Born in communist China but raised in France, Sandrine Zhang left Ferron Finance to found Vinterior in 2015. Sandrine’s co-founder and friend Leslie Fournier joined her after her career in management consultancy and the company’s first sale was a pair of Belgian mid-century armchairs.
In 2017, the vintage market was booming and Vinterior reached a turnover of £1 million. More recently, in 2021, the online retailer raised £8 million after a Series A funding round and the business just continues to grow.
How has your traditional business school education helped you prepare to start Vinterior? It was a great grounding. I learned how to pitch and it also gave me a thick skin of cold calling from asset managers, which meant I wasn’t afraid to reach out to furniture dealers and interior designers to discuss Vinterior before the site even launched. My previous role on an investment team meant that I could process and understand complex data, which was vital when I started Vinterior.
How does your resource work and how do you manage the sellers? We have a supply team that reaches the best sellers of second-hand, vintage and antique furniture across Europe. And as brand awareness has grown, more and more sellers come to us directly, through social media, online searches, or a seller referral. They now amount to more than half of our new salespeople; however, we still have strict eligibility criteria and only 65% of applicants on board.
What makes a seller suitable for Vinterior? We have a two-step approach. We only select sellers who share the same passion for providing high quality vintage and pre-owned furniture and excellent customer service, and we also review all pieces uploaded to the marketplace.
We want to ensure that we provide consumers with quality products at a wide range of styles and prices. Just some of the styles are modern, art deco, postmodern, and mid-century antiques. Some of the vendors we work with have real specialities, for example Loft Me has a brilliant collection of mid-century modern chairs, and Arthur and Ede focus on French antiques.
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 lack in-depth knowledge of the market.
What are your plans for the future with brand and platform? And how have 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 geographically and in terms of product categories. We now have sellers in 30 countries, products in 25 different styles and more than 100 categories.
Now we want to establish Vinterior as the brand that defines the second-hand furniture and home accessories category and enables everyone to find unique, characterful second-hand pieces for their home, regardless of their taste or budget.
I know you were motivated by a frustration of long searches for good second-hand designer furniture, but was there a specific “ah-ha” moment behind starting the business? The idea or “ah-ha” moment came after an extensive search for a yellow Poul M. Volther chair. I spent endless weekends scouring vintage dealers in London, and while I was finally successful (after three months), I realized there was a real need for an online marketplace where long-term people could find second-hand furniture much more easily. search and buy and household items.
What forced you to learn to code? So I was able to launch Vinterior! I thought that since I was going to build a tech company, I needed to acquire the right skills to hire and assess tech talent, and to be credible when I talk to engineers.
I’m fascinated by your backstory – what do your parents think of Vinterior?My parents are proud, although my mother repeatedly says that I work too much. After I had my daughter in 2020, she basically said it was too stressful being a business owner and I needed to take a break to take care of my family. That, of course, is a very traditional view of things. I still have to make it clear to them that I chose this lifestyle. And that the lessons, the thrill, and the satisfaction of building something from scratch into a service that millions of people use and appreciate will make up for the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Now that we’ve grown to a team of 40, my mom asks why I still have to stretch so thin. Maybe I’ll take some of her advice and learn to delegate better to my great team.
How did you develop your own sense of interior style and how has it developed over the years? Traveling has been a great source of inspiration for me. My parents grew up in communist China and lived through 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 strange and bourgeois to them. I discovered design and the value of combining function with an aesthetic point of view later in life, when I was exposed to designs from different cultures and eras. I would say my style is eclectic now. I like to mix 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 with what works in a space.