Working less and making more through online sales
Sue Buckle has been running Divinely Vintage, originally known as the Curtain Connection, since 1994. After 27 years, she's beginning to work a little less than she was. But, with the help of a Fasthosts website, she's doing better than ever.
Let's face it. Curtains can be expensive. In fact, if you want beautiful fabrics adorning a large bay window, it can run into thousands of pounds. Yet if you move home, the curtains can be rendered useless. From house to house, windows are different sizes and what looked right in one room might not in another.
This is where Divinely Vintage comes in. Owner Sue Buckle takes unwanted curtains off people's hands and sells them on, providing a new lease of life for often stunning and sought after fabrics.
This would have cost £3,000 or even £4,000 originally, says Sue, as she points to a pair of curtains in the background.
We're selling them for about £600, taking 50 per cent commission for doing so.
It's a great idea – a marketplace that matches people wanting to be rid of curtains with those who are desperate to get hold of some at a bargain price. Sue says she got the idea reading the Sunday supplements in bed after the birth of her son.
I'd always been interested in interiors and textiles. As I read the homes section, I saw a story about a woman who sold second hand curtains. It sounded like an excellent idea. Something I could do around being a mum that I would enjoy.
We need to be highly visible and this, linked to the user friendliness of the website and the ability to take online payments, is what has really taken the business to the next level.
Based in St Albans, the business was originally a shop on the high street. It then branched out into concessions within antique and vintage stores before eventually growing into a barn showroom on a local farm and going online.
They sell to all sorts of people and have some great stories to tell.
Farmer Robert is one of our many favourites, says Sue.
He lives in a huge farmhouse in the middle of Ireland. It's a draughty old place and he wants as many big, thick curtains as we can send him to cover the windows and stop the chills.
Recently, Sue took delivery of four staggeringly beautiful antique pink embroidered silk curtain panels. Made around 1875, they're very long, having originally hung in a lovely Spanish palace just outside Madrid. It was looted during the siege of Madrid in the latter stages of the Spanish Civil War in 1937-8.
They disappeared for many years, but finally turned up at the Restro Antique Market in Madrid and were bought by their current owners over 25 years ago. They decided to sell them on and contacted Sue. Within 72 hours they were on the website and had been snapped up by the owners of a lovely castle in the Scottish Highlands. Both old and new clients were delighted.
But Sue's curtains don't just go to new homes across the UK. The business sells them all over the world, the most recent overseas orders being from Budapest and Chicago.
When the pandemic hit, it could have spelt disaster for the business. But it has become busier than ever thanks to the website. Before lockdown, the showroom was open six days a week.
I was busy being busy, says Sue.
I felt I had to be open all the time. But with their doors shut, online sales have rocketed.
About 95 per cent of our business now comes through the website, Instagram or Etsy.
Sue's partner Mark, who recently retired as a business adviser/trainer, now helps with a lot of the ‘back office' functions. It's made them realise they can relax a little. There's no need to work all hours when the website is doing the work for you, especially as at least 30 pairs of curtains are being sent out each month. Business is brisk to put it mildly.
Mark has been keen to help Sue lower her overheads and increase profits in recent years. He's helped her develop the website and is in charge of managing it on a day-to-day level.
It was a slow-burner at first, he says.
But it's been a great way to make the business more sustainable, with lower costs. Everything gets detailed very carefully on the website with photos and descriptions of the texture and style. The feedback we get from happy customers proves that we're doing something right.
Simplicity is important to both Sue and Mark.
Everything is in plain English. We make everything easy to understand and keep our customers in mind at all times. We really focus on what they want and offer an easy and hassle-free 30 day return if curtains are not right for any reason.
One additional Fasthosts service that has made a huge difference would be their Listing Coach online marketing tool. This has ensured our SEO is now excellent and we often appear on the first page of Google searches.
When probed about the website a little further, Mark says the business has used Fasthosts for about four years.
It's been very easy to use, he's keen to point out.
This is important to any business, but especially us. We're both in our late 60s now and appreciate technology that is accessible. The Fasthosts template we use makes it very simple to navigate around the website's back end and the Fasthosts Customer Support Team are all very responsive when I call or email.
If we had to choose one additional Fasthosts service that has recently made a huge difference, it would be their suggestion, a few months ago, to make use of their Listing Coach online marketing tool. This has ensured our SEO is now excellent and we often appear on the first page of Google searches, something we know from customer feedback. When they contact us, we always make a point of asking how they came across the website. This is crucial.
We need to be highly visible and this, linked to the user friendliness of the website and the ability to take online payments, is what has really taken the business to the next level. With just the two of us running things, we need to know the website will be simple and effective and seemingly it is.
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