Stone Mania My Business My Passion
The story of Stone Mania began quite unexpectedly on a blistering hot day in Delhi in 2001. A visit to a street market and the random purchase of some silver and gemstone jewellery led to a journey that has taken me around the world and given me more enjoyment than I could ever have imagined. The last twenty years have been quite an adventure, things haven't always been easy but it's definitely been worthwhile. Today Stone Mania is a well established business that was built with passion, perseverance and a huge amount of hard work.
All of the photos in this article are clickable and link to my page on the photo sharing platform Flickr.
Having grown up in a quiet north London suburb I spent more time than I care to remember working with my dad in a south London market. Aware that I didn't like being there and disappointed I had no aspirations to take over the business, he left me to my own devices and after leaving school I joined Thomson Holidays. Market life especially during the cold British winter just wasn't for me so it was ironic that many years later I found myself once again working in markets.
2002 | First Stall in Camden Market
Having left school with few qualifications my mother was determined for me to make something of my life so having pushed me into a twelve month government funded training programme during which I earned just £25 a week, I was at the end offered a permanent contract.
Initially working in Personnel or Human Resources as it's known today, I then moved to customer relations and finally went overseas to work as a holiday rep'. By 1989 I'd had enough and returned home and did temporary work for about six months whilst deciding what to do with the rest of my life.
After returning home from a holiday to Florida I heard that a new airline called Virgin Atlantic were looking for cabin crew. I applied and less than three months later was on my first flight to New York. In 1990 they had six old Boeing 747's and flew to six destinations five of which were in America.
Virgin Atlantic 1996 (ish)
The Early Days in India
In 1999 a new route to Delhi was announced initially flying twice a week which meant the crew had a five day layover which was more than enough time for me to get out and explore. I have great memories of those early days in India and with each flight came a new experience.
Despite the heat and dust I spent every waking hour exploring the city enjoying the sights, sounds and smells and loved every minute I was there. Street markets in India are noisy, vibrant, exciting places with no shortage of things to see and buy and gemstone jewellery was everywhere.
The First Shop Where I Bought Jewellery
Despite never having an awareness of rocks or minerals I was captivated by all the different gemstones, the intricate designs of the jewellery and amount of work that had gone into making each piece. Before long I was haggling over price for some jewellery that I really didn't need and having started buying, it was difficult to stop.
Once back in the UK I gave some of it away and the rest sold surprisingly quickly on a relatively new online selling platform called eBay. With each subsequent trip to Delhi I returned with more silver gemstone jewellery and before long was buying from several places around the city. Had I seen rocks and minerals being sold in the market that day instead of gemstone jewellery, I'm fairly certain things would have progressed very differently.
What started as a bit of fun quickly became more serious and by the summer of 2002 I had created a company called Silver People, had a website and had taken a stall in Camden Market. Later that year I changed the name to Stone Mania to reflect the fact that I was now mostly buying jewellery with gemstones as opposed to plain silver.
Stone Mania quickly took off but I was struggling to buy enough stock. In the months that followed I changed over to a part time contract at Virgin Atlantic because of things I was having to deal with at home not related to the business. Being part time gave me the opportunity to fly to India on my days off which meant I could spend more time there and bring home more stock. Coming back with such large quantities of jewellery meant it was also time to start declaring everything to customs.
Finding a wholesaler in Delhi who was familiar with the European market led to a change in the style of jewellery I was buying. Quality was now my main priority although I also wanted to offer a wider selection of gemstones. My spare time what little of it I had was spent reading about rocks and minerals and I before long I was writing articles to promote my website.
My sudden interest in rocks and minerals was strange because my grandfather and great grandfather had both been diamond polishers although it was something that had never really been spoken about in any depth.
First Website Launched in 2002 (clickable image)
First Website as Stone Mania 2003 (clickable image)
Early Company Logos
Buying gemstone jewellery to sell on a market stall was hit and miss because you never knew for certain what would sell. This made buying in large quantities quite risky and there were more than a couple of times where I virtually had to give certain pieces of jewellery away. Having initially bought a small selection of gemstone pendants from a new supplier, they became my best selling item and over the next few years I literally bought thousands from him.
At that time the technology in India was still quite limited so each pendant was made entirely by hand. My passion for rocks and minerals drove me towards the larger gemstones and I rarely gave much consideration to the final size of the pendant. Thankfully I never had problems selling these pieces and in fact, the larger and chunkier pendants were always the first to sell. In every market that I did my stall always stood out because of the size of many of the pendants and the vast selection of different gemstones.
By 2005 I was bored of ready-made jewellery and wanted to use finer grade gemstones which meant I had to buy them before the pendant was made. Having learnt that Jaipur in Rajasthan was the place where most of the world's coloured gemstones were cut and polished, I headed there to see what I could find.
After a challenging few days I found a company who cut and polished rocks and minerals and from that point, the way Stone Mania did business changed. I was also introduced to a small team of artisans who would make each pendant by hand. I made it clear the quality of workmanship was more important than anything else and said I only wanted to use fine sterling silver instead of Indian silver which contains a higher percentage of copper.
St Albans Market 2006
Choosing Loose Labradorite Cabochons
Goodbye to Markets
Returning home from India that first time with more than one hundred kilos of gemstone pendants is something I'll never forget. I could only hope I hadn't made a terrible mistake. I was now doing two markets both of which were always busy but with the newly designed gemstone jewellery being considerably more expensive, it was time to find a more suitable retail outlet.
Just a few months later I gave up both markets and started travelling the length and breadth of the country doing county shows and pop-up retail events. My stand always attracted large crowds not only because of the size of some of the pendants but also because there were so many different gemstone varieties to choose from. At shows I was able to spend more time talking with customers and had many long and meaningful conversations about crystals rocks and minerals. The online side of the business was also doing very well which was reassuring.
Royal Highland Show
Royal Berkshire Show
Pembrokeshire County Show
The Credit Crunch of 2008
Taking a stand at the London Ideal Home Show in 2006 was a huge expense but thankfully it paid off so I returned for the next two years. Although 2008 was profitable, takings were down significantly and there was talk of a looming credit crunch that was making consumers and retailers nervous. The newspapers were full of doom and gloom and whilst the shows I was doing remained busy, people were not spending anywhere near as much.
Stone Mania had come a long way since that first day in Camden Market and I wasn't prepared to risk losing everything to something that was being predicted as the largest economic downturn for many years. I was sitting on a serious amount of stock and had paid deposits for retail stands at many regional shows but was concerned I made end up losing money. I wasn't prepared to risk losing everything I had worked so hard for and every day was hearing about another business that had gone under. Despite being an incredibly difficult decision, I cancelled all future shows and decided for the time being to trade solely online through my website.
2007 London Ideal Home Show
Over the next two years I saw many businesses who I'd worked alongside at various shows and events disappear and those that did survive really struggled. Although all of my money was tied up in stock, my expenses were minimal and business online remained fairly steady. It was Christmas 2010 before sales really started picking up and as consumer confidence returned, I decided it was time to change the direction of the business. The jewellery market was saturated, prices were cheaper than ever and it was difficult to remain competitive. The time had finally come for me to look at something else and the obvious choice was crystals rocks and minerals.
In true Stone Mania fashion I had no intentions of buying from a wholesaler here in the UK and just a few weeks later was on my way to Cape Town.
Rough and Polished Crystals Rocks Minerals
By 2012 I was back in St Albans market but the high street had changed dramatically since I was last there. Many businesses that had been trading for years had disappeared and in their place were charity and discount shops. It had always been notoriously difficult to get a stall in the market as a new trader and more so if you sold jewellery but that was no longer the case. On some Saturdays there were plenty of empty stalls which at one time was unheard of. What was once a large and bustling street market was now smaller and considerably quieter. Everything revolved around price which meant the pendants in my collection were no longer as popular as they once were. The tumbled stones, rocks and minerals however that were now part of my collection attracted plenty of interest and sold like hot cakes.
3 Aisles of Tumbled Stones
70 Kilos of Crystals Rocks Minerals
Christmas 2015 in St Albans market was one of the quietest I had ever known. There had been a surge in new traders most of whom were selling cheap imported products and as a result, the market's reputation for being a quality place to shop was going downhill. In the run-up to Christmas we were trading every day yet at times the street was deserted. My website however continued to do well so people's shopping habits were finally changing.
In 2016 new management took over in the market and were intent on change. Lack of experience and not engaging with traders meant new ideas didn't go down well and in some cases impacted negatively on business.
On a cold and very wet February afternoon whilst serving customers, our entire stall tipped over backwards because our neighbours in the adjoining units had removed horizontal supporting bars. Each block was made up of six stalls all of which were attached and each one had a countertop on one side which traders selling clothes often removed. Removing the bars which supported the counter opened the stall up but also made it less stable. That was fine for one or two stalls in each block but not with four out of the six.
Previous market managers had always checked stalls were set up safely but the new team never bothered. On that fateful day as our neighbours started packing away and removed merchandise hanging on the front of their stalls, rainwater that had accumulated in the back section of the overhead tarpaulins unbalanced the entire block. Unlike us, they hadn't been draining the water out during the day so as the front became lighter all six adjoining stalls tipped over backwards. The result was absolute carnage and it was a miracle nobody was hurt. Crystals rocks and minerals from my stall covered the pavement, hundreds of tumbled stones and gemstone pendants fell down a street drain and beautiful mineral spheres rolled away.
The management took no responsibility for what happened and told me to sue my neighbours. I never returned to the market and subsequently sued St Albans Council for a significant amount of money which enabled me to replace all of my stock.
On a happier note, my partner and I spent a wonderful week in Cape Town and also had an amazing few days at the Tucson Mineral Fair in Arizona. By the end of both trips my warehouse was once again bursting with beautiful tumbled crystals, rocks and minerals. Following that horrendous day I decided for the second time in my life to say goodbye to market life and now only trade online.
St Albans Market 2016
Stone Mania Today
Today Stone Mania is a great place to buy crystals online and the Articles and Photos section of the website is packed with more than seventy pages of carefully researched information, facts and fascinating photos. Rocks and minerals in our collection have all been meticulously photographed to ensure they're as true to life as possible and new pieces are added to the website regularly. We do most of our buying locally in Africa, Asia and the USA and still have a large collection of gemstone pendants that are now competitively priced because this part of the business is being fazed out.
I've learnt so much over the last twenty years about how to do business and how to get through the difficult times and Covid has once again presented a new set of challenges. In 2020 after thirty years with Virgin Atlantic I was made redundant following cutbacks in response to Covid-19. This opened a new chapter in my life and has enabled me to spend more time on growing and developing Stone Mania.
Although there are many businesses online who sell crystals, at Stone Mania we try to do things differently. As well as our website being a great place to buy crystals online, we offer an outstanding level of customer service and always try to deliver a little more than expected.
Thanks for dropping by, enjoy browsing the website and should you need to get in touch we'd love to hear from you.