You can blaze a trail
I began my career as a manager for a jewellery manufacturing company, and went on to found Goldmajor. I realised there was a demand for design-led amber jewellery, but that it wasn’t that popular – it used to have a granny feel to it. To make my mark I would have to produce exquisite pieces at affordable prices, so I set about sourcing bright young designers who understood current fashion trends. I also had strong contacts in Poland (amber emanates from the Polish Baltic Sea) and used these to source manufacturing deals. Goldmajor became the first company to market amber supplying the home market. Today, I reckon we have 50 per cent of the market in the UK.
Experience is the best teacher you can have
I’ve been in the jewellery trade for thirty years, and I’ve honestly learnt that the only sound footing in business is to be out there doing it. We are in a product and sales business where the only way to learn is by experience. For instance, I wish I’d always known to keep a very tight buying regime, because we carry a high level of stock (a million pounds-plus). Usually there’s an 80/20 ratio in this business. You sell 80 per cent of your stock, and you are left with 20 per cent. Crucially, I’ve learnt how to provide everyone with what they need in particular areas of jewellery, and to be able to tell which items are the ones that will ‘fly’ out of shops.
Involve your staff in the company’s development
If you are going to stay ahead of the competition, it’s just as crucial to involve your staff – I work with them to get their perspective on customer needs and internal company challenges. Regular brainstorm sessions are arranged to create new ideas which would differentiate and improve their services. As a result, staff morale is high and the whole company works as a complete team, providing support when needed.
Ensure you have good control systems in place
We thought about flotation on AIM three years ago, but we hit a static year, and didn’t feel comfortable listing at that time. But now we’ve had two and a half years of growth, we might look at floating again, or selling up. As we have our eyes on an exit, we make sure we do our housekeeping, because you simply can’t float or sell a business that is in a mess. For us, it wouldn’t be that difficult to float now as we have very good control systems in place although admittedly, we’re a bit weaker on the management side.
Always negotiate with the banks
Any finance we have had during our growth has come from banks, and they like their pound of flesh in terms of charges. But I’ve discovered that you must negotiate hard with them and if you don’t get what you want, don’t be afraid to switch providers. About a year ago, we moved from NatWest, whose service had become completely impersonal, to Allied Irish. We have a mortgage and a £100,000 overdraft facility with them, and they let us get on with it.