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Wall Street gain for long-time family business

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Gillian Farge started Island Trading some 30 years ago — and in celebrating that milestone she has been joined in the business by her daughter Laura, who has just returned home to Bermuda after spending a career in banking in New York and London.

She hopes Laura will bring new energy into the family business and help expand its furniture and accessories offerings even more.

Island Trading fills an important Bermuda niche. When you doze on a daybed tucked into a swagged cabana ... or sun yourself on an well-upholstered, curvy dune bed that is the last word in contemporary design ... or hold a dinner party by your pool on a solidly crafted table, using plates and other dishes in the bright hues of French Provincial design, you’re living this unique way of life.

When your veranda, patio or garden is your living room, you are living the quintessential Bermuda indoor-outdoor lifestyle. This is reflected and offered to the many Bermuda residents who live that lifestyle, from the shop that sits at the top of Spurling Hill — Island Trading.

Miss Farge said: “My mother is second generation retail, so retailing is in my blood.” Her mother added: “So Laura is the third generation! My mother was a hat maker, a milliner, retailing in Manchester.”

Island Trading has always sold pool supplies. Mrs Farge said: “I started it in a very, very lowly way, wearing so many caps!” She expanded her reach, becoming known for the high quality outdoor furniture that they carry. “It’s high quality — and value,” Mrs Farge said.

Island Trading remains an important supplier of pool products, and two of her staff are Certified Pool Operators (CPOs). They also carry equipment and clothing for those who are in the business, which brings people from all sorts of industrial areas into the shop to buy work boots, rain gear and safety equipment.

Island Trading has also made a reputation for carrying an array of unique smaller items that lend themselves to the outdoor lifestyle, and it was often this sort of product that Mrs Farge was promoting when she took to the airwaves to advertise the business.

“People still remember our advertisements and talk about them — and we haven’t done them in 10 years!”

Now, her daughter is in the business as well. She said: ”I’m delighted that Laura is joining us, and she is bringing in ideas with her from overseas, along with a strong ability to implement them — and a fresh perspective. We plan to make Island Trading a broader experience for our customer base.”

Ms Farge grew up in the Island Trading world. “Laura and I have always been on buying trips together, so that will continue. This is the perfect business marriage — Laura has youth and enthusiasm, and I have my 30 years of experience.”

Ms Farge also has a degree in marketing, and has already put that expertise to work. “I’m putting together an online wedding registry, and we recently launched a Facebook site,” she said. “If you go on our page and ‘like’ it, you may win something from the store.”

Ms Farge and her husband Stafford Lowe — he recently launched his own company called Castle Lowe, an executive search and human resources consulting firm servicing the financial technology and big data industries — have come to Bermuda via Boston, New York and London. She has indeed seen “a lot of great retailing”, and: “Working for Goldman Sachs was a wonderful experience — seeing how a very successful business operates in a very competitive field. It will allow me to apply what I’ve learned there with this business — and what’s important.” What is important, she said, is putting the customer first.

Mrs Farge said: “It’s a small business — and there is a family feeling here. It is like a family — it has to be!

“We’ve got a great team — we are 100 percent Bermudian, and the majority have been with Island Trading for many years.” In addition to the Farge mother-and-daughter team, there is Marta Jordan, who is the general manager and a CPO, Angie Outerbridge, who is the assistant manager as well as Jade Ingham and Altonio Roberts, who are sales associates. Altonio has just earned his CPO. The qualification that Ms Jordan and Mr Roberts have means they are able to assist clients with the pool issues they have.

There is also a design consultant at the store to help customers conceptualise the space they want to decorate, and to recommend accessories. “So we’re being an all-service shop,” she said.

The products that customers can now come and view includes furniture by Kingsley Bate, which is American, as well as English lines Gloster and Barlow Tyrie. Barlow Tyrie in particular have created imaginative and stylish outdoor ‘pods’ “you can snuggle into” and ‘dune beds’ which seem more Italian than English in design and concept, said Mrs Farge.

“You have to be practical here, and what has struck me is that many of the pieces can go indoors as well as outdoors. You can have an outdoor sectional piece of furniture and use in it indoors, for example.”

These are hard-wearing pieces of furniture, and the fabric used in the upholstery is no exception. ”You can leave it out all the time,” said Mrs Farge. “You can hose it down!”

She said: “Your furniture is only as good as the material that holds it together. And this goes back to reputation — you can’t have things that aren’t going to last. I test every nut and bolt to make sure it is of good quality.”

“While we go all over the world choosing items our customers will like, but we have inventory, because customers want to see the pieces, sit in them, fit in them. We have warehousing, so we keep good stocks.

“If you see something in the store, almost certainly we will have it. We have sold furniture to people which they have used for a dinner party that evening!”

Mrs Farge added: “We have always listened to our customers — and we will continue doing that.” She described how a customer had said that she wanted her patio to look like her living room. “So we talked about it, and as a result brought in ‘sunbrella’ curtains for the outdoor space.” It is “to die for!” she said.

In addition to the furniture, Island Trading has literally hundreds of accessories of all sorts. Ms Farge said: “We go all over the world to look for items to introduce to Bermuda.” Right now, this includes melamine dinner wear in an array of beautiful designs by Cadeaux and Kim Seybert. They look just like porcelain, but are unbreakable. “We offer customers unique things,” said Mrs Farge.

Continuing to evolve, they have introduced a beach area, with beach chairs and loungers, as well as towels and Turkish towels, umbrellas, sun hats with additional sun protection built-in and even beachbags that come with a sarong tied around them that you can take off and wear.

‘Green’ items also feature heavily in the shop, with attractive, reversible and recycled rugs; colourful, made-from-recycled-seat belts Maggie Bags — and recommended by Oprah; as well as American-made throws in recycled cottom.

Perhaps the most unusual item carried at Island Trading is outdoor art — decor quality pictures that are robust enough to hang outside.

This Aladdin’s cave also includes rustic glassware made of recycled sea green glass as well as aluminium bowls, ice buckets, and dishes of all kinds and all made in India, throw pillows, table mats and napkins and much, much more.

Mrs Farge said: “You want to strive to be different.”

Island Trading Revamp: Left- Gillian Farge and Laura Farge. (Photo by Seandra Burchall)
Island Trading
(Photo by Seandra Burchall)

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Published May 10, 2013 at 9:17 am (Updated May 10, 2013 at 9:17 am)

Wall Street gain for long-time family business

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