Spotlight on Mustard Vintage
Today's spotlight is Husband and Wife team, Simon and Gemma of Mustard Vintage, who renovate vintage furniture, What started as a bit of a hobby, selling vintage furniture on eBay, has flourished into a great business, with Jamie Oliver recently buying one of their vintage pieces for his office.
You can shop Mustard Vintage Here
Go and hear their journey in their own words!
At Mustard Vintage we spend our days sourcing and restoring vintage furniture & homewares from anywhere and everywhere! We love to mix things up, using a range of eclectic items spanning vintage, industrial, rustic and modern styles. Our aim is to help you create unique spaces that reflect who you are - an individual.
1. What was the reason behind you starting your business?
It was a very natural progression from a personal addiction/passion to a business! Here is the background story…
Simon, being a graphic designer, had an in-built passion for anything with a design lead aesthetic. He’d been buying vintage furniture, lamps and accessories from car boot sales from the age of 18 and quickly became addicted to the thrill of finding classic Mid Century pieces (some of which we still have!). Meanwhile my father was a keen buyer of ‘antiques’ and would regularly come home from the local auction house with boxes full of ‘treasure’ which I couldn’t wait to delve into! So, you could say, we were born into it! However, this passion that we shared for vintage only came into its own when we bought our first home together – a 2 bed Victorian terrace that required complete renovation.
We began buying vintage furniture for the house, and quite quickly it was full to bursting – we just couldn’t say no and couldn’t resists a bargain (of which there were many in those days as vintage hadn’t properly caught on yet). Ebay was in its infancy and Simon decided to have a go at selling some of the pieces on. To our amazement the furniture got snapped up, and for decent money too! Within a few weeks we had people coming from all over the country to collect pieces, and we instantly fell in love with the process of sourcing, restoring, styling and photographing the furniture – and of course, the small profits we were making were a bonus. We got to meet some lovely people who shared our passion for vintage, and realised that there was a growing market that we could tap into.
At this time, the country was knee deep in recession and our jobs were both at risk. Simon, a Graphic Designer, was put on a four-day week, and then I went on maternity leave from my job as a Marketing Manager, to have our first baby. It hit our finances hard. So, to cover this lost income, Simon ramped up the furniture restoration and selling on ebay – and he flourished doing it, because it was something he really loved! The furniture was selling so well, and Simon was enjoying it so much, that a year later he went back to his employers and asked for a three-day week which was agreed. Then, another year on, he’d taken the plunge and handed his notice in altogether! Meanwhile, after having our second baby, I had gone back to work, but to be honest I was struggling with the work life balance – and although my employees were flexible and patient, keeping all the plates spinning was proving too much. We sat down and discussed it, and came to the conclusion that we both wanted to focus all our efforts on building a vintage furniture business, and that my skills in marketing could really help the business. It was a HUGE risk, but it meant that we had no choice but to make it work! And we did, Mustard Vintage was born!
2. How did you start up?, kitchen table? Mum’s garage, renting premises?
We started with a small storage unit (not even big enough to fit a car in!) and then over the years we have taken on bigger and bigger storage units. We now rent a warehouse of huge proportions and we’ve been busy doing it up Mustard Vintage style – and are nearly there!
3. How did you fund your business?
Our business is completely self-funded, we have never taken out any loans or overdrafts. We have just built the business organically and with any profit, used this to invest in new stock, resources and premises.
4. What was the most difficult part of starting up your business? Access to money, advice, finding people to buy, marketing etc?
The most difficult part for us was not having the storage space in the beginning – this meant that we had to turn down a lot of good stock. However, we now have a large, purpose built, storage unit - which is fantastic - but we also have to pay for it! Your business must be in a position to be able to cover this high monthly outgoing, and so managing cash flow is key.
5. What help was missing for you?
We are very lucky in that we both have good skills, experience and training which have lent themselves well to setting up our business. Simon is a highly regarded graphic designer with a real creative edge, and he has always had a talent for photography, styling and trend spotting! This meant we had someone ‘in house’ to design the logo, branding and website, and also to take creative control of the product styling and photography. In addition to this, Simon’s father had worked in the antiques trade for many years and he has been able to pass on all his furniture restoration skills, knowledge and experience to Simon. I had worked in marketing for a number of years, both for large corporates, and small businesses – and this has given me real hands on experience of bringing new products to market, online marketing, SEO, copywriting, event management, PR and project management – to name a few! Over the years I have also worked closely with senior management teams and gained invaluable insight into how to run businesses well.
Combined our skills and experience have been invaluable to Mustard Vintage – but there is one key knowledge gap that we have identified… accountancy and bookkeeping! This has been an area of the business that has taken some time to perfect – having the right technology and the right individuals in place to manage this is essential!
6. What went wrong in your first year? Few months if you haven’t been trading that long?
Nothing majorly went wrong for us in the first year – we were very focussed, determined and didn’t let anything get in our way of making it work. A few years in, the accountancy & bookkeeping side of things proved to be more of a challenge. But once we got the right people and systems in place it made the world of difference.
7. What have you learnt?
1. Trust your instincts – they are usually right! A good example of this is don’t buy stock just because it’s cheap. We only buy furniture and homewares that we, ourselves, would have in our own home – this way we don’t compromise our brand and customers trust us.
2. Working as a married couple is hard!
But there are many positives too (honest!) – we are a good balance, for example, Simon is more of a risk taker, and I’m more cautious – but this works, because Simon will suggest something and then I will go away, analyse it, cost it, make sure it is feasible before jumping in too quick. We also have complimentary skill sets so while Simon focuses on the creative side, and I focus on the business side.
3. Never get complacent
A business has to evolve, it is not enough to just be ‘in business’ – you have to keep moving forward and taking (calculated!) risks.
8. What is the most important piece of advice that you could give others thinking about starting a business?
This is a good question! We would offer two pieces of advice – one practical and the other emotional:
1. Get a good accountant and book keeper – they need to understand your business and give you the right advice – and they should work together. This may cost an arm and a leg, and be one of the biggest outgoings for your business, but they will save you an enormous amount of time and money in the long run. Tax and VAT cannot be avoided and needs to be planned for, so get a bookkeeper and accountant who will help you manage this effectively – and have financial systems in place to make the process simple.
2. Do not expect to get rich quick - If you love your business as much as we do then every last penny will be re-invested back into it (don’t expect it to go into your pocket!). When you set up a small business you can’t expect to pay yourself a large salary, it takes time to build a business and a brand, and to establish a loyal customer base. You should be prepared to make financial sacrifices, especially if your business is going to be your main household income. For us, money was never the motivation, it was about achieving balance, enjoyment, challenge and fulfilment – but if you like/need a decent guaranteed salary each month (and that’s OK too) then running a small business probably isn’t for you.
9. And what do you enjoy the most?
Good question, but there is honestly not one single thing! It is a combination of factors… sorry, but here’s a list!
1. Working for ourselves - being your own boss and not having to answer to anyone is a huge positive!
2. Working together – although sometimes challenging(!), it is great being able to share this journey and build our business together as a team.
3. Making a passion our livelihood – waking up each day knowing you are going to work to do something you love is priceless. Sometimes we feel like pinching ourselves, did we really make this happen?
4. Balance and Lifestyle - escaping from the standard 9-5 ‘work for the weekend’ lifestyle became a necessity – it just wasn’t working for us as a family. By setting up the business we now have the freedom to manage our own time, take things at our own pace, and be there for our children whenever they need us. Life can throw unexpected challenges at you out of the blue (which it has) and when this happens we are able to take some time out to recharge, reflect and re-address the balance.
5. The buzz! We still get a huge ‘buzz’ from finding vintage treasures and transforming them, you could say it’s an addiction!
6. Connecting with our customers – we have been so lucky in that our business seems to attract such a lovely bunch of likeminded people. We interact with our customers directly – we answer all queries, we give advice/help, we source furniture to meet their specific needs – we even just chat sometimes! This is a key part of what makes us different, we are accessible – and we love dealing directly with our customers.
10. On a scale of 1-10 how hard do you find it to run your own business?
It’s relative really – like anything you can have a great month where everything works well and stock is coming in and selling well - and put it at a 1 or 2, but then you can have a rare month where nothing seems to be coming together and it’s frustrating and difficult – so you would put that at a 7 or 8. That is the reality of running your own small business, no two months are the same! But it’s also part of the attraction too – it’s a challenge.
Nicola says "Like so many of the creative businesses I feature on here, Gemma and Simon get a real buzz from what they do which is so important when you run your own business, making financial sacrifices to re-invest, working long hours and trying to juggle it all. These two had a really good set of skills to get started with, quickly identified where they needed help and got it and seem very switched on to making sure they balance running the business with some kind of life, which is so important. For almost everyone running a small business it is a lifestyle choice, yes it is going to be hard work, but at the end of the day your get to be your own boss and make your own decisions and that is priceless".
The Girl with The Green Sofa