We talk to Sandy White, the founder and owner of Sandy’s Vintage Charms, about her unique path towards running a business she truly loves. Our latest #KnapChat covers:
- The commercial impact of Brexit
- The rise of Vintage
- Creating a successful eCommerce
- Selling overseas from Lincolnshire
- The introduction of the internet and social media to a growing business
- The importance of passion in business
Launched in 2005 as an eBay shop, Sandy’s Vintage Charms has become internationally renowned as a leader in the supply of rare, precious and historic charms.
Originally starting as an acquirer and supplier of antique items, we talked to Sandy about how she realised her passion, the nerve-wracking leap away from her original career and how she now combines her passion with her business.
KW: How difficult was the decision to leave Natwest Bank to start your own antiques business in 1997?
Sandy: I joined Natwest straight from school. It was never my big career plan, just a stepping stone to something else. The problem was I didn’t know what that something else was, and it took me 11 years to finally find out. I had been thinking of leaving for a while - it had become a sales and targets driven business rather than being about helping the customers.
My partner at the time was an antiques dealer and I had quite a large personal collection of items that I knew would make a good opening stock for a business of my own. Whilst the decision to leave was a big one, I knew that the time was right. It was nerve-racking but also very exciting.
KW: Why jewellery? And where did your specialism of vintage charms stem from?
Sandy: After about a year of selling at antiques fairs and markets I moved into an antiques centre, which meant my items were on sale seven days a week. It was around this time that a friend set me up with my own desktop computer at home. It was very early days for the Internet and I can remember seeing a company called eBay that had about 10,000 items listed at the time.
Having spent some time around the antiques fairs I realised there was a huge collectors' market out there. I was a regular on forums in America, Canada and Australia. By now, I was listing on eBay but finding it hard to package bulky items - I needed something smaller and easier to send abroad, and I accidentally stumbled across charms.
I did a bit of research on some of my forums and discovered a thriving charm market in the USA. After that, I bought books and read everything I possibly could, as well as questioning my customers that I had gained through eBay. It wasn’t long before I was hooked, and Sandy’s Vintage Charms was launched as an eBay shop in 2005.
It worked very well for a few years but I struggled with their fees, rules and regulations. This was supposed to be my business after all, so I took the plunge, and with help from a family member, launched my own website with an online shop (sandysvintagecharms.co.uk) in October 2008.
KW: You have chosen Shopify as your eCommerce solution of choice to compete globally from rural Lincolnshire. Why Shopify? And how is it working for you?
Sandy: My first website in 2008 was through a web design company. Unfortunately, they stopped trading a few years later and I was unable to update the website. I contacted a few web designers and I kept hearing the name Shopify, and after lots of research, I decided to try and build the website myself through Shopify.
I eventually launched my new website in February 2016. Four years later I’m still very happy with it - they have an excellent support service (not that I have needed to use it much); they keep the website up to date with payment options (Apple Pay, for example), ensuring everything is running legally and secure (https and GDPR), and they have lots of apps that you can run alongside to enhance the website.
KW: Sounds great! Why do you think vintage has become so popular in recent years?
Sandy: I think there are a few reasons - vintage is generally cheaper than new, yet can also be better quality than new, and it is very green. Buying vintage also has very little impact on the environment: it’s the ultimate in recycling.
I also think that people love to be unique - a lot of the pieces I sell are one-offs: you won’t see anybody else with the exact same charm or pendant and people like that. There is also some nostalgia involved: we can all remember pieces from our childhood, either lost or too expensive at the time. We like to buy those memories back.
KW: Talk us through the process of finding jewellery, valuing it and selling it on?
Sandy: Knowledge is everything when you are running your own business - I have studied charms for years and I’m still learning. I travel the length and breadth of the country to view charms that are for sale, either in auctions, private homes or antiques fairs.
Knowing my customers, knowing what is in fashion now and having a stab at what might become fashionable in the future all has a bearing on what I buy and how much I sell it for. All of my purchases are now listed for sale through my website as I no longer stand antiques fairs - I sell worldwide with free shipping on all orders.
KW: How much of an impact has social media had on your business? Was it always a part of your business?
Sandy: Social media wasn’t always a part of my business as it didn’t exist when I first started. The Internet has had a huge impact on my business - I certainly couldn’t run my business without it. Suddenly I could advertise globally, rather than waiting for someone to call at my stall.
Google Ads helped get me on the first page for many of my keywords but it was Facebook, in the early days, that helped build relationships with customers and fellow collectors. Those relationships are still going strong, some 15 years later.
New relationships are being built today with Instagram - I have found it to be an excellent tool for my business. I enjoy being creative with my jewellery and putting pictures on Instagram, some are just for fun, but many are an advert for what I have for sale.
Instagram has certainly brought in many new customers, the direct message facilities that social media has are popular. Being able to chat in real-time to discuss concerns, keep up to date with delivery times and so on is invaluable.
KW: Brexit has far-reaching consequences for businesses and consumers, and it remains to be seen whether these consequences will be positive or negative. How has it / is it impacting your business?
Sandy: I have to admit I was devastated when the country voted to leave the EU, and I did have concerns. The price of precious metals rose steeply so stock was more expensive to buy, but the lower pound brought in lots of new overseas customers who found they were getting much more for their money.
I have more paperwork now for my European customers with regards to customs but overall the impact, so far, has been minimal.
KW: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting your own business?
Sandy: Do something that you love. If you don’t love it, then you won’t give it your all. If I wasn’t passionate about my business I would struggle to get up at 5am to walk around a cold field looking for gems. I would struggle to answer emails when I am away on holiday, I wouldn’t be sitting at my desk at 10pm because a customer needs a present for a birthday next week.
KW: So what is a typical day in the life of Sandy White?
Sandy: I have two types of days: one is at home in the office and the other is out on the road. If I’m home then I will be photographing stock, parcelling up orders, listing new stock on the website, answering emails, cleaning and repairing charms and posting on social media. If I’m on the road then I am normally stuck in a traffic jam! Joking aside, I will be viewing auctions and attending antiques fairs and markets.
KW: What are your most memorable and favourite pieces?
Sandy: One of my favourite pieces is called Alan the Alien. It is a silver charm of a UFO with a green painted alien inside. It’s a rare and expensive charm which I bought from a dealer called Alan many years ago for just a few pounds. A few years later, Alan and I got together and we married in 2017. I have only reminded him a few times of how cheap he sold me the charm!
There have been too many memorable pieces: sometimes it is very hard to part with them but it is a business and I have to be ruthless. It doesn’t stop me mourning them. One piece - a lovely Victorian gold and enamel doll - came back to me. I decided it was fate that brought her back so the second time around, I kept her.
KW: What a wonderful story, sounds like you owe a lot to Alan the Alien then! You’re not originally from Lincolnshire, so what brought you to this part of the world?
Sandy: I’m originally from Buckinghamshire. My parents moved to Skegness when I was 17 - I had only been working for a year and was unable to afford staying in the south on my own so I moved to Lincolnshire with them. I’m very glad I did, I feel that Lincolnshire is very much my home now.
No matter where I travel I am always happy to return home to those big beautiful Lincolnshire skies and open fields. I love that I can run my business from such a rural place and support my local community.
Talking to Sandy, it becomes clear that now more than ever small, rural-based businesses are thriving in our increasingly connected world. Relationships are at the heart of what Sandy does - the relationship she has with her beloved home and her local community, as well as the many connections she makes and maintains with her customers and those who share her passion. Her love for what she does shines through it all.
Sandy’s Vintage Charms proves that passion and the flexibility to adapt is key to the success of any business. Sandy continues to demonstrate that potentially drastic developments and impactful changes in business - from Brexit to ever-changing technologies - can be taken on with ease if you keep growing and learning.
If you are passionate about your business and love what you do, the hard work won’t be hard at all. Living your passion can be rare, but if you have an eye like Sandy's, such a gem may be easier to find than you think…