Business Spotlight – UpFront Gallery – Diane Bartlett
by Jim Barber
Diane Bartlett studied design and always wanted to have a vocation that would allow her to use her creative talents and her passion for helping people. First came her home-based interior design business Inside Design seven years ago. More recently, she combined much of that work and developed a retail component where should could actually sell home décor products, accessories and furniture, all under one roof. That became UpFront Gallery and Home, located in downtown Belleville at 313 Front St., near the Empire Theatre. It opened in the autumn of 2017.
“UpFront Gallery offers floor to ceiling home décor in a variety of price points, from import, to custom made upholstered furniture, good quality Canadian made goods, light, carpets, artwork (both original and prints), accessories, furniture and window coverings. It’s a nice variety. I have about 1,700 square feet but I think I have a really nice selection of what’s available out there. What you don’t see in the store, I can bring in. Everything in the store is for sale, but it also reflects a selection from each of the companies that I do business with,” she said, adding that her years as a design expert mean that customers not only get exceptional products, but exceptional advice and expertise.
“I really enjoy working with people and the creative process of building something beautiful is really gratifying to me. I totally enjoy getting feedback from people and helping them create something that works for them and their home. I have never been a salesperson. I have always been a designer first. Obviously, I am in business to make money, but without the customer satisfaction factor, it’s kind of meaningless for me. I enjoy helping people create those spaces for themselves.”
Prior to moving to Belleville nearly 15 years ago, Bartlett lived in Toronto, but came to the Bay of Quinte region for the quality and pace of life that it would afford her and her young family. She had worked in the retail business for several years, specializing in wall coverings, paint and then in retail management for a consumer lighting chain. She also worked for a few years as a facility manager for CN Rail. Upon moving to Belleville, she worked as an in-house home decorating expert for the local Home Depot, before embarking on her first business venture, Inside Design, which she operated out of her home, starting in 2012.
“I operated out of my home, but then I decided I wanted to have a storefront and help more people. I am not doing as much design these days because I have a store to run. I started working with a few other designers and they bring their clients in here and I can provide goods for them,” she said, adding that she is surprised at the broad demographic of customer that comes through her doors, including many young couples and families, as well as people from outside the Bay of Quinte area.
Trenval played a pivotal role in the development of the retail outlet for Bartlett, helping with initial funding. But the organization has continued to play an important part in the business since its doors opened.
“I actually heard about Trenval through the Ontario Self Employment Benefits program, which was about seven years ago. I was still working for Home Depot and decided that I wanted to go out on my own. The OSEB program provided me with a five-week training course on starting your own business, where you write your business plan and learn about accounting, marketing and finance – the things you need to know to operate a business. At the end of it I opened Inside Design and operated that for about five years. And in 2017 I started looking at buildings downtown,” Bartlett said.
“I found this building and approached Trenval again for financing and they helped me put a package together with the BDC (Business Development Bank of Canada) and then I was able to do it. UpFront would not have happened without their assistance, I can assure you of that. And they have been helpful in several other ways. They helped me finance my storefront through the local façade improvement program, which is done through the City of Belleville. I was able to completely redo the front windows and doors and signage and 75 per cent of that was funded by the city. But they only give you the money after completion, so Trenval gave me a load up front to be able to do it.
“Whenever I need advice or assistance with something, they usually have somebody or some way to help me. Trenval enables people like me, who have an idea, but maybe not the financing to make it real – to make it happen and add something really important to the whole community.”
For more information on UpFront Gallery and Home, visit https://www.facebook.com/UpFrontGallery