Dividing her time between France and Australia, Dutch born Elly Clues was looking for a work-life balance where she could run her business but be close to family as well.
Spending her childhood years in the picturesque city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands with its canals, cafes and beautiful houses, it is no wonder her Dutch heritage plus her love for decorating and travel became the motivation for Elly Clues to start Villa Maison in 2003.
“I was born and raised in The Netherlands, and spent many years living in Amsterdam surrounded by the majesty of canals, cafes and beautiful houses,” she enthuses.
“Houses built in an age when craftsmen handmade everything, and style was fashionable. One of the most fashionable houses in the street was always my childhood home, where my mother was constantly styling and decorating.
“My love for travel led me to work for KLM Airlines and for many years I travelled to far-off destinations, absorbing the local style of the architecture and culture of the people. Some of my favourite destinations include Alaska, France, India and Kenya. Whilst travelling in Vietnam, I met my future husband and finally settled in Australia, first in Perth then Melbourne.”
Clues and her husband now split their time between Melbourne and France, a decision she says was based on balancing their lifestyle.
“My husband and I have owned our house in France for eight years and two years ago, after 21 years in Australia, it was time for me to go home and spend more time closer to my family. With our business systems fully integrated, and with so much of our work done online these days, it was an easy step.
“We maintain a loyal sales team in Melbourne ensuring we have day-to-day contact with our customers, and always attend our trade shows where we catch up with old and new customers alike. We outsource a lot of our requirements like marketing, photography, website maintenance and warehousing, all previously done in in-house.”
Indeed, while warehousing, picking and delivery used a to be a key challenge for the business as they were using third-party logistics companies, they eventually moved into their own warehouse and showroom, which paved the way for a more synchronised and smooth flow of goods from their suppliers to their customers.
“Like most inventory based businesses, the key to wholesaling is to manage your inventory like a bank account. Ensure there are plenty of deposits (of new items) and withdraw any older or slow selling items so you can reinvest that cash into the next season. You also need to have a stock management system and ensure it is accurate. Our entire business is linked across our inventory, sales, website and accounts system, ensuring at anytime from anywhere in the world, we know exactly what we have, what is selling and what is moving slowly. You can get the design right, but lose all your money in poor inventory management.”
In an industry that is very challenging and exciting at the same time, it’s important to practice what you preach. So if you are all about high quality design that’s what you need to deliver, which isn’t always easy with customers wanting great design and low prices.
“Great design will not always win orders; you need to have inventory available to deliver, outstanding customer service and be extremely flexible in how your business takes on challenges. Keep up to date with trends but try and infuse your own design to give you a point of difference.
“Our designs are timeless, with a focus on high quality. I pay particular attention to sourcing the correct fabrics to suit each sofa and chair I design. This ensures we deliver on our quality pledge. I focus on the details of our designs down to the last stud or pin and also the functional elements to ensure the products not only look great but stand the test of time. This commitment to quality and design ensures our customers buy with confidence, each and every time.”
We all know running your own business can be hard, working long hours, getting the right staff and ensuring everything runs smoothly. For Clues it’s extra challenging as she spends time in both Australia and France, but this didn’t stop her from starting a side business, Villa Maison Tours, a couple of years ago.
“Yes, as if we had nothing else to do with our time! We have been buying and importing brocante [which means ‘flea market’ or ‘second hand’ in French] from France for 10 years and so many of our customers wanted to share this experience, so we started the Villa Maison Tours company.
“We take small groups of six to eight on an 11-day tour through the Provence, with a particular focus on (brocante) shopping, dining and sightseeing. We visit large wholesale ‘brocante’ markets where our clients can buy old wares, furniture or antiques and we ship these items back to Australia for our clients. It is 5-star all the way and I just love it. Many of our clients are customers or people in the industry.”
And there are more exciting things on the horizon for the couple, with the launch of a new range, another venture in France and expansion in Australia.
“I have been asked on many occasions to bring back some of our past collections, but of course with a modern design. I am currently working on a new decorative range from India including vases, wine coolers and decorative items, and my plan is to have this ready for the next trade show in July.
“We are looking at showroom options in NSW and QLD (to add to our VIC showroom) and have been approached about a retail offer in France. Whatever our growth plans, we plan to keep our lifestyle in check and enjoy all that we have achieved to date.”