Kat Gee admits to being "very green" when she kick-started her jewellery business Kagi.
The year was 2006, she was 24, full of great ideas for design, and leapt in to a world dominated by old men, old thinking and gold and diamonds.
Over the years Gee has had to pull on her large stores of inner strength to develop the business, especially when she began to face unsustainable losses when her business loan ran out.
It was at that point she sat down and crunched the numbers, while looking at the company's core competencies and what people loved about the product.
She developed an innovative and cost-effective approach to jewellery, such as asking "why pay silver's high prices when stainless steel looks like silver, is more resistant and durable and under half the price".
With help from her successful entrepreneurial father Bill Gee (who founded garaging company Spanbild), fashion consultant Dianne Ludwig, her fiance Geoff Neil, and others, she formed several key philosophies.
These have included being truly customer focused, pre-testing designs and strategies before release, sticking to a small range of 150 bestsellers, and pricing the jewellery affordably.
Jewellers were resistant to Kagi's affordable price points and feared it would cannibalise their stock. However, Gee and her team won over the retailers and became many stores top performing brand.
The business, based in Newmarket, Auckland, has grown phenomenally quickly. Kagi was placed in the 2011 Deloittes Fast 50, and recently ran a show at NZ Fashion week. Gee was a finalist in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2012.
Kagi is distributed in 220 stores across Australasia, and intends to be in 250 stores by March next year.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
Becoming an entrepreneur for me was less about a conscious decision and more a desire to follow my passion and make a living based around it. My first foray into jewellery design was actually when I was eight years old selling clay pendants to my classmates at primary school.
What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?
When your company is growing over 100 per cent year on year, there are many obstacles in managing the growth. These include: recruiting, more fabulous Kagi staffers to help get us there, ensuring we have the cashflow and we aren't left short at crucial times and ensuring we spin your working capital cycle fast.
Name one thing you've learnt while in business and from whom?
From my Dad; go out with a rifle not a shotgun. From Michael Hill, on the importance of focus: "Never turn your back on your main playing field."
What are your business and personal goals?
For Kagi to be Australasia's number one selling designer jewellery brand. In my personal life, to be fit, healthy and fabulous.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?
Don't be afraid to follow your dreams and make them your reality. Be prepared for a rocky road ahead but dig deep and surround yourself with the right people and you can do it. Take a risk, jump in head first and see if you can swim.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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