November 27, 2020
Stephen and Kathryn have a second home in France, where they enjoy spending time relaxing, but also sourcing for the business from various antiques auctions, brocantes and house clearances. We asked Stephen about the secret to The French House’s buying and sourcing success.
When we decide on our travel dates, we will always give notice to our regular sources and let them know our arrival dates. We plan our trips and try to coordinate with antiques fairs and auctions that are taking place in the region.
We have really good relationships with five or six dealers who know our taste and they will source and hold things for us to view before offering pieces to others. This loyal service that we receive has come after many years of supplying The French House. We return this loyalty with purchasing much of the stock they hold for us and returning time and time again. These sources of supply will normally account for 50% of our purchases on each visit.
Although village fairs are uncertain in so far as certainty of good quality items, they are a really enjoyable part of our visits. Many of the interesting objects that can be found in our showrooms have been found at such fairs. Objects that may well have spent many years in the attic or outbuilding of the owner’s property. The key to finding the best things at the fairs is to be the first there, which requires taking a torch and be at the fair at daybreak!
Auctions are increasingly providing a fresh supply of our stock, especially of furniture. Having said that it’s essential that you are bi-lingual and have an extensive vocabulary as no allowances are made for non-French buyers. It’s also imperative that you have an established bank account in France as cash is not always acceptable. Any item bought must be taken on the day of the sale, so having suitable transport and people to load to take purchases away is crucial. It is very rare especially with home contents auctions that delivery or items being held can be arranged.
We have two warehouses in France that we bought some years ago and these are very useful in that they enable us to purchase an unlimited amount of stock without having to transport it back immediately. They also allow us to select stock for shipment that is needed in York or London and other purchases can be left in safe, dry storage for the future. When we return from the visit, normally two to three weeks after arrival, we tend to carry back the most valuable and fragile things and other stock can be brought back to England via one of our regular shippers.
For the last couple of years we’ve acquired a local helper who has proved invaluable in that he loads the transporter if we are not in France and should a piece of “too good to miss” furniture turns up, he can collect it from the seller and take to our storage facility.
It’s taken a long time to achieve the business model that suits our business and our life, but it enables The French House to acquire a constant supply of fresh stock at competitive prices for both our York and London showrooms. We source pieces for individual and trade clients, making several trips a year to ensure that our stock is constantly changing. We keep up to date with interior trends to ensure that we don’t get stuck in a style rut and become complacent. For example, heavily carved beds were very popular when we first opened, but more recently lighter framed or Louis style and cane beds prove more popular, so we adapt to these trends. It’s important to us as a business and as individuals to keep growing and developing.
Words by Caitlin Hazell - caitlinhazell.co.uk
July 10, 2023
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