Alabama native Sandy Collins has been both a successful financial planner as well as a realtor, with a significant part of her career having been in the Northeast. When she knew it was time to leave those arenas, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Her next step was to draw from her enjoyment of collecting beautiful pieces from a more gracious time, and has converted that former hobby into a thriving business known as Serendipity Antiques and Interiors. Her large and charming store is located here in Athens.
Sandy started out collecting glassware, and then, “When we lived in Kansas, I discovered auctions. I started buying antiques, collected, and I opened my first booth at Regency Antiques in 2000,” she said. Eventually she purchased Regency in 2004, and in June 2011, she sold it, thinking she was going to finally retire. The new owner, Champagne Lane, was open from 2011 until late December 2014. Sandy always knew that if she were going to go back into business full time, she needed a location that was on Highway 72. This shop was located in the Valley Event Center complex near Publix in Athens, and it was perfect. She officially opened as Serendipity on December 29th 2014, and Sandy tells me, “People were just about beating down the doors before we opened back up.” It’s now two years later, and Serendipity is getting ready to throw an anniversary celebration on January 14th. “We want to celebrate and thank our loyal customers,” she said.
“We now have over 30 dealers,” Sandy said, “and it’s hard to believe we are completely full with a waiting list for booth space. It’s really exciting to see the return of some of our former vendors.” She smiled and added that, “It makes me feel like we’re doing something right.”
I asked her what she thought were some of the reasons for Serendipity’s success. “We have been told by our customers that Serendipity is one of the most attractive stores they have visited. They say it’s such a pleasure to shop here because it’s clean, neat, and well organized, thus making it easier for shoppers to find what they want,” Sandy said. Serendipity also keeps a “wish list” for their customers. If they come in and can’t find what they are looking for, Sandy and her friendly crew will keep an eye out for it. They will even contact other vendors to help customers find that special item. “We share our list with all of our dealers in case they have the piece in their personal storage,” she said. This makes it possible for everyone to benefit, and there is new merchandise coming in every day, since dealers can refill their booths as soon as items sell and space becomes available. Every inch of the 7500 square feet of the store is beautifully displayed.
“We have helpful, knowledgeable employees, and they make the shopping experience a pleasant one,” Sandy added. “Customer service is number one on our priority list, and folks say they are always greeted with a friendly ‘hello,’ followed by, ‘Let us know if we can help you find anything.’” There are also several family teams that have booths, and they have specialties such as antique hand tools, primitives and Depression glass.
Sandy is also careful to not try and “sell,” which is something I think we all appreciate. “When people come in, we listen, we care, and we do our best to find what it is that they really want,” she told me. Sandy makes a point of going to estate sales and cherry picks only the best items. She is not alone in her “quest for the best.” Frank Crafts, of “Frank’s Good Stuff” has become her largest vendor. “Frank travels frequently, and comes home with fantastic antiques,” she said.
I have firsthand experience with Sandy’s passion to take excellent care of her customers. About 18 months ago, I purchased a school desk from Serendipity to be used as an end table. It has a place in it for an inkwell, and while I did not fill out my “wish list,” Sandy remembered that I hoped to find one. While we were doing this interview, she said, “I haven’t forgotten your inkwell, you know.”
To celebrate their two year anniversary, Serendipity is going to have an open house on January 14th. There will be refreshments as well as special sales. Sandy and her 30+ vendors are hoping you’ll come out and experience all that has made it possible for Serendipity to become a “destination store.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner