“We created a huge backlash”

Sandrine Zhang Ferron, founder of Vinterior, learned the hard way that not every opportunity should be grasped if it dilutes the brand.

After three frustrating months trying to find the perfect chair for her new home, Sandrine Zhang Ferron quit her job in finance and set up Vinterior, an online vintage-furniture marketplace. Fast forward three years, and the platform now employs 25 people and has grown into a community of over 1,600 independent dealers who connect buyers with over 150,000 pieces of furniture, lighting and decorative objects. She found the right chair in the end, but it’s not all been plain sailing…

I never had a mission to start my own business – my background is in finance. I moved to a new house in north London with my husband that needed furnishing. I spent a lot of time going from shop to shop, but found it all quite bland and expensive, and the retailers often had 12-week lead times. To find unique, great-quality products was a real challenge and it hit home when I was looking for a particular mid-century Scandinavian chair. It took me three months to find it. I asked my friends and many had had the same experience.

I realised that there was a huge gap out there and I wanted to do something about it. A friend of mine advised me to learn to code, so that I could build my own website, which I did, but other than that, I had no plan. Everyone thought I was crazy.

I contacted 12 dealers and launched with around 200 products. I knew it was going to be risky, but slowly the business started to build. Then, last year, we decided to expand our range to contemporary furniture.

It was a big mistake. Sellers and customers complained about the dilution of our brand, and it was a very worrying time that caused a lot of headaches. Some customers wrote strongly worded emails and there was internal backlash from the team, because they didn’t know what we were doing or who we were.

We reversed the decision, drew a line under the experience and learned from it. Not all opportunities should be seized and the temptation to try something new can be a distraction that does not add value to our customers or our company if the time is not right.

I’ve had other hiccups. When I applied for funding three years ago, I was able to take on a member of staff. We then raised angel investment, and that allowed us to scale and increase our budget. I had never managed anyone before and never had [management] training, so I would give loose guidelines, without telling people what I felt was going wrong or what was working. It doesn’t work like that, of course, and I was a little naïve. To help people achieve great things, constant feedback and check-ins are key.

I’ve learned that, as the team grows, the more I must be careful with what I communicate and what words I use. For example, I am quite keen on online videos and I rambled about it on our Slack [internal communications] channel. This was interpreted by some as ‘drop everything you’re doing to allow our users to upload videos and let’s change the millions of images we have into videos’. It created a bit of panic. Fortunately, after some discussion, the team understood that I simply meant that videos are a great opportunity that should be looked into.

We want to be the best in the world at buying and selling vintage, and 50% of our inventory is now international. To do more business within the B2B sector – working with hotels and co-working spaces, for example – is also important to us. It has been super-exciting, and I am learning all the time about people and management, as well as about myself. To keep on creating is the important thing. Sometimes we get stressed, but as long as we are doing everything we can, then what’s the problem?

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: https://ink-global.com/our-clients/portfolio/easyjet-traveller/