Sandy Collins knows what it is like to be a success in the corporate world. She has been both a financial planner as well as a realtor, and while 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 experience as a collector of beautiful pieces from a more gracious time, and has parlayed that into a thriving business known as Serendipity, located here in Athens.
It was her mother who cultivated Sandy’s love for antiques and collecting, something that never waned despite her travels as a business woman as well as a military wife. Sandy started out collecting glassware, and then, “When we lived in Kansas, I discovered auctions. I started buying antiques, collected, and after returning to Alabama, began to travel on the weekends to the Lakewood Antiques Show in Atlanta,” she said. “Then I realized that I could rent a booth for an entire month here for what a 3-day weekend would cost there,” she added.
After moving permanently to Athens, she opened her first booth at Regency Antiques in 2000, which was then owned by Bill and Nancy Johnson, and eventually purchased Regency in 2004. In June 2011, she sold Regency Antiques, thinking she was going to actually and 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 businessfull 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. In early January of 2015, the shop reopened as Serendipity, and Sandy tells me “People were just about beating down the doors before we opened back up.” It is now one year later, and Serendipity is still going strong.
“We now have over 40 dealers,” she said, “and it’s hard to believe we are completely full with a waiting list for booth space.” 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,” she 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. 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.
“Serendipity is also a family affair. We have several family businesses in our mall,” she said. There are mother and daughter teams, a mother and son, and one mother, daughter, and son team. “We have helpful, knowledgeable employees, and they make the shopping experience a pleasant one,” she added. Customer service is number 1 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.”
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 wants “the real deal,” not reproductions, and while she offers a lot of vintage items, she strives to keep Serendipity in the “antiques” business. She stays abreast of market trends, such the style of furniture shoppers want, what is popular in home décor including mirrors, art and other home accents. Of course the ever popular “shabby chic” style is still popular.“Painted furniture is also really hot right now,” she said, and many clients really look for those pieces and are furnishing their homes from our store
Sandy told me that Serendipity always lets a client know if there is any part of a piece that is slightly damaged whether it is furniture or other collectibles. “We also have better prices than those that you will find in larger cities like Nashville, Birmingham, or Atlanta.” Just the other day a couple came in and happily spent $800. They told us that one of their purchases, which was priced for $320, could have gone for $800 all by itself. We replied, ‘We know. We got it at a good price, and we are passing it on to you.”
However, that’s not where their “5 star customer service” ends. Earlier this year I purchased a school desk 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.” She then told me, “I look for it all the time, but the few that we get in are not the right size.” Truth be told, I had forgotten all about it, but she hadn’t. She could even remember its diameter. Now, that’s impressive!
To celebrate both the 2015 holidays as well as their one year anniversary, Serendipity is going to have their Christmas Open House on December 5th and 6th. There will be refreshments as well as special sales. Sandy and her 40 vendors are hoping you’ll come out and experience all that has made it possible for Serendipity to keep soaring, “one year later.”
Serendipity Antiques and Interiors
22335 US Hwy 72 E, Suite B
Athens, AL 35613
Hours: Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 1-5
Facebook: Serendipity Antiques and Interiors
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner