In the hot property market full of hungry sharks (they have those in Australia, right?) they only had 20k to start and one good lead. Today they are one of the most recognizable service provides, staging high-end houses for celebrities in Melbourne. They most recently started to teach their own workshop for stylists and just last week announced collaboration with Dulux paints as their ambassadors for white paints: Natural White and Lexicon. They lead the way in this tough industry with 16 people team. I was lucky to catch one of two, Amy Chamberlain, in their busy schedule to share some insights on how to show guts and build profitable staging company from scratch. Their story is as amazing as their personalities!
What made you start the company that styles properties for sale? What were the beginnings of TRES?
My name is Amy Chamberlain and I am one half of The Real Estate Stylist. My sister Sara and myself both quit our prospective jobs in 2012 to take on the property styling industry. In Australia, ‘staging’ was a very outdated industry, where it was more about placement of furniture, then design and on-trend interiors, and adding true value to property. In a world where interior TV shows were at their peak, Pinterest existed and interior magazines showed the must haves, there was a gap between the imagery we were seeing in editorial spaces and in real estate. We decided it was time to change the respect for the property styling industry as a one that is design based. Sara was an ex business owner, had a degree in marketing and was an assistant stylist for magazines shoots and bedding ranges, and basically worked for free on every shoot to gain experience. I was a Head Teacher at a Primary School, ironically doing a research project through the Education department on the interiors of the classroom and how it evokes different emotions and learning styles for the student. Neither of us studied interiors, however we knew ‘we had an eye’ and had come from a family where Mum changed our bedroom around at least twice a year. We are talking ‘Changing Rooms’, come home from school, surprise bedroom makeover reveal style!
The beginning of TRES was a HARD slog. We had no money. Moved in with each other and my boyfriend (now husband) into a small 2 bedroom flat with retro 70’s tiles wall to wall. We lived off canned beans and a whole lotta drive. We hired a small storage unit a 3m x 3m and started searching for furniture. I’m not sure what the furniture industry is like in Canada, however Australia’s was and still is relatively very small. We only had a $20,000 loan from the bank and needed to spend wisely, however as we weren’t big enough to have wholesale accounts, we needed to buy everything retail and EVERY DOLLAR COUNTED.
For our first job, we ended up via a friend of a friend getting put in front of a Real Estate agent and having to sell our ‘services’ (we completely lied and said we had all this amazing furniture…we had nothing yet). He gave us the keys on the spot to a 2 bedroom flat and said “have the furniture in by the end of the week”! We ran around to every shop we could, not knowing it takes 6 weeks to get a couch delivered. Ended up finding a floor stock modular that didn’t go together and just made it work. We made cushions and artwork, painted furniture, stayed awaked till 4am each morning putting furniture together and successfully pulled it off. We still work with this agent today! Our next property was a $4.5 million multi level mansion in one of Melbourne’s most affluent suburbs, that once again we “embellished” about what furniture we could provide. We surprisingly won the job, spent the rest of our money, pulled it off, and although put us in financial strife, got the imagery that launched our career.
Who are your usual clients? Can you describe them a bit? Is it popular in Australia to hire property stylists or is it still relatively new?
Great question. Property Styling is relatively new in Australia as a ‘known’ and ‘respected’ industry. Before we came along, it was certainly happening however as mentioned before was more about just ‘filling’a house as opposed to styling it and adding value. It is now a bit of a status thing, that you wouldn’t even sell your house without getting some outside styling support. We also only work with empty properties. If owners are living in the property, we ask them to move out, and our clients willingly oblige. We work with all different clients. One of our first key clients was quite a big celebrity in Australia and she helped get our brand out there, so now we work with celebrity homes, high-end properties, and ultimately people who ‘get it’. We don’t waste our time or clients time who have different tastes than us, as the relationship wouldn’t work. We provide a classic contemporary look and feel and it’s too hard and too expensive for business to try to be everything to everyone.
What made you locate at this particular place?
Melbourne is a design hub in Australia. We knew for our first location, Melbourne would be the easiest sell. It took a long time to reeducate the market, as we charge a lot more for our services and some people/agents just thought ‘furniture was furniture’. However once clients started seeing the results at Auction they could see their return on investment instantly. Real Estate in Melbourne is on fire at the moment, so it was a no brainer for us.
What was the breakthrough moment for you?
When we decided to stop being everything to everyone. Choose your direction and your ‘why” and stick with it, we say. Sara and I are originally country girls from a small town called Wagga Wagga, so we really have some good old country values and gut feelings, and when things just didn’t feel right, they usually turned out like that. So now we know who we are, what we do and who we work for and it’s made our business soar. True authenticity.
Australiana style draws a lot of inspiration from Scandi style, but it has been adopted to a warmer weather. How would you describe it yourself?
Yes, good pick up, definitely we are inspired more by a winter Nordic look and feel. Textures, layers, open fires, woven baskets, greenery, faux animal fur, a natural aesthetic. Pretty similar to what I can only imagine a Canadian landscape looks like in my mind. I’ve never been, but it’s on my bucket list! We have personally stepped away from replica furniture as well.
What materials do you like to work with?
We are texture ladies, all about the layers. Wools, baskets, indigenous artwork, large photography artwork, greenery, large cushions, woods and metals. It sounds like I’ve just described the elements of the periodic table…but we really love texture.
Even your website makes an impression how busy you are. How do you organize the process and stay on top of things?
Lol. This is hilarious. Yes, you’re not wrong!We are crazy busy. At one stage there, we were doing around 24 properties in a week.
We have scaled back, focusing on the larger high end properties and are more about quality over quantity. Amy Chamberlain @TREstateStylist
— PGF Staging Studio (@PgfStudio) July 14, 2017
We have a pretty super amazing team behind us including our PA/Operational Manager who, when we hired her, couldn’t really afford another staff member, but couldn’t afford not to. She has been integral to the back-end and organization and her wage now has basically paid for itself in the savings in efficiency!
What book did you read recently?:)
Wow, haven’t read for a while, but the last book was Blind Faith by Ben Elton. A bit Sci-Fi, but I loved it.
All photos by The Real Estate Stylist