Our contributing editor Alex Bourdelon interviews Claudine Andrew, an entrepreneur and single mother of two, bringing French style vintage markets to the UK.
What is Shabbytique? and how long have you been in Business?
Shabbytique is a series of artisan fairs bringing together local artists and innovators with the local community. We had our first fair March 2014.
How did you get started in this business?
I moved back to Maidenhead when pregnant with my second child. When my son turned one, I needed to get back to work but needed something that I could fit in around my kids. My background and experience was in managing restaurants but, as this is a 60hrs a week job, it wasn’t really possible to go back to that line of work; the childcare alone would have wiped out my salary. I needed to find something I could do around the kids and came up with the Shabbytique idea. There was nothing of the sort in the Maidenhead/Windsor area. Shabby chic, vintage was all the rage and on-trend, as was recycling and up-cycling, bringing items back to life or giving them a new purpose; Old crates turned into a coffee table or shelves. Handmade home décor, mismatched vintage plates transformed into cake trays, giving old jewellery and clothes a new lease on life.
I loved markets and thought I can bring all these wonderful ideas together and introduce them to the community and, in my own little way, help conserve the planet just a little by encouraging people to recycle and find the beauty in something old. Plus, I was good with people, at managing, and at working within a budget. Years in a restaurant had taught me that. These were all transferable skills in the day-to-day running of a fair, so I chose not to retrain and instead take my chances; I had nothing to lose.
As I was on income support after having my son, I went to the Job Centre and pitched them my idea. They sent me on a seminar on how to write a business plan. After the kids would go to bed, I researched and wrote my business plan. It was actually a really helpful process as it made me think through my idea and outline very clear goals, create a priority check list and have a very clear vision. The plan took several weeks to complete but, finally, it was done and I went back to the Job centre with my business plan under my arm. I would need seed money to jumpstart this plan and put it into action. I had none, so the council referred me for a business loan for the start up cost. I applied for it and got it. It was a small loan but enough to get me started. Bought a laptop, got a website made. Scouted for a location and I was off.
What was the idea behind Shabbytique?
Before moving back to Maidenhead, I had lived in the South of France for 12 years where I was running my father’s restaurant after he passed away. St Tropez was full of artisan markets of all types arts and crafts, fruit and veg, cheese, wine and brocantes. Brocante means secondhand in French! Here we call it vintage, shabby chic or repurposed when referring to home decor. But a brocante market is a more romantic term for using vintage pieces to decorate your homes.
I liked the idea of the French market.I decided to incorporate all the great traditions of the French markets and really create an atmosphere. I wanted my markets to included live music, food stalls, and entertainment for the kids. I wanted them to be a destination rather than a stop off. Brocantes in small villages and towns in France were always a community event, attended by everyone. France had the benefit of tradition on its side. I, on the other hand, had to make that happen.
Did you get help and support to start your open business?
The Job centre helped me put the business side of my plan together, through them I attended workshops created a business plan and got a business loan. Once I was ready to start, friends helped with website, ideas, taking photos and videos. I joined the Maidenhead Business girls, a Facebook group for women entrepreneurs of any kind. The group has continued to grow and is now franchising all over the country, celebrating women in business and is heavily supported by Teresa May, local MP and of course the Prime Minister. Through them I got my accountant and met other fantastic women. It is a great place to network and get support, ask questions and meet interesting like-minded people you may not otherwise come across.
What is involved in putting the fairs together?
At the beginning, it was all about finding the right location. This being a new venture I had to consider the foot fall, parking, accessibility, visibility and size. Secondly, I had to find the right stall-holders. They would be the meat and potato of the event and they had to not disappoint. I was strict that all items being sold had to either be handmade, vintage or up-cycled. I wanted mostly homewares, furniture, jewellery and clothes. No tat. I didn’t want it to become a jumble sale. For months before I scoured vintage markets anywhere I could find them, to approach stall-holders, to see what worked and what didn’t. I googled companies and individuals whose stuff I liked and who I felt would fit in well with my vision. I googled specific things I wanted at my fair and contacted those individuals and companies to see whether they wanted a stall at my fair. It was a lot of reaching out and a lot of networking but very quickly I developed a good core group of stall-holders that became very loyal to Shabbytique. Within the first six months, they were coming to me. I was lucky in that respect.
I always contacted the local commission before putting on a fair. I wanted this to be encouraged and supported by local government and thought it best to include them from the get go. Then there was advertising the fair to get people in. I did this an old-fashioned way (fitting right?) by putting boards in the local area. I advertised on my website and facebook page. Every fair had food stalls, ‘vintage cafes’, drinks and entertainment for adults and kids. At the beginning there was a small entrance fee to cover the cost of the venue, but half the takings would always be donated to a local charity. I didn’t want to alienate the local community; this couldn’t work without their support.
How has Shabbytique evolved over the years?
In the first year, all the fairs were in village halls in and around Berkshire. Through a series of events I met and then teamed up with Eat on the High Street. Our fairs moved from village halls to the town centre working in conjunction with the council. It was a good move. We had better footfall, bigger markets and a regular monthly slot. We were more visible and in working with the council we had more support and exposure. Our events helped with the efforts of regeneration of the Maidenhead shopping area and the high street. Within months our fairs had grown to include up to 50 stalls per fair. It was then that the council town centre manager approached me to do Gin in the Park.
What is Gin in the Park?
Gin in the Park is a garden party. A family event. Like Shabbytique, there was nothing of the sort in the whole borough of this scale. We found a beautiful and perfect location by the river banks of Maidenhead. It is a mini festival with food, live music, all sorts of gin stalls, face painting and play area for kids. It is a daytime event and, although festive, it is not a rave.
We had our first one last year, which was so successful it sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale. This year’s event is on 1 July with two sessions 11-3:30 or 4:30-8:30. We have divided the day into two sessions in order to accommodate the high demand. We keep prices very reasonable; £5 for adults and £1.50 for kids. It takes place at the Guards Club Park SL6 8DN.
Once again, this year we sold out within minutes of going on sale. Because of the high demand we asked the council for a larger license allowing us more people, which the council granted us. We released more tickets in mid June and these also sold out very quickly. We are in talks with the council about possibly releasing further tickets however, crowd control is an issue and a concern and we want to be mindful of the residents around our location. I suppose if Gin in the Park continues to grow at this rate we may have to find a bigger location to accommodate all those that want to join the fun.
If you haven’t managed to get tickets feel free to contact us to get any updates on further ticket releases, or if you have any concerns or questions at www.gininthepark.com.
Where would you like to see Shabbytique and Gin In the Park in five years?
I would love to take them both to the next level. I have taken a sabbatical from Shabbytique. Me and the kids moved to Dorset last September and we have had to get settled; new schools, new home and so on. I took a local job for the time being.
Ideally, in five years’ time I would like to be working on Shabbytique and Gin in the Park full time. Growing it. Initially, creating the same thing here in Dorset; a monthly Shabbytique brocante and a annual Gin in the Park while continuing the Maidenhead ones. Eventually, I would like to see Shabbytique franchised. Bringing vintage fairs all over the UK. So if you live in an area that does not have Shabbytique fairs, get in touch, we will train you, and soon you could be managing your own fairs in your local area until they are all over the country! So if you are interested please get in touch through the website and we can take over the world together.