April marks the first anniversary of our purchase of The Vintage Tack Room. What an amazing year it's been. One minute we were doing the London working commute, the next we were eight months pregnant with baby no. 2 and unpacking a removal van of hunt coats, top hats and hunting boots (and wondering if poor rural broadband might hamper owning an online retail business*). Timing, as they say, is everything. While we wouldn't recommend adding a new business and a newborn in consecutive months there's a great saying: 'in for a penny, in for 8 pounds 3 ounces.' Happy anniversary VTR.
The highlights? Without a shadow of a doubt meeting and speaking to customers. We never know who might call, from which part of the world. New Zealand, Japan, Finland, Leicestershire, and 500m down the road. Customers have arrived by taxi from London, on horseback, and in tractors.
We sell mainly online but love having customers visit the barn to try things on, browse or just say hello. It's always much easier in person.
You may get a cup of tea or an offer of lunch if the sun's shining. You might end up with more than you thought you needed, or lying flat on your back as we try and pull those boots off that were just a bit too tight.
You might feel the urge to take your trousers off. Right from day one we learned hunting gentlemen don't mind getting their kit off in pursuit of the perfect pair of vintage breeches. There's more near nudity at VTR than you might first imagine. For anyone who wants one, there is a changing room.
On a more 'clothed' basis connecting with customers and supporters on Facebook has been just as much fun as meeting them in person and we thank each and every person who has contributed to our page - particularly when we asked for your top hunting tips during Newcomers' Week. Look out for our Instagram feed coming in summer 2017.
An unexpected pleasure has come from our interactions with those selling their hunting clothes. It's a humbling experience to buy beautiful and beloved hunting attire from someone giving up, or from families administering estates. There is particular sadness in selling a cherished pair of hunting boots. But there is also joy in knowing clothes and kit will hunt again rather than waste away in a wardrobe or attic. Quality hunting clothes were made to last and seeing them back in use gives us enormous pleasure.
And the clothes themselves...seeing firsthand the quality of vintage British tailoring and craftsmanship is a great privilege. The skill, fabric quality and detailing in this clothing is a galaxy apart from the fast fashion of today.
Lowlights? Not a single one. Unless you count having to take an 8-week-old baby to the Festival of Hunting, in a heatwave, via the M25...but we don't talk about that.
There is the matter of miserable rural broadband. On a serious note it's not until you own a small business in the countryside you understand how far Britain is from having competitive broadband infrastructure. We're only 40 minutes from Gatwick and 90 minutes from London but our broadband speed is poor. While it does meet the business's basic day to day needs (I know many aren't even this lucky) we rely heavily on our local library for mega-byte heavy work like photography uploads. When that fails (regularly enough) we have to find alternatives - taking us further afield from the office and meaning we are less and less productive and efficient. Downloading software such as design programmes takes hours, if it isn't actually outright impossible. Britain must address this poor infrastructure if it wants growth from small companies. We know many of our customers experience the same challenges. We live in hope.
In our first year we hope we have managed to respond to every message but fear we will have missed a few. We aim to do better. We look forward to relaunching our 'wish list' request service, and improving the website layout and searchability.
To celebrate the first 12 months we're holding a week-long, '10% off everything' sale. No complicated strategy...just a straight offer of 10% off all items for one week to say 'hurrah - we made it'.
If you need any help, give us a call on 01403 700 953 or email us email@example.com.
In the meantime, we often get asked about what we do, who we are, and how we work so here are a few answers to some of those questions....
Five things you might-or-might-not know about us:
1. We offer refunds. This often surprises people, but we're not a faceless eBay seller. Despite everyone's best efforts sometimes sizing or suitability doesn't match. Simon's legs, for instance, are different sizes and contain more metal than a Korean shipyard. We know first hand it's not always easy to match a bespoke pair of boots to a bespoke pair of legs. Just let us know, return items within 14 days and we will give you a product refund.
2. We welcome being approached if you have good quality hunting kit to sell. We don't sell on commission because it's difficult to administer and despite the logic everyone should win in a commission sale we're not convinced everyone does. So instead we take stock risk and invest in items we like, when we can
3. We offer services including whip repairs, hunt cap refurbishment, coat repairs and alterations, and boot repairs. We use local craftspeople to do this work which helps the rural economy
4. We own two hunters and a retired sport horse with cataracts and unplumbed emotional depths, called Basil. We have a 10.3hh 'first pony' arriving this week which marks the start of another life chapter. We hunt with the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray and managed 60 hunting days between us this past season. We had one fall apiece, but only Simon's made it into Horse & Hound
5. We love to help this wonderful hunting community and we're always open to ideas on how we can work with hunts. We carried on previous owner Mia's brilliant 'hunt savings scheme' programme (you get a year-round discount and your hunt gets a matched donation), and donate prizes to various events around the country. We also love to help the young, so if you're an apprentice joining hunt service for the first time let us know and we will do our best to help you start your professional life.
We're planning to be at the following shows, so please do come and say hello
- The Festival of Hunting at Peterborough, on 19th July
- West of England (Honiton) Hound Show, on 3rd August
- Edenbridge & Oxted Ag Show in Surrey, August bank holiday Sunday and Monday
* yes, it does.