While training at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in London, Alice Smyth realised she preferred styling the delicious dishes of food rather than cooking them. After nine years living in Europe she returned home to Melbourne and wanted to become an importer of the homewares she had seen while living abroad.
“Of course I had no idea how to do it,” she says. To get to know the industry, Smyth opened a small homewares store, went to business school and visited as many overseas trade fairs as she could. Three years later, in 2001, she obtained the distribution of her first item: an Italian olive oil dish.
“It was an instant success, and I soon found myself learning the world of international freight, dispatch and supply,” she recalls.
“Having had my little shop was an excellent stepping stone to becoming a wholesaler, as I had experience being the customer. I was able to note the best experiences dealing with suppliers and apply them to my own business.”
From a single product, The Source has grown into a wholesaler, importer, manufacturer and designer. At Life Instyle Melbourne last month—Smyth’s sixth year exhibiting—the company launched six new ranges that coordinate with its existing collections, but are also able to stand on their own.
These include Profile, a Scandinavian-inspired range of tableware; Clio, hand-coloured glassware from Italy; San Raphael tableware from Portugal; ceramic coasters with matching tea towels; and two vase ranges, one from China and the other from Danish design team Hubsch.
“Our collections are very diverse [and] we find our retailers are as well,” says Smyth. “Generally our retailers carry a mix of our ranges, as so many of the ranges complement each other. Then we have stores in seaside locations that only stock lighter colours and pieces with a relaxed theme.
“Some of our designs have been created because of requests from our retailers [and] having a relationship like this is so fulfilling.”
With a background as a retailer herself, Smyth has a keen focus on customer service, which she hopes sets The Source apart from others, along with the products.
“I love trade fair time—seeing all our customers, meeting new customers, seeing the other exhibitors, seeing what new things are on show, and feeling part of a great industry,” she says.
“We value our retailers and hope they find dealing with us a pleasure and know that we will go out of our way to help our retailers have happy customers.”
By Ruth Cooper