What's the key to successfully switching careers? Vinterior's Sandrine Zhang Ferron gives her advice
Sandrine Zhang Ferron was forging a successful career in finance when she decided it wasn’t how she saw her future. “I realised I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life making rich people richer,” she says. At the same time, she had spotted a gap in the e-commerce market for vintage furniture and felt convinced there was a business opportunity there. So, she made the bold decision to quit her job and launch an online start-up, Vinterior.
Now, Vinterior is the go-to destination for those looking to shop vintage furniture online; the site hosts 2,000 vintage and antique sellers from over 30 countries (and counting). Building a tech platform to power her fledgling e-commerce brand was uncharted territory for Ferron, but she was game for a challenge. “I took a three-month coding bootcamp and loved its emphasis on open-source information,” she says. “It gave me confidence that this was an industry where I could learn as I went along, as long as I knew when and where to look for help. You honestly don’t need to be an expert from the outset.”
Ferron was similarly new to the interiors industry, although she had gained valuable experience furnishing her recently purchased Victorian house in London’s Highbury. “I discovered that buying second-hand would get me higher-quality pieces at more affordable prices,” she explains. “It really opened my eyes to what makes a design masterpiece.” She spent days making phone calls to vintage dealers around the UK in the hope of persuading them to join Vinterior; in the early stages of the business, she had to create each individual listing herself. “It was a great way of learning about all the designers.”
She met with considerable scepticism from the investment community when applying for funding. “They thought the vintage market would be too niche, but luckily, I already had the sales figures to prove this was an attractive proposition for more than just people who were super-passionate about antiques,” she recalls. The investors couldn’t argue with those numbers, and Vinterior has since raised more than £8 million in funding over six rounds.
Ferron’s advice on how to build an enduring business is to stay true to your core principles. “I had several when I started the business: first, to bring the best possible range of pre-owned furniture to consumers; second, to deliver excellent customer service; and third, to create a seamless online buying experience,” she says. To maintain these standards, she and her team spend a lot of time looking at customer feedback, monitoring their Trustpilot score closely and making sure that any changes are driven by data that comes directly from their audience. “Because our service is strong, people talk about the business a lot to friends and colleagues – that word-of-mouth is so powerful.”
She has also been able to expand her customer base beyond the initial antiques “super-fans” to include people from a larger age bracket and a wider range of budgets. This partly reflects the wider social shift from seeing sustainability as a niche interest to recognising its importance to an entire emerging generation of shoppers. “I think it will become non-negotiable that what they’re purchasing is a sustainable choice for the planet,” says Ferron. “At Vinterior, we’re here to help the design industry make that move.”
The Vinterior x Selfridges pop-up shop is open until 17 July.
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