Laura Budds is the founder of Norfolk Retro, a vintage furniture store in Norwich. With a bigger and better store due to open this Saturday (450ft away from the original!), the former teacher explains how, at the age of 40, she’s happier than she’s ever been
I feel like it has taken me a long time to get to where I really feel I should be in life. I did well at school and took a traditionally academic route as was expected of me through A levels and university, studying English, then becoming a teacher at the age of 22. I started selling vintage furniture as a hobby once I began teaching part time after having my son at 30 and that ignited a more creative and entrepreneurial side of me that had been suppressed for a long time. I’m genuinely happier now at 40 than I have ever been and setting up my own business is probably the major reason for that, despite the challenges of self-employment!
At the start of the pandemic, I was in the middle of selling my house to downsize to a small flat to enable me to focus more on building a successful business without the worry of having to maintain a big mortgage. Obviously Covid made that process ten times harder, but in July 2020 I made the move from rural Norfolk to Norwich after selling three-quarters of my possessions! Once restriction eased slightly, my sales really picked up as people were still at home the majority of the time and were both keen to make their houses look lovely and support small businesses. I sell mainly via Instagram and really used the time gained during the pandemic to build my presence in social media, so I was one of the lucky ones really as I was still trading online.
Norfolk Retro was born out of a hobby that I realised I could potentially make a viable business out of as people kept telling me I had a ‘good eye’ for furniture and vintage homeware. I went with the name Norfolk Retro as I always knew from the outset that I wanted it to be a local business, selling primarily in East Anglia, therefore building personal connections, and making it more sustainable through reducing the miles travelled. My aim is to make shopping for vintage furniture as easy as it is shopping for new, carefully choosing pieces to stock that work in modern homes.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the shop I opened in September last year on St Augustine’s Street. The prevailing belief is that the high street is dead, but I genuinely believe that people still enjoy ‘real life’ shopping if you can offer them something more than they can get online. That isn’t usually cheaper prices, but it is a personal approach, thoughtfully wrapped purchases, welcoming spaces, a community feel. Of course, there are quiet times, but I’ve learned you have to hold your nerve and ‘keep on keeping on’ and footfall will pick up again.
Mid-century furniture is here to stay, for sure, as the proportions, finishes and styles generally work well in modern homes. Good quality furniture like Ercol will never go out of fashion, but unfortunately the ready supply of mid-century pieces is dwindling. 80s furniture is starting to gain value, with metal and glass pieces gaining in popularity, and there’s even a 90s feel starting to creep into interiors magazines with pine, gingham and classic Ikea pieces featuring.
At the moment, I’m busy moving to a bigger shop on the same street 450ft away! I’ve handed back the keys for number 13 and am moving into 62-66 St Augustine’s Street. It’s a massive step up for me as my last shop was tiny and I wasn’t planning to move so soon after opening. Now I have three shops (joined together) but it was too good an opportunity to pass up and I love the NR3 area! I’m a one (wo)man band, so I have a lot of work ahead of me with decorating and filling the space with great vintage, but I will do it. Hopefully!
Plans include the provision of a pop-up space that is next to my new shop. This will be a new venture for me and offers a space for small businesses to hire to sell their products or hold workshops and exhibitions. I did pop ups before finding a permanent retail space, so I know the benefits they hold and how hard it is to find good space in Norwich to set up a temporary shop. My new shop will have a much wider range of vintage furniture due to the bigger space and I’m also working with another local business to stock houseplants which is another passion of mine. Fingers crossed I can make it all work, but so far so good!
Norfolk Retro, 64 St Augustine’s Street, Norwich, opens on Saturday, July 23.