What a difference two years makes. In April 2007, Bernice Armstrong launched Boxmoor's Devoted 2 Vintage, with little previous experience in retail and having worked mainly in office administration. Bernice did have a lifelong love of fashion though, and she and her husband Paul had started buying vintage clothing a few years earlier.
In 2007 she took a Start Your Own Business course through Business Link and decided to take the plunge. A vintage shop in the north of England had closed down and Bernice bought up all the stock. Then she found premises in Boxmoor - a shop that had stood empty for some time in St John's Road.
Fast forward two years and Devoted 2 Vintage is still there, having expanded into the space behind the shop front. And working with Bernice full-time is her husband Paul, a former Product Manager for Motorola.
How have these two former Hemel Hempstead School students done it - made a thriving retail business out of a specialist shop in an area with limited foot traffic? The answer is simple: the internet, of course.
The Devoted 2 Vintage website, launched six months after the shop, accounts for 80 percent of the Armstrongs' trade. It was created by local web developer Tingleweb. Paul, who joined his wife in the business at around the same time, spends much of each day updating the site with photos and details of new items of clothing, as well as despatching internet orders.
Devoted 2 Vintage's customers range as far afield as Australia, Denmark, Italy and America. The site gets more than 1,100 hits a day and has been steadily climbing up the Google rankings. It occupies top slots in the Google searches that matter: No.3 for "vintage clothing" and the No.4 for "vintage clothes". Not bad, eh?
Devoted 2 Vintage sells mainly '50s and '60s day dresses (sourced mostly in America) and evening wear for ladies, as well as '70s men's shirts and vintage suits. Perhaps surprisingly, they sell an equal amount of men's as women's clothes. Prices in the shop range from £18 for a day dress to £150 for top-end evening dresses or vintage coats. The most famous item of clothing they've had in the store is an original dress from the movie Hairspray - a peachy pink cotton '50s dress worn by actress Brittany Snow (Amber Von Tussle).
What are Bernice and Paul's plans for the future? To expand their website and climb even higher in the Google rankings, with an eye on that tasty No.1 slot. And as for the shop - Paul and Bernice see things staying exactly as they are.
"I'd glad we didn't set up in the High Street [in Hemel Hempstead]," says Paul, in light of the recession. He points out that Boxmoor's lower commercial rates has meant they're not as hard hit by the recession, and they feel part of the local community. "This is where we want to be," he says.
Devoted 2 Vintage, 230a St John's Road, Boxmoor, Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP1 1QQ. Tel: 01442 234400 Email: email@example.com. www.devoted2vintage.co.uk
Copyright © Boho Boxmoor 2009