Retailer finds that a small showroom isn’t a hindrance to sales success. Their secret is to reach out to customers by turning the store “INSIDEOUT.”
There’s a distinct edge to Sue Toby’s unique creativity. She looks at things a little differently, and that’s what makes people sit up and take notice. Wit, humor, instinct, experience, she possesses in abundance, all key qualities in entrepreneurial endeavours. And that “edge” has an upside-down/down-under flavour, blended like a James Bond martini into the INSIDEOUThomestore, Victoria, British Columbia, the Pacific Rim’s trendiest home furnishings store . . . and more!
The “and more” came to her and the people of Bear Mountain Resorts like a bolt from the blue sky and ocean surrounding Vancouver Island. Their timing is bang on. The West Coast of Canada, with its aura of the exotic, has long been a Mecca for the adventurous. It lured early explorers seeking passage to Asia, men and women who moiled for gold, artists like the extraordinary Emily Carr, mountain climbers and skiers drawn by the spectacular Rockies. Fisherpeople, too, in pursuit of wild salmon answered the call, as have gentle gardeners enticed by rhododendrons, azaleas and roses.
INSIDEOUUThomestore sells complete home packages that include sofas, chairs, beds, dishes, small appliances, oven mitts, measuring spoons, towels, sheets, pillows, duvets, lamps, mirrors, knives, forks, table linens, hair dryers, martini glasses and patio/balcony furniture. For a small fee they even unwrap purchases, make beds, fold towels, put dishes and cutlery and pots and pans away in the kitchen. Shown above is a page from www.insideoutvictoria.com where the many second home buyers, retirees and investors in INSIDEOUThomestore's worldwide trading area can go to save time and effort.
But now, circa 2007, the surge of pilgrims has grown and strengthened, Canadian and international baby boomers avid for a milder climate and retirement living, and investors who see opportunity beckoning. In 2010, the Winter Olympics will be held across the Straits of Georgia at Vancouver and the resort village of Whistler on British Columbia’s mainland. The Olympics will bring thousands more visitors, athletes, fans, media and many sports aficionados from nearby Washington State. Plus millions of television viewers worldwide! Real estate here justifiably commands some of the highest prices in Canada, with no concern about housing slumps, mortgage reversals or recession. Mid to high-end property developments abound and sales are brisk.
“Think about a successful 50-something professional couple contemplating the purchase of a second home on the West Coast,” said Sue. “They’re as busy as can be and just don’t have time nor the inclination to do the necessary planning and shopping. Or perhaps a clever financial person in Europe or Asia, looking for investment growth potential. Now let your imagination soar, consider how you might best use your own creative skills to meet new needs in your marketplace!”
Bear Mountain Resorts is a beautiful world-class golf community, 25 minutes from downtown Victoria. “Absolutely stunning! Big luxurious hotel, pool, spa, a beautiful coffee shop, trails, you name it. The golf course is a technical marvel, co-designed by Jack and Steve Nicklaus. Integral to the development is St. Andrew’s Walk, one or two bedroom condos, wood floors, up-market kitchens, all the amenities. St. Andrew’s first phase is 125 condos; the second phase will be larger. We are working with them to provide ‘whole home’ packages for their international buyers.
“These packages are all about creating a beautiful and efficient environment for the purchaser. ‘Whole home’ includes absolutely everything one needs to live. Sofas, chairs, beds, dishes, small appliances, oven mitts, measuring spoons, towels, sheets, pillows, duvets, lamps, mirrors, knives, forks, table linens, hair dryers, martini glasses, patio/balcony furniture, all are incorporated. And we have an additional service. For a small fee, we will unwrap your purchases, make your beds, fold towels, put dishes and cutlery and pots and pans away for you in the kitchen. The purchaser can walk in to her/his new home and start living. Or feel confident that their tenants will be able to take possession trouble free.”
Check www.insideoutvictoria.com and you will be amazed. There are many, many dazzling options in furniture styling, colour, leathers, fabrics to choose from, in effect, to custom design the virgin condo. Choices can be made within three select packages to mesh with condo sizes and price levels. Spaces are completely outfitted for around $25,000.00. “We encourage the buyer to work with our staff, one on one, to create their very own, individual package. I am so fortunate to have my staffs’ enthusiasm, with their young and active minds, putting these packages together with such ease. These girls have no limitations; as they say, ‘the world’s their oyster’!
There are many ways that a store with a small footprint can fill much larger shoes.
“Many of our customers come from all over the world. Some are buying the condos and the ‘whole homes’ concept as dwellings, others as great additions to their investment portfolios.”
A visionary marketing strategy! But what about INSIDEOUT itself? The concept began with Sue, founder and owner, the enterprising girl from down-under. Born and raised in North Island, New Zealand, as a child Sue “lived in 14 houses in 10 years”. Her father was a bridge builder, a career that demanded the family be on the move. Her mother was forewoman of a large electrical company where she “supervised the work of 100 women and more”. Sue has three sisters, Maria, Renee and Andrea.
She was a hard worker from the age of 13. “I did factory work, baby sitting, cleaned houses, home shows to make money for Christmas presents. I thought I wanted to be a nurse, but our mother has a gift for interior design and all of our houses were absolutely gorgeous; I was always very proud of them. And I’ve always had a love of beautiful things. I really enjoy integrating outdoor living with indoor living in my daily life.”
At 20, travel broadened her horizons. Her father had been born in Guernsey and her “grandmother was getting married again. I went to represent the family at the wedding and discovered that I loved the island. Got a job first with Coopers & Lybrand, then Hambros Bank. Stayed there for a year and it was great. I was able to take trips to the continent frequently.
“Maria had met and married a Canadian when he was traveling in New Zealand and, when I was 21, I came on a visit to Canada for the first time. And I met my husband, Craig.” The couple married in 1981. They have two daughters, both of whom are involved in the enterprise.
Sue first worked with Maria in an antique store, “and loved it! It was incredibly successful.” And when the opportunity suddenly appeared, the two “jumped at the risk of starting our own business”. When Maria ultimately moved back down-under, to Australia, Sue took over full management.
A self-starter, Sue is independent and firmly “believes you can do anything you put your mind to. With decades of buying and selling behind us, we are confident of our ability to find anything and everything our customers want and need.”
INSIDEOUT is located on the edge of Victoria’s vibrant downtown inner harbour. And right around the corner from bustling China Town. “The building was originally constructed for warehousing. Later, it was acquired by a brewery. Still later it became a blacksmith shop. We occupy the main floor, 2,500 square feet. The upstairs houses law offices and a design firm.
“Right across the street, Liberty Furniture just opened a stunning new store. It’s a fabulous area for shops and we all complement one another. Swans, Victoria’s boutique hotel and art pub is located at the corner, and they are in the process of setting up a gallery in between their premises and ours. Great shopping and dining experiences abound and there’s lots of pedestrian traffic year round.”
There’s a clever, constantly changing mix of styling on the floor, artfully placed to help the customer visualize their own spaces and needs. The designs are blended so that both contemporary and traditional influences are incorporated into vignettes. Colours are luscious, inviting, and leather and upholstery settings scream comfort.
“There’s a relatively new demographic on the scene,” Sue observed. “Many mothers are older now, 35 up to who knows where! For that reason we carry the ‘Yummy Mummy’ chair! It’s a chair so welcoming you don’t mind getting up for feedings at 3 a.m.! We’ve established a connection with television star Erica Ehm, founder of the Yummy Mummy Club, an online club for mums. A totally interesting woman we met recently at a baby fair. We’re rebuilding our website now and we’ll incorporate a link. (Check Erica Ehm at www.yummymummyclub.ca.)
“Actually, we saw the need about four years ago to develop INSIDEOUTKIDS. It was an instant success! We used the logo on our van, great publicity, and people came in to ask about it. We do a huge business in kids’ beds. And the linens and accessories that go with them.” Another oasis of colour on the showroom floor and a “great draw for grateful grandparents”, always eager to buy.
The entire energetic family is involved, daughters, husband and mother, “whenever she visits us from New Zealand”. Craig, “a man of many talents”, owns his own enterprise, Westcork, a company carrying all types of flooring, including sustainables, such as cork, hardwood, bamboo and exotics.
Sue sees opportunity everywhere and anywhere but “not in newspaper advertising. Might as well tear your money up. We work co-operatively with the community for Christmas ads, but that’s it. We do business on the Internet, through our connections and contacts, and now, of course, with property developers. We have built up a huge following from our 17 years in business. Our location couldn’t be better. And since we believe absolutely in great personalized customer service and high quality product lines, we have many intergenerational repeat customers.”
Her advice to fellow entrepreneurs? “Keep true to your core business, furniture and home furnishings. Anticipate changes in the marketplace, the economy and business. Don’t just wait for people to come to the store, make an aggressive push whenever it’s right and logical to do so.”
The future? “We will sell the ‘whole home’ concept to other developers in and around Victoria.” Sue grinned, “The sky’s the limit! Or maybe not.” Visit the family at www.insideoutvictoria.com.
Sit down and dream a little. Think outside that box. Analyze your “unique selling proposition” and market niche. What’s new in your part of the world, what’s just beginning to happen, what’s exciting? It’s there if you look for it!