'Owls are definitely out. Dinosaurs are in.' If you're looking to find out more about trends in jewellery, the JewelleryBox team, based at the Biscuit Factory, are the people to ask. They've been selling more dinosaur-themed charms and trinkets lately – they assume it's because of the recent Jurassic Park reboot – and so they've upped production accordingly.
It helps that this is an incredibly agile business; they're as fast at snapping up potential business as a velociraptor faced with a helpless scientist. JewelleryBox do most of their business over Christmas – the six-week lead-up accounts for about a third of their annual sales – and so they have to make sure their business is flexible enough to deal with the surge. Last year they took on six extra people for the Christmas period but, given sales were growing steadily, they decided to keep them on.
There are currently 14 staff in the office and their roles are varied. They store, pack and post in the office while a jeweller engraves and makes bracelets and necklaces. Their head of operations, Jamie, apparently also 'keeps on buying new machinery'. Acquisition of this machinery tends to be trend-led as they cater to a mass market. A mass market who are apparently wildly excited by a dinosaur blockbuster.
I'm speaking to David, head of finance at JewelleryBox. Apart from a brief stint in a City law firm, he's been with the team since Alexander started it in 2008. Alexander, Jamie and Peter, their product data manager, grew up together in Belfast, before meeting Dave at university. After graduating, Alex decided to set up a jewellery business when he saw how expensive the charms at Links were and realised he could sell the equivalent for less. The team were originally based in Hatton Garden – their very first office was the location of the infamous recent heist. They see themselves staying in their current office in the Biscuit Factory, a beautiful airy studio space, for another two years until they outgrow it. With 6,000 – and counting – lines of jewellery, they need a lot of space.
JewelleryBox are primarily debt-funded, Dave explains. 'We've found working with the banks relatively easy, although you do hear a lot in the press about how small businesses find it difficult.' Jamie chips in: 'Holding a big pile of jewellery is quite reassuring as it has intrinsic value. If it's a more abstract product, the banks can be quite reticent.' They also tried crowdfunding for a specific project with Funding Circle, David mentions. 'It was a very easy process. It was more expensive in terms of the debt you'd get from the bank. Our effective rate of borrowing was just under 10 per cent, while the bank is around five or six per cent. It is more expensive but it took about a month to get the money with the bank, whereas with Funding Circle, boom, done and dusted in six days. More expensive, perhaps, but also quite convenient. And we're not borrowing such huge sums.' The £35,000 they raised through Funding Circle went on an engraving machine.
David says they will look to equity finance in the future: 'The EIS is a really good scheme and we'd be foolish not to take advantage of it at some point. It's about growing enough so that when you bring equity investors on board you're not giving away so much of the company that you feel as if they're taking major control.' Similarly to another company at Workspace, BBOXX, David mentions that they have given employees share options; it's a good way to keep salaries low and offer long-term incentive. Four staff members have stock options at the moment and as David says, 'Things like that, coming from the City, make startups a much more attractive job proposition.'
Looking after customers seems to be the most important part of their business strategy, particularly given that there have been major changes in how people buy. 'We've seen a huge increase in mobile and online traffic: mobile now makes up 53 per cent of traffic to the website.' Adapting to that is a manifold process: providing high-quality images, adapting to differing traffic with a responsive website and considering a one-click payment gateway. They also use Paypal as it accepts Amex and has proven attractive for their customers. According to David, telephone orders are up 340 per cent in the past 12 months. They’re also organising a pop-up store for the December rush. Last year, on Cyber Monday, they sold a piece of jewellery every 75 seconds. Diversification is part of the plan, David explains. 'Customers expect to be able to browse online on a tablet, maybe on their phone as they're going in to work by bus and then pick up something in store. Or it's the other way round: they like to go into the store, buy it online, and then have it shipped out to them. And that blend of shopping is a fairly core part of our growth strategy.'
Interestingly enough, for an online business, they outsource their IT. Their team in India, which they found online originally, has grown with the business and they've used them for several years. 'But they almost feel like they're part of the team and we have two guys who work full-time for us out there but with the ability to scale-up and down whenever suits us.'
International growth is also on the agenda: exports have grown 110 per cent in the last 12 months and 10 per cent of their revenue now comes from overseas. Their main foreign market are Germans who tend to buy similar types of jewellery. In terms of international trade, that's where the government really can help, David stresses. 'There are different hallmarking laws (which regulate how jewellery is graded) and those laws haven't been homogenised by the EU, which restricts the countries in which we can sell our jewellery.' Regarding Brexit, they'll be keeping an eye on the progress of the referendum: 'We'll be looking to post and pack from on the ground in Germany, so it will affect part of our growth strategy.' And that growth strategy seems to be working: JewelleryBox’s revenue has grown 53 per cent in the past year to £1.1 million. It certainly looks like they'll need more space sooner rather than later.
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