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The only way to succeed is to put customers first

It’s easy to look at the current state of things within our industry and feel a sense of doom. Every year, another list of jewellers and manufacturers close their doors, some of which only a short time ago would have been considered good solid businesses. 

Gone are the days when the revenue generated at Christmas would balance the books, pay the suppliers and leave enough to replenish the stock, pay staff bonuses and maybe allow for a week off. So, where do we go from here?

An old employer once told me that when we gave consistent exceptional service, we would not be able to cope with the amount of money we’d make. I’m still waiting for the last bit, and I think he also used to say, “This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.”

But his first piece of advice still stands.

If we don’t leave our clients wanting to tell their friends about us, then how will their friends find us? Facebook advertising? I truly hope it doesn’t come down to that!

I started my business in 2000. I’d left a well-paid city job hoping for a few weeks off, but took a phone call on Boxing Day from a Canberra jeweller inviting me to come down and pick up some trade work.

I found myself back at the bench by the New Year. Before long, I’d registered my business – calling it Wild Trout after the highly prized fish that I occasionally felt, briefly, on the end of my line – and started working from our Bondi apartment. Soon, I moved into a vacant shop 15 minutes’ walk away, which had been a jewellery store for at least the previous 30 years.

As soon as I opened, people assumed I must be part of the same family and just fell through the door.

In my eagerness to open, I had nothing to put on sale; the cabinets were empty except for a few signs saying things like, ‘gold chain coming soon’ and ‘diamond rings, made to order’.

Although I’d taken a big risk, signing a three-year lease and spending my savings on setting up, I had none of the doubts that today’s young jewellers must have entering our industry.

"I count myself very fortunate to have had some wonderful staff who supported my clients and became good friends, and I’m still in contact with most of them, many years after our paths diverged"

Things were very simple as a new shop; almost every day we broke the sales record of the previous day, week, and month. We had plenty of trade work too – so much so that before the first year was out, I’d hired employees and tried out bench jewellers. One of them has stayed with me ever since.

I count myself very fortunate to have had some wonderful staff who supported my clients and became good friends, and I’m still in contact with most of them, many years after our paths diverged.

So where am I going with all this? I started talking doom and gloom and then gave a brief history of my own business.

Well, as I’ve gotten older, the more I realise that I haven’t ‘built’ my business. Sure, I found a place and decked it out with tools and cabinets – but I didn’t build my business.

I’m involved in every aspect from customer service, repairs, designs, remakes, CAD, setting, polishing, suppliers, and buying groups, but I built nothing.

All I have done is supply the building blocks. In fact, my clients have built my business.

They are the ones that stuck their heads around my door 19 years ago and had a look inside. They brought me work and chose their precious gifts from my offerings. They gossiped about our store and how we went the extra mile and told their friends to go nowhere else. Even when they moved away from the area, they came back to visit and brought their repairs with them.

When I look at our own shop figures for the last financial year it appears that a lot of people just stopped buying jewellery off the shelf. There has been resurgence in custom made and bespoke pieces, which is great, but what about the stock we all have?

Before I signed my first lease I asked myself how I could make it work. My clients answered that, and I believe that the answer still lies with them. Now, far more than ever before, if my clients don’t want what I have on the shelf, I need different stock – not new clients.

One of the hardest things I’ve found in customer service is to be consistently good. It’s so easy to overlook a client, and not give them the same full attention they received the previous visit. It’s not realising that they might have taken time out of their busy day to visit my store. Consistency is key.

Name: David Hollanders
Company: Wild Trout Jewellery
Position: Director
Location: Sydney, NSW
Years in industry: 36

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