Whilst still at school I spent many Saturdays and school holidays working with my father on one of his market stalls. I didn't really enjoy it and he was well aware that I had no interest in wanting to take over the business even though it was pretty successful. Market life just wasn't for me so it was a little ironic that more than twenty years later after initially following a completely different career path, I found myself once again working the markets after having set up a small business selling silver jewellery and semi precious stones.
After leaving school in 1984 I worked for Thomson Holidays for a few years both in the UK and overseas before leaving to join a newly set up airline called Virgin Atlantic. Initially flying to the USA and Japan, I loved travelling and the world was my oyster. In 1999 we started flying to Delhi and I was excited to find myself on one of the first flights. As the schedule was initially twice a week, we had five nights there which was amazing.
India is a fascinating country and during my first trip to Delhi, I found myself on more than one occasion in one of the many markets around the city. Markets in India are colourful, noisy places and most of them seem to be swamped with shops selling silver jewellery and semi precious stones. My money was burning a hole in my pocket and I couldn't help but think I should buy some gemstone jewellery to sell once I return home. In no time at all I was choosing pendant necklaces, gemstone rings and silver earrings and what made it so ridiculous was that I knew absolutely nothing about silver jewellery and even less about semi precious stones!
Upon returning home, I gave some of the silver jewellery away as presents whilst the rest went on eBay and to my surprise, it sold in no time at all. Before long I was on my way back to Delhi and had already decided to spend more money on jewellry. Over the next few months, I started to make a small profit and soon realized there could be a future in this. As my visits to Delhi increased, so did the volume of silver jewellery that I was buying and I also became more selective instead of buying anything and everything. I quickly lost interest in plain silver jewellery and concentrated more on jewellry with semi precious stones and I also found a few different places to buy, away from the markets. As the business grew, I started looking for another outlet other than eBay and before long, I was trading in Camden market.
Being quite ambitious, I soon created my own company which I called 'Silver People', I also had a logo designed for my newly built website but because I was now buying more semi precious jewellery, the name was already inappropriate so it was back to the drawing board to find something which more accurately described the kind of jewellry that I was selling.
As things went from strength to strength, I reduced the number of hours that I was flying with Virgin Atlantic so I had more time to spend with my new business. Quality was now a top priority and my days of buying ladies jewellery in markets were long gone. I had found some amazing suppliers who designed and exported ladies jewellery to many countries around the world and my newly found knowledge of gemstones, meant that I now really knew what I was buying. Silver People had become Stone Mania and my sudden interest in gemstones fascinated my family because both my grandfather and great grandfather had been diamond polishers and up to a short while ago, I had never looked at or even handled a gemstone in my life!
As well as trading in Camden market I also took a stall in St Albans market in Hertfordshire but soon after dropped Camden as I couldn't manage both and St Albans was definitely busier. After only a few months, I had many regular customers and also became well known for my chunky jewellery and large variety of different gemstones. My display however was something I continually struggled with and looking back to those early days, it amazes me how I ever managed to sell any jewellry at all!
The problem was, I had so many different gemstone varieties that I wanted to display them all and it took me some time to grasp the concept that I really didn't need to display every single one of my semi precious stones at the same time!
Whilst out in London one afternoon, I stumbled across Leather Lane market which runs parallel to Hatton Garden and mainly serves surrounding office workers during their lunch break. Although only a small market, it's quite well known so I decided to see if I could get a place to sell my gemstone jewellery. My application was accepted and I was the only trader there selling chunky jewellery which now focused on pendant necklaces and gemstone rings. I stayed in Leather Lane for about a year but then moved on because I had started doing shows and couldn't manage those and the markets.
When the weather was fine, Leather Lane was charismatic and fun but in the winter it was really tough. During the time I was there, I was the only trader selling ladies jewellery featuring semi precious stones.
Stone Mania was now well established and had found a niche market in chunky jewellery with a focus on gemstone pendants and silver rings. I had also become really passionate about gemstones and was always on the look out for new and interesting varieties. Each time I returned to India to buy ladies jewellery, I looked for finer quality gemstones, purer silver and more professional workmanship. During one of my regular trips, whilst having dinner with a supplier, I was introduced to a wholesaler who dealt solely in loose gemstones. Upon hearing how passionate I was about my business, he asked why I was still buying ready-made semi precious jewellery instead of choosing the gemstones that I wanted to use first and then having the jewellery made afterwards. It's something I hadn't considered and it soon became clear that if I wanted to continue improving the quality of the gemstone jewellery that I was selling, this was the way to go. The following morning I was invited to look around what I can only describe as the ultimate Aladdin's Cave and I immediately knew that Stone Mania would never sell ready made, mass produced jewellry again. This place was packed with almost every semi precious stone imaginable and all the cutting and polishing was done on site by their own skilled craftsmen. Whatever size or shape you wanted it was available and if it wasn't, it could be cut for you, whether you wanted low grade or the very finest, it was all right there. As I moved from room to room, I saw more gemstones than I'd ever seen before and just as I thought I had seen them all, I was taken into yet another room where all the faceted and precious gemstones were kept. To say I was like a kid in a candy store was an understatement.
That visit changed the way in which I did business forever and the quality of my semi precious jewellery improved dramatically in a very short space of time. I was now choosing each gemstone individually and then having it crafted into a pendant or silver ring.
The ladies jewellery that I was now selling was far too superior to be sold in markets so it was time to move on and leave market life behind. I soon started doing retail shows up and down the country and it was like starting all over again as I had no idea what to expect or how my jewellery would be received. The type of customer was also very different to what I had been used to in the markets. My display was gradually improving and the shows quickly took off and soon I was travelling the length and bredth of the country.
Finally everything was coming together and Stone Mania continued to go from strength to strength. It had grown from being a small business selling a few pieces of random ladies jewellery bought from a market in Delhi to being a serious retailer with an extensive and varied collection of gemstone jewellery.
2008 was Stone Mania's third year at the London ideal home show and although we made a small profit, things were definitely down on the previous two years. There were whisperings of a looming credit crunch and both traders and consumers were becoming distinctively nervous. I had come a long way in the past few years and had no intention of losing my now established gemstone jewellery business to what was being predicted as being the largest economic crisis for many years. Gemstone jewellery is a luxury item hence it's something women spend less money on when times get tough. I had a huge stock and business was down by about 60% so I had to act quickly to minimise my losses. Retail shows were expensive and you needed to make good money to for them to be profitable so this was the first thing to go. I couldn't return to the markets because the quality of my gemstone jewellery was now far too exclusive so I decided to concentrate on selling jewellery online through my website.
The last few years have been tough for all retailers and people haven't had much money to spend on luxury items such as gemstone jewellery. Thankfully Stone Mania has survived and we now only sell jewellery online. Our logo has been updated to reflect the finer quality of our gemstones and we have also added a comprehensive, interesting and easy to read Gemstone Directory to our website. Our small team is proud of the exemplary standard of customer service that we offer and we have now added a live chat facility so when we're online, you can chat with us in real time.
Stone Mania is now the UK's leading online retailer of hand crafted gemstone jewellery featuring semi precious stones. Our niche market is pendants and gemstone rings and we still love chunky jewellery just as much as I did back in those early days of buying jewellery in the markets of Delhi.
My journey from that first trip during which I bought my first gemstone pendant has been exciting, challenging and at times very frustrating, but nobody ever said building a business was easy but I'm pleased to say, that it has definitely all been very worthwhile.
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