If you’re a mum to babies or young children and you have an Instagram account, then I need only say three words to you: rose gold cot. The image that sprang to mind? I’d bet good money that you’re envisioning an Incy Interiors piece....
The cult childrens homewares brand, founded by mother of two Kristy Withers, somehow manages to be at once nostalgic and incredibly modern. The signature Ellie cot (that’s the rose gold wonder) harks to yesteryear with its vintage-inspired rounded metal corners, and has been in constant production since its launch in 2013. The spindled wood bars of the Georgia cot are a showstopper, while its curved ends are decidedly contemporary.
But the diversity of the Incy Interiors range is a happy accident. Founder Kristy launched the business with no manufacturing experience – her background is in corporate marketing – and says “in all honesty if I knew back then just how difficult it was going to be I am not sure I would have gone ahead…What I didn’t realise is that factories typically specialise in one type of furniture so we ended up with one factory for wood, one for metal, one for upholstery and another for mattresses.”
Thankfully, she’s not one to shy away from a little F-word like failure. “Our first container arrived in early 2011 and I had just found out I was pregnant”, she recalls. “I thought I had everything under control. I ordered a 40ft container and leased myself a storage unit which was basically the size of a garage. Now safe to say a 40ft container of furniture doesn’t fit into a garage…. It actually takes about 4.5 garages worth and you cannot unload that by yourself!” Despite the bumpy start, it was this willingness to just get on with things that kept Incy afloat during the tough times.
From closing down three retail stores to the long delays caused by Covid, it hasn’t been an easy road. But ultimately, “If you truly believe in your idea you will just make it work.” And that, she has…
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Take us back to the moment when you had the idea for Incy Interiors – what stage of life were you at? What inspired you?
The idea for Incy started brewing back when I was pregnant with my son Oscar in 2008. I couldn’t find any beautiful nursery furniture and just settled on a basic white cot. I was working at eBay at the time and in the midst of a corporate Marketing career, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought until Oscar turned 2 and was ready for his first big boy bed. Whilst at eBay I was doing lots of travelling to the US and Europe and I was seeing all of these amazing products that weren’t available here in Australia. After lots of research, procrastination and stalling, my husband got sick of me talking about it and just said ‘shut up about it and do it!’ That’s how Incy began!
Launching a furniture business is no mean feat – the logistics involved aren’t simple. Where did you start?
In all honesty if I knew back then just how difficult it was going to be I am not sure I would have gone ahead. I am so incredibly jealous of businesses who can store their products in their spare room and pop down to the post office and ship an item in a satchel. Furniture is a whole different beast. I started with finding a manufacturer. What I didn’t realise is that factories typically specialise in one type of furniture so we ended up with one factory for wood, one for metal, one for upholstery and another for mattresses.
How did you navigate things such as shipping/warehousing etc in those early days?
Operations is most definitely not a strength of mine so I really struggled, and still do with the logistics side of the business. I have just learnt to put pride aside and ask lots and lots of stupid questions and also ask for assistance.
How did it feel when your two shipping containers of furniture arrived to your storage unit in February, 2012 – was it daunting? Exciting? Both?
Oh this is REALLY embarrassing. Back to operations not being my strong point….. Our first container arrived in early 2011 and I had just found out I was pregnant. I thought I had everything under control. I ordered a 40ft container and leased myself a storage unit which was basically the size of a garage. Now safe to say a 40ft container of furniture doesn’t fit into a garage…. It actually takes about 4.5 garages worth and you cannot unload that by yourself!
What’s your advice to women looking to launch a business in a category which might at first seem challenging?
My entire career prior to Incy was corporate marketing. I had zero idea or experience in product design, importing, wholesaling, retailing, warehousing, shipping etc. If you truly believe in your idea you will just make it work. It will be one of the hardest things you have ever done but it is also one of the most rewarding.
Did you ever imagine women such as Serena Williams would be clients?
Ummm no! We have had some serious A list celebrities own our products over the years and whilst that is super exciting, I get equally as excited when I see one of my friends or a previous customer has purchased.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I’m not great at looking back. Futurist is one of my key strengths so I really struggle reflecting back. I am a big believer in everything happening for a reason (as woo woo as that sounds) so whilst I haven’t loved every day, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Over the years, how have you navigated growth with Incy Interiors – how have you known when to move into another category?
I am unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it- one of those people who is constantly pushing for more. I want to do more, be better and always be evolving. This is a really exhausting attitude and one I often wish I didn’t have. I am probably pushing into a new category/market way before we should, but that is just my personality.
What about opening retail stores – how do you feel about bricks and mortar stores versus online? How can they both be beneficial?
Incy has now had three retail stores – two in Bathurst and one in Sydney in Chatswood Chase. They were both really different concepts.
The Sydney store was in a large shopping centre amongst other like minded stores. When we first launched the Sydney store it did really well and we loved having a space for customers to touch and feel our products. In year 3 of our 5 year lease the Westfield across the road revamped, and the foot traffic in our centre plummeted. This made it really difficult to justify the huge rent we were paying, so we closed it down.
The Bathurst store was a concept store with a café, brewery next door and our outlet upstairs. It was in an amazing space in an old flour mill. This concept worked really well and would have absolutely thrived during Covid with the resurgence of regional areas. Unfortunately there were issues with the building and it’s certification that couldn’t be rectified, so all of the tenants ended up moving out.
Whilst Incy is now an online business, I do have a soft spot for physical retail and they both have their benefits. A blend of both is the perfect option.
You moved from the city to the country – tell me about this life change and what you love about country life?
I grew up on a sheep farm and it really was the idyllic childhood. I had always dreamed of giving my children the same lifestyle. When I finished university there just wasn’t the opportunity regionally so I moved to the city and absolutely loved it. My husband was keen to move back to the country and I fought it for at least 12 months. When we first moved back I really missed city life (and my friends) but now 8 years later I just couldn’t imagine living in the city full time again. I just love the simplicity of our lifestyle and the space, our closest neighbour is over 1km away.
How do you navigate working from Bathurst? How often do you need to come into the city?
I actually work out of Orange and in 2020 I really only made it into the city monthly, sometimes every 6 weeks. 2021 is proving to be almost back to normal and I have been to Sydney at least fortnightly this year. I feel so lucky that I do get to balance city and country life.
Do you think you have more work/life balance living in the country?
Absolutely! My life out here is soooooo much easier than it was living in the city. It is the simple things like ducking in quickly to pick something up from the supermarket, not having to navigate parking or traffic that don’t seem like much as a single event but all add up to be a lot of extra stress. We live on 100 acres and it really is idyllic. The kids ride motorbikes and roam around the paddocks making their own fun, it reminds me of my own childhood.
We first interviewed you six years ago – tell us how life has changed since then?
Wow was that 6 years ago? It’s crazy how quickly time flies. Oh my goodness, so much has changed. Both of my children are at school, Oscar is in high school and we have moved out of town to our little farm. In terms of Incy, we have closed our Chatswood and Bathurst stores, moved the office and warehouse to Rosebery, launched countless new products, launched into a number of new markets. A whole lot has happened in those 6 years.
In the 10 years since you launched Incy Interiors, what are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt?
The biggest lesson I have learnt personally is that I am WAY stronger than I ever could have imagined. I also know that on my own I am ok, but with my amazing team behind me we are unstoppable.
What have been some of the biggest highlights?
There have been so many highlights over the years but the ones that spring to mind are the firsts. Our first tradeshow, our first store, our first warehouse, our first factory trip, our first international show. I really do feel #blessed that I have 10 years of amazing memories filled with laughter and so much love.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business and how did you navigate 2020?
We were incredibly lucky through 2020. Being located in NSW has minimised the impact to the business but we were also fortunate that we are an online business in the home space, so our sales were up significantly on 2019. Where we have been impacted is with manufacturing and freight, like so many other businesses. We manufacture in Taiwan, Vietnam and Malaysia, all countries that handled COVID really well. Unfortunately some of our factories did experience material shortages, so that coupled with an increase in sales, has resulted in long lead times for our products.
We have also been impacted by the wharf issues in Sydney as a result of the strikes. This has meant that instead of our usual 2 – 3 week shipping time we are now seeing 8 weeks between when the product leaves the factory to when it arrives in our warehouse. This has been incredibly frustrating for both us and unfortunately our customers.