How to bring back your life’s Sparkles
Interview with Victoria Sparkes | By Dr Marina Nani
A Senior lecturer and Research Fellow at two UK Universities, with a Masters in neurological rehabilitation, a PCGE and a Doctorate in Education, mother of three teenage girls, Victoria Sparkes has lived in Switzerland on and off since 2001. However, teaching in a non- English speaking University wasn’t an option and when relocating to Switzerland the language barrier imposed severe restrictions on her employment options.
A decade ago when she moved back to Switzerland, she decided to give her new home a vintage look. Victoria loved revamping furniture, but the process of painting was time consuming and often messy – sanding, priming then painting usually with an oil-based paint – and she also found the paint fumes uncomfortable. Looking for an easy solution to painting these pieces of furniture, she came across Annie Sloan’s paint which can be applied directly onto most surfaces, from metal, to painted wood.
This allowed Victoria to take her creativity to a total new level, but little did she know that paint is her new found passion and freedom!
At the time it was difficult to find Annie Sloan’ paint in Switzerland and she approached Annie to bring the brand to Switzerland. Since then, Victoria started to import and sell Annie Sloan products to interior boutiques and shops in Switzerland, in addition to representing the brand locally. Inspired by Annie Sloan’s vision, Victoria is sharing her new found passion for decorative painting. In this exclusive interview Victoria is sharing her remarkable story with a selfless desire to inspire us to be creative and adventurous with our own colours, to help us bridge the distance between pain and paint, just as she did.
What led you to the decision to start this new business?
My French and German were not of a high enough level to be able to teach or supervise research students in a non-English speaking University. Also, I had three children and my husband travelled a lot with his job. I needed something that would fit in with the family as settling my girls back into Switzerland was my priority, although I missed the cerebral part of my work life. Discovering this brand afforded me an opportunity for a new experience. I’d never started a business before and neither was I an experienced interior designer or logistics expert. These points made it a challenge for me, but one I could enjoy without being over-run by juggling childcare and family life too strenuously. It was essentially like taking a hobby and turning it into my business.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced thus far?
It must be language. As part of my role I train new stockists in the techniques we use with the brand, so they can improve their business by running their own workshops and being knowledgeable about the paint. In addition, dealing with customs, logistics companies and traversing the three Swiss languages has been challenging. Finally, the cost of marketing, advertising and generally brand promotion in Switzerland is limiting. I had to engage in these gradually when I was able to afford to do so. Being patient was quite a challenge.
What was your solution?
I think in starting a new business there are always problems which you didn’t anticipate initially. The process involves working as clearly through them as possible. In my case I find dividing a bigger problem into component parts which I can influence individually is enormously helpful. I am happy to say that for most problems we encounter we have tried and tested solutions. Currently the retail market and high street is a difficult environment for retailers, since many shops are now purely online and are able to cut prices due to their lower overheads. The competition is now unevenly weighted.
Who are the people who benefit from your solution?
The people who benefit mostly from this business are small independent shops. The ethics of the brand I import is to support small independent businesses rather than large retail franchises or chains, or purely online shops. This means that women like myself, who have a dream of having a business which can be organised around homelife, can create this without the worry that there will be a chain next door undercutting their prices. The brand offers support and good communication for the shops that we sell to. Social media, updates of products and techniques are all available to foster the feeling of a community. All our stockists respect each other greatly and support each other’s business success.
Where do you turn for inspiration and why?
There are many sources for inspiration: my husband for his experience in logistics and business in general, social media for creative ideas.
Annie Sloan herself is the ultimate inspiration as the person who invented Chalk Paint almost three decades ago. The success of her brand has grown exponentially and her reinvention of ideas of how to use the product keeps the creativity of the brand alive, flexible and unique. Considering she heads up a huge enterprise, she is always available to contact directly, and she knows and hand picks all of her worldwide stockists herself- personal touch goes a long way.