered the use of reusable coffee cups in the Exeter area, stocking biodegradable bamboo coffee cups, long before it gained momentum in the mainstream. She has a considerable collection of cups in all different colours in store and encourages people to use them when visiting their local coffee shop.
The travel bug has stayed with Jude, and whilst on her travels, she has the knack of spotting interesting artefacts to bring back for the shop, it also gives her the chance to source the makers and import the item once she gets home. She buys stock from all over the world but likes to concentrate on local producers in Exeter and the South West as well as the unique items that are found all over the UK. Trendsetter is a name that comes to mind when I think of Jude travelling the globe.
I was dying to ask Jude about the history behind the shop’s name and was delighted to hear that it comes from Australia and is of Aboriginal origin. The story goes that she was visiting her aunt and uncle, who lived on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, and whilst driving around visiting the local beaches, she happened upon a place called ‘Tootgarook’. She loved the sound of the name and on enquiring with the department of Aboriginal affairs, learnt that it means the place or sound of croaking frogs.
She explained that most Aboriginal names mean something and a lot of them use onomatopoeia to form words in the language. ‘Tootgarook’ is the sound a frog makes, and Jude did an excellent rendition of a croaking frog at this point, using the word ‘tootgarook’, which had me smiling. It seemed a natural step, therefore, for Jude to choose a frog as her logo.
Toot Garook is open 7 days a week but Jude manages to have a great work/life balance by having well-trained staff that she trusts. Having staff who are passionate about their roles and good organisation on her part, allows Jude to go away for extended periods. Staff are trained to a high standard and keep the store looking fresh, from dressing the windows to the creative way stock is displayed, which gives them a lot more freedom of expression than perhaps working for corporate retailers would.
Wondering where her greatest influences come from, Jude replied that it had to be her mum. Jude and her mum travelled extensively together, she described her as a remarkable, bright and practical woman who could do anything. In 1990, Jude and her mum took part in the London-Peking motor challenge, driving their Morgan Plus 8. This was at the time when the Soviet Union was starting to break up, so parts of the journey were very dangerous indeed. Not content with driving all the way to Beijing, mother and daughter continued their journey on to Hong Kong.
I thought I was hearing things when Jude mentioned driving to Hong Kong, but she elaborated further saying that they had driven all over the world, and it took them three months to do the trip down to Hong Kong. Jude also recalled how her mum, in her late sixties at the time, got her rally driving licence so that she could compete in the 1993 Lombard London-Sydney Marathon – the 25th anniversary of the original trans-global event. Jude’s mother was the oldest competitor in the oldest car – a 1953 Morgan plus 4. That’s remarkable!
On the highs that she has experienced over the years, Jude brought it back to people. When she ran the shop in the museum, her customers would come in with their children, or children used to come in on their school trips. Those children are now adults and are customers themselves, and even bring their children into the shop as customers. She thinks it’s fantastic that her customer base is generational, and she has watched many of them grow up.
As I chatted with Jude, her love of people was evident and made me realise that that is one of the secrets to Jude’s success, she loves people and it shows. Every year Toot Garook puts on a special Christmas evening for customers and provide drinks and nibbles whilst offering them discounts and special offers and this is a real high point for Jude and her staff.
We all face challenges in life and Jude mentioned that she had found it tricky a few years back when Princesshay had started being developed and RAMM was undergoing major renovations. She said that things were a bit messy with the redevelopment at that time and business got quiet, almost as though people were avoiding Exeter altogether. The opening of new chain stores in the city also brings its challenges, as people are naturally curious and want to go there but she says that her stock remains unique and desirable and it keeps people coming back.
She strives to stay ahead of the game in that regard, constantly sourcing new products and remaining a leader in her field.
To catch up with Jude and her staff, visit them at 19 Queen St, just opposite the Museum, or pop her an email –