We believe that it’s never too late to start again! So we love this story of how two cousins, Lisa and Wendy, turned Wendy’s post-divorce shop business into successful online business, Vintagevibe.
What’s your career background?
Lisa: I have an accounts background and was an assistant Bursar at a private school, but always had a strong entrepreneurial side. When I was young I had a stall at a market selling pop badges, and ran a bridal wedding dress and wedding video business from my spare room.
Wendy: My career background was sales. My first was for job for IPC publishing at their old Bowling Green Offices selling advertising space. I broke sales records selling binding laminating and collating office equipment for the General Binding Company as a London-based sales rep.
I married two years after leaving school, having completed my A levels and gave up work to become the last generation of career housewives to revel in raising a family in 1983.
I was married to an antiques dealer so helped out doing all things that he didn’t have time for, like choosing fabrics for upholstery projects and meeting and greeting the dealers who would buy from our home, paperwork etc. We also moved eight in 25 years, renovating bashed up houses to supplement our income.
How did your career change after having children?
Lisa: I went from working 8.30-6 in an office to working 24 hours! I had already started doing accounts for a few clients at the tail end of my first pregnancy, so once my first child was born I had accounts I could do from home. When I had my second child I finished some accounts while in labour, had my son at home in the night, and the next morning I had more accounts left on my doorstep. No gaps in my career!
Wendy: It was a big shock to get divorced and enter the workforce in 2005, but looking back I had been bored at home for a while as the children were making their own lives.
I had no internet skills and I could barely text, but I had a love of home making and interiors, so a shop was the obvious next move. I couldn’t think of anything else to earn money and it suited my skill set. My business plan consisted of trying to find great stuff at bargain prices and being a nice person who made my friends laugh…!
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Lisa: I was helping my cousin Wendy with her Tunbridge Wells shop accounts. She was selling large reproduction mirrors, dressing tables, chandeliers, quirky gifts etc. We decided her products should be offered online – at the time very few people offer these items online so we leapt at a chance to fill the gap in the market place.
Wendy: My cousin Lisa helped with my VAT return, and together we hatched a plan to take the shop online. We started on a softly softly basis with an eBay and then Amazon shop, then finally our own website.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
Lisa: We both decided it would be great to recreate the shop online. People used to come in and say it was an Aladdin’s cave and a treasure trove, so this is what we worked on. We didn’t want just cut outs of products we wanted style shots and to make the goods seem aspirational. And so Vintagevibe was born
Wendy and I just invested £50 each and a LOT of our time. I took photos of goods in her shop and put them online, and as we sold we would reinvest the money and buy more. It was an organic process but we grew very quickly and we soon learnt what our customers wanted.
At times both Wendy and I were holding down other full time jobs around Vintagevibe.
What’s your USP?
Lisa: We wanted to create an aspirational website with styles shots, offering unusual, quirky gifts. At the time they were hard to find on line or in the shops, and we were ahead of everyone for a number of years which gave us the opportunity to grow very quickly.
Wendy: There are lots of new online home boutiques, but our USP is the great customer service we provide. We know all our products really well and are happy to pick up the phone which is increasingly unusual.
Who’s your target audience?
Lisa: Our target audience is wide and so not an easy one to target. We aim towards women 25-55 and businesses like hair salons and beauty salons.
We sell from everyone to a homeowner looking for a clock or mirror, to London’s Best Hairdresser Taylor Taylor (you’ll see Vintagevibe furniture throughout their salons).
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Lisa: Social media has been extremely important to the success of our business. We are found organically on Google. We have our own website but also offer our goods on eBay and Amazon.
What’s been your most successful marketing/PR strategy?
Lisa: Social media. We use many platforms but Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are the best for our audience. From our Twitter use we were also lucky winners of Theo Paphitis #SBS (Small Business Sunday) where Theo rewards small business owners that tweet him and describe their business. He decides the winners and they are listed on Twitter for all to see.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Lisa: Delivery of our goods safely has been by far the toughest hurdle. We are termed ‘Ugly goods’ in the courier business!
Wendy: The hardest obstacle to overcome is getting reliable staff and we have now been lucky to have family on board. But I think that finding staff that care about our customers as much as we do has been the key to our success.
And your proudest moments so far?
Lisa: We were invited last year to The Google offices in London for a meeting with Ministers Ed Vaizey and Anna Soubry MP, along with heads of BT, Vodaphone, Virgin Media, FSB, Talk Talk.
I had to give a three-minute speech on how we have used digital technology in our business and to discuss the digital economy: The Key to Unlocking the UK’s Economic Growth Potential.
Last year we were also cover girls in the SBS magazine and the Federation of Small Business Voice magazine.
Why is work so important to you?
Lisa: Apart from the fact I have to work to pay the bills, I enjoy my job. Vintagevibe is a passion not a job.
Who inspires you?
Lisa: I get inspire by other who have made a go of a business. Wendy and I sell a lot to trade customers, usually smaller businesses, and we love hearing their stories.
We have had coffee and biscuits with Kelly Holmes when she visited us when she was furnishing her café, and with Jessica Pieterson (Jessica Taylor from Liberty X and lingerie model) when she visited our warehouse when she was setting up her children’s hairdressers.
Wendy: Lisa is a constant source of inspiration, always keen to drive the business forward we have fun every day raking our brains to move things forwards. Once you stand still you can become a dinosaur and we are keen to grow and evolve.
How do you balance your business with your family?
Lisa: My children are older now, but when they were younger I would drop them to school then go to the warehouse. All the admin can get done remotely from home so it worked out perfectly.
Wendy: Working as part of a team means that you can get time off to do the things you enjoy during what is the working day for most people, but the work is still there at the end of the day. My daughters are grown women now but both self-employed and doing what they enjoy.
What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?
Lisa: Do your research, stay in control of your numbers and don’t give up at the first hurdle. As Wendy and I say, as long as you make more good decisions than bad.
- Do what you can with what you have – we started up with by putting £50 each in the bank.
- Treat your customers like you would like to be treated yourself – we have lots repeat orders and a loyal customer base.
- Constantly change as the market does – it’s tough out there you need to keep your eyes and mind open.
Find out more about Vintagevibe on their website.