After studying retail management and working in retail and advertising, Chantal Travers left London for Sydney in 1997 as a backpacker. Offered a job in an agency, she lived and worked there for more than three years. Expat stints followed in Singapore (where she met her future husband), again in Sydney and in Hong Kong and Beijing. After discovering they couldn’t have children, she and her husband took a six-month sabbatical to travel around South America and Antarctica. In 2012 they returned to Singapore, and in 2013 they were finally able to adopt a child (now four years old) from Ethiopia. Last year, Chantal returned to her retail roots and took over furniture company now called Emporer’s Attic. Here’s her story:
In 2014, I worked part-time at an ad agency in Singapore, but I wasn’t happy there at all. It felt like I was squeezing a five-day week into the space of three days. It was ruining my mental and physical health, so with my husband’s incredible support I decided to quit and regroup. I focused on my health for the next six months, enlisting the help of a life coach to help me figure out once and for all what I should be doing. We realised that I needed to go back to my original passion, retail.
At the same time, I’d become friends with a woman called Constanze Hohmann. We soon discovered that we’d adopted our children from the same country, we went to the same gym – and we had the same birthday! It turned out she owned a shop called FairPrice Antique, and she offered me a part-time job in her store. She had bought it 18 months earlier from its original owner, who had set up the business 17 years before that. I jumped at the opportunity. A few months later, Constanze had to move back to Germany and needed to sell the business. It was like the stars had aligned for me, and I took it over on 1 July 2016.
I love that my job enables me to meet so many interesting people, from locals to tourists and from newbies to long-term expats. I love finding out their stories. I’ve also met a number of other small business owners, together with artists whose work I sell at the store, and many of them have become good friends. Every three months I travel back to Beijing to get my “fix” of China life, which I love, and to go on a massive shopping spree for beautiful furniture, ceramics and home accessories to ship to Singapore. Recently, I designed and put together a new range of furniture called Shou Collections. What more could I ask for? Over the past year, I have changed a few things, and it gives me such a deep satisfaction to see customers falling in love with the same pieces I’d fallen in love with on my buying trips. We have really lovely and discerning customers that truly appreciate the artistry and time that goes into making, restoring or finishing a piece of furniture.
My biggest entrepreneurial challenge has been in setting boundaries for myself. I thought that being my own boss meant that I could control my hours and have a work-life balance, but I think I have less of that now than ever before. My work has become my life – and though I’ve never been happier, it can be tiring. As a small business owner you have to assume all roles, from managing finances and hiring staff to managing the shop and serving customers. I always feel there’s more to be done, but I count myself lucky to have a great team who are like family. They really do look after the shop when I’m not there.
If you’re feeling lost, invest in a life coach. I spent years guessing what I wanted to do and going round in circles. Coaching helped me get my thoughts straight and forced me to be accountable, meet deadlines and explore my talents, passions and values. Finally, it led me to a fulfilling career that works for both me and my family.
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