Born in Communist China but raised in France, Sandrine Zhang Ferron left finance to start Vinterior in 2015. Sandrine’s co-founder and friend Leslie Fournier moved on from her career in management consultancy to join her and the company’s first sale was a pair of Belgian mid-century armchairs.
By 2017 the vintage marketplace was booming and Vinterior hit £1 million in sales. More recently, in 2021, the online retailer raised £8 million following a series A funding round and the business only continues to grow.
How did your traditional business school education help prepare you for starting Vinterior? It was a great grounding. I learned how to pitch and it also gave me a thick skin from cold calling asset managers, which meant I wasn’t apprehensive contacting furniture dealers and interior designers to discuss Vinterior before the site had even launched. My previous role in an investment team meant I was able to digest and understand complex data, which was vital when I started Vinterior.
How do your source and curate the sellers? We have a supply team that reaches out to the best preowned, vintage and antique furniture sellers across Europe. And as brand awareness has grown, more and more sellers come to us directly, via social media, online searches or a seller referral. Those now amount for over half our new sellers; however, we still have strict acceptance criteria and only onboard 65% of applicants.
What makes a seller right for Vinterior? We have a two-step approach. We only select sellers who share the same passion for delivering quality vintage and pre-owned furniture and excellent customer service, and we also review all pieces thath are uploaded onto the marketplace.
We want to ensure that we are providing consumers with quality products at a wide range of styles and prices. Just some of the styles include mid-century modern, art-deco, post-modern and antique. Some sellers we work with have a real speciality, for example Loft Me have a brilliant collection of mid-century modern chairs, and Arthur and Ede focus on French antique.
A big focus is the “vintage curious” customer who we define as those who are interested in making a more characterful and sustainable choice but don’t have an in-depth understanding of the market.
What are you plans for the future with brand and platform? And how has the concept and offering evolved since launch? When we started, we focused on the London market and mid-century designer furniture. Since then, we have expanded both from a geographical perspective and also in terms of product categories. We now have sellers in 30 countries, products across 25 different styles and over 100 categories.
Now, we want to establish Vinterior as the brand that defines the pre-owned furniture and home decor category and enables everyone to find unique, characterful pre-owned pieces for their home, whatever their taste or budget.
I know you were motivated by a frustration of long searches for good pre-owned design furniture, but was there a specific “ah-ha” moment behind starting the company? The idea or “ah-ha” moment came following an extensive search for a yellow Poul M. Volther chair. I spent endless weekends scouring vintage dealers around London, and though I was eventually successful (after three months), I realised there was a real need for an online marketplace where time-stretched people could much more easily search and buy pre-owned furniture and homeware.
What compelled you to learn to code? So I could launch Vinterior! I thought that as I was going to build a tech business, I had to acquire the appropriate skills to be able to hire and assess tech talent, and be credible when talking to engineers.
I am fascinated by your backstory—what do your parents think of Vinterior?My parents are proud, although my mum repeatedly says that I am working too much. Actually, after I had my daughter in 2020, she said that being a business owner was too stressful and that I should take a break in order to look after my family. That’s of course a very traditional outlook on things. I still need to make them understand that I have chosen this lifestyle. And that the learnings, thrill and satisfaction in building something from scratch, into a service millions of people use and value, make up for the ups and downs that come with being an entrepreneur. Now that we have grown to a team of 40, my mum asks why I still need to stretch myself so thinly. I may take some of her advice her and learn to be better at delegating to my great team.
How have you developed your own sense of interior style and how has it developed over the years? Travel has been a great source of inspiration for me. My parents grew up in Communist China and experienced the Cultural Revolution, and I was born there. We moved to France when I was young but as first-generation immigrants in the 90s, the concept of design still felt alien and bourgeoisie to them. I discovered design and the value of marrying function with an aesthetic viewpoint later in life, as I was exposed to designs from different cultures and eras. I would say my style now is eclectic. I like combining styles and eras, for example a mid-century chair in a living room with an antique mirror or a farmhouse kitchen table with brutalist chairs. It’s about playing around with what works in a space.