Stone Mania My Business My Passion
How It Began and Where We Are Today
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 was the start of 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 I have a well established and thriving business that's been shaped on passion, perseverance and a huge amount of hard work.
All of the photos in this article are clickable and link to our 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 that I had no interest in taking 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 winters 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 the Personnel or Human Resources as it's known today, I then moved to customer relations and then became a holiday rep' and had placements in Italy and Spain. By 1989 I'd had enough and returned home and worked as a temp' for about six months whilst deciding what to do with the rest of my life.
Having been on holiday to Florida and flown with a new airline called Virgin Atlantic I applied for a job as cabin crew and less than six months later was on my first flight to New York. In 1990 they had six Boeing 747-200 aircraft and flew to just 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 walking around the city enjoying the sights, sounds and smells and despite a few inevitable challenges, 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 clearly gone into making each piece. Before long I found myself 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 the jewellery 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 off 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 buying more jewellery with gemstones than plain silver.
It didn't take long for Stone Mania to take off and it was a struggle to bring enough stock back with me on each trip that I did. I therefore decided to request to go part-time which enabled me to fly less each month and on my days off I could fly to India as a passenger, spend more time there and return with larger quantities of jewellery.
Finding a wholesaler who was familiar with the European market led to a change in the style of jewellery that I was buying which in turn led to a dramatic increase in sales. With every trip I looked for finer grade gemstones and for new varieties to add to my collection. I was also reading extensively about rocks and minerals to gain a better understanding of them and was writing in-depth articles for the website.
My sudden interest in rocks and minerals was really quite strange because my grandfather and great grandfather had both been diamond polishers although it was something that had never really been discussed in any depth.
First Website Launched in 2002 (clickable image)
First Website as Stone Mania (clickable image)
Early Company Logos
Buying gemstone jewellery was hit and miss because you never knew for certain what would sell which made buying in large quantities quite risky. After a few disasters I began focusing on gemstone pendants featuring a single polished cabochon because they had gradually become my best selling item. Having found someone who produced them in every shape and size imaginable and with hundreds of different gemstones, I started doing most of my business with him.
At that time the technology in India was still quite limited so all of the jewellery was made entirely by hand. My passion for rocks and minerals drove me towards the larger gemstones but I rarely gave much consideration to the size of the pendant. Thankfully I never had problems selling the large and chunkier pieces and in fact they were usually the first to sell. In the markets 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 buying ready-made jewellery and wanted to use finer grade gemstones which meant I would have to buy the stones before the jewellery 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 to whom I explained exactly how I wanted each pendant to be made. I also told them 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 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 another way to sell.
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. At shows I was able to spend more time talking with customers and had many long and meaningful conversations about rocks, minerals and stones. The online side of the business was also doing well which was very 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 very 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 that 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 many businesses who I'd worked alongside at various shows and events disappeared and those who 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 so the time had come to finally 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 gemstone 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 almost deserted. Our website however continued to do well so people's shopping habits were finally changing.
In 2016 new management took over in the market and they were intent on change. Lack of experience and not engaging with traders meant that many of their 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 which was fine for one or two stalls in each block but not with four out of the six.
Previous market managers had always ensured stalls were set up safely but the new team didn't bother. 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 that nobody was hurt. Crystals rocks and minerals from my stlal 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 had 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, I spent a wonderful week in Cape Town and had an amazing few days at the Tucson Mineral Fair in Arizona and by the end of the 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
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 information, facts and photos. Rocks and minerals in our collection have all been carefully 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 we no longer have jewellery made for us.
We'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.
At Stone Mania we try to do things differently and want to make our website more than just a great place to buy crystals online. We consider our customers to be our guests so want to make the time that you spend online with us as enjoyable as possible. Orders are carefully put together, come with an outstanding level of service and we always try to deliver a little more than expected.
Reviews have always been very important to us because as well telling us how we're doing they also help to build confidence in our products and service.
2020 has been a challenging year for many different reasons so here's to 2021 and let's hope that with it comes health, happiness and prosperity.