Posted: Fri 21st Aug 2015
A recognition that the jewellery industry was neglecting customer service inspired Enterprise Nation member Ruth Donaldson to start Heirloom London, a personalised jewellery buying service. Here is her story.
What was your motivation to start your own business?
The idea for Heirloom London had already been at the back of my mind for quite a while. My background is jewellery marketing and I was frustrated at some of the opportunities I thought some jewellery retailers kept missing because they were so focused on their mark-ups. Our shopping habits have changed so much everywhere, apart from in jewellery buying where there is no change. So when I was made redundant I decided that rather than go to work for somebody else again, I wanted to make my idea into a reality and put my money where my mouth was.
Whilst you were starting up how did you balance home life with work?
To be honest, while Heirloom was being set up I was having some major works carried out on my flat after flooding, so the home life wasn't up to much while I was planning the business anyhow! But my partner build me a little desk out of MDF where I could work in my tiny kitchen, and another company gave me free desk space so I could get out of the flat. It is hard to separate the two sometimes. People like talking about jewellery and diamonds and they were fascinated by the way I was doing things. But as I was fairly obsessed too, that wasn't a problem; it is great market research.
What's your tip for effective sales and marketing?
Your customer is your best sales representative. Delight them and they will look after you. About 80% of my clients refer somebody else to me within six months of their purchase.
Also, be careful with social media. You can spend large chunks of time on it, and not have single customer to show for it. It is definitely useful as a communications tool, but it can be a distraction from where your sales actually come from. So don't spend hours on it if all your footfall comes from word of mouth.
Which tools could you not live without in your business?
Quite old fashioned I guess. My ring and finger sizers, my loupes (magnifying glasses to look at precious stones), tweezers, polishing cloth and torch. I always have a camera for snapping interesting pieces or client suggestions. And a to-do list (I use Todoist). It is great every time I think of something I need to do, as I just pop it in, and can keep focused on what needs to be done now.
What movie, song or book offers you the most business inspiration and why?
About 10 years ago when I was feeling really burned out and I read In Praise of SLOW by Carl Honore. It kind of flies in the face of rushing around, railing against trying to multi-task and get as much done as possible. The book focuses on working smarter rather than faster, and getting the most out of your life from a quality perspective, rather than quantity. I'd recommend it to anyone who is always in a rush.
What has been your biggest business success to date?
I had started Heirloom London with a focus on making the engagement ring purchase as stress free as possible for each individual. The business model has worked even better than I hoped and the word of mouth on this has really grown as guys realise that getting an expert to sort out their ring actually saves them money.
If you had to live on a desert island with one entrepreneur who would it be and why?
If I can go home again, I'd be interested in Andy Warhol. He commercialised the unexpected and sometimes the mundane, and gave it appeal. He could also be outrageous, and he was always working on side projects. I think I'd learn a lot from him. He was not a bad artist either.
What are your ambitions for the next five years?
I want to see the word spread about what Heirloom does. Our goal is to become the market leading engagement ring service in London. I had to turn last minute work down last Christmas because I was so busy, and physically had no more capacity. Having been in business for 18 months now, I'm planning how we scale up what we do without compromising on any of what is so important to our clients; design, quality and value.
How does being a member of Enterprise Nation help your business grow?
Enterprise Nation is full of good ideas and support for entrepreneurs. It is such a hotbed of activity that on joining I really felt like I was part of a group of people who were doing something exciting. This is such a fertile time for small businesses in the UK, and it is great to have an organisation which really gets to the heart of what it is a start-up really needs to grow, which is largely a ton of good advice and a lot of cheering from the sidelines.
The breadth of members is amazing and I love learning about their businesses and how they are approaching challenges. It is nice to be able to meet and talk to so many different people of all ages who are turning their ideas into income, and great openness as well. It makes you think that anything really is impossible!
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