Vast Interior Furniture and Homewares is one of our most loved retailers (ust ask my wife!) Retail is a tough industry, but Kelly Williams sees it as a passion that she loves to share.
Let’s get to know more about Kelly, who almost qualifies as a local – am I right?
Well, I was born and raised in the Hunter Valley, then after high school moved to Newcastle and completed a Diploma in Health Science (Pathology) and worked for Mayne Health in the Biochemistry department.
Retail hadn’t been on my radar until relocating to the Great Lakes. I’ve lived here now for 13 years, so I’m hoping that qualifies me as a local.
What was it that drove you to start your own business?
I was always lucky finding employment, and Vast was no different. I worked in customer service positions while studying, but had no real sales experience. With my maternity leave coming to an end at Mayne Health and not wanting to do night shift, I was keen to get back into the workforce.
I was a regular customer at the original Forster store in Boundary Street and was offered a casual job out of the blue. I moved with the business when we relocated to Stockland in 2007 and managed the store until buying it in 2010.
Looking back at my journey, I believe I was in the right place at the right time and found what I was meant to do. I love the culture of the business, the product and the ability to share this passion with my customers. It’s an enormous amount of work, but I feel blessed for the opportunity.
So, how do you juggle the business and life?
I’d be fibbing if I said it was easy. It’s a delicate balance every day, and I don’t always get it right. My first and favourite role is mum to my 14 year old, Flynn. After 12 years in Vast, he’s used to me jabbering on about stock and how sore my back is from unpacking containers!
I have a fantastic network of people who make the juggle possible. Firstly, my mum, who has supported my journey and picked up the slack when I can’t be two places at once and my staff – Cathy, Emma and Liza, whom I am very appreciative of.
Tell us about the move from Forster to Taree and how it impacted the business.
Lesson learnt – don’t move house and your business within weeks of each other!
The relocation from Forster to Taree had been in my business plan for some time. My 10 year lease at Stockland was coming to an end, and the demographic of businesses surrounding me was no longer the right fit. Taree is the furniture hub of the Manning-Great Lakes area, so it made perfect business sense to move.
With any relocation, there’s always a transitional period, adjusting to a new market space and customer base. Already we’ve noticed a change in what customers are asking for.
We are still seeing lots of regulars, as well as welcoming new faces who have never experienced the store before. The wonderful compliments we’ve received and the admiration for our timber ranges has been very rewarding and reaffirming.
The quality of products at Vast is something that gets spoken about regularly. How do you source such pieces?
I’m so fortunate with the product I get to stock. In our timber ranges nothing is mass produced. Each item is made using traditional methods and sustainable materials. Our recycled timbers are genuinely old, not just manipulated to achieve a certain look, and many pieces have a story to tell.
Our main suppliers are true artisans, and I have been lucky enough to travel to India to be taken through the entire production process. I think understanding where your stock originates, how it is made and what it is made from is an important part of the sales process.
Being a franchise, our core furniture suppliers have been with us for a long time, but as a franchisee I do have creative license to research and source additional options.
Retail has rapidly changed in the past decade. What have you done to keep ahead of the curve in the retail sector?
The Australian retail industry in general has had a challenging year, seeing large retailers move into administration and many small businesses close. On a positive note, it is adaptable, and the key to that I believe is knowing your customer and their needs.
With online retail therapy available 24/7, the way people shop has definitely changed. Online has its place in the retail market but I still feel, particularly for my product, that a physical store is a key part of a customer’s shopping journey.
As a business I love using Facebook and Instagram to showcase new products. It’s an important snapshot of who we are and what we do and has the reach that traditional advertising does not.
How do you connect with your customers and other businesses?
Good customer service is the most powerful tool. More times than not, deciding to buy furniture is emotive. There needs to be that connection for the customer with the piece, but the customer also needs to feel confident in buying from a particular store.
Being in Forster for a decade, we built good relationships with our customers and knew a large portion of them by name.
We strive to achieve this familiarity in our new location, where we are surrounded by some fantastic small business operators and already feel very much part of the community.
What is the best part about living and being in business in the Manning-Great Lakes?
We live in a beautiful pocket of NSW surrounded by National Parks, fantastic beaches and great weather all year round. It has a real sense of community, and I think that’s the appeal -particularly for younger families raising children. That sense of community is what I also appreciate about being in business.