Pascale Helyar-Moray has learnt both expected and unexpected lessons in her first year at the helm of her start-up StyleRocks. But her most important insight for other budding entrepreneurs is to focus on consistently delivering products of high quality.
StyleRocks is an Australian jewellery website where people go to design their own high-quality, affordable jewellery. Customers personalise the jewellery they buy by selecting everything from the colour, cut and size of the stone, to their preferred metal. It's a one-of-a kind business in Australia, and Helyar-Moray has identified only one competitor overseas.
"When you disrupt a market the way we have, there are always going to be teething issues. Having to work out new processes, finding suppliers who can deliver to the standard and timeframe you require have been some of ours," says Helyar-Moray.
For instance, finding the right engraver was initially a headache. "We would send something to be engraved and when it came back I would think to myself, 'Do you seriously expect me to accept this?' because the quality was so poor," she says.
That meant Helyar-Moray would have to have the item re-engraved at her own expense. But she says although frustrating, it was an approach worth taking.
"Nothing kills a business faster than a substandard product. I want everyone to be amazed by what they have created with StyleRocks."
Investing in attention-to-detail has paid off. Helyar-Moray says 15 per cent of her customers are repeat business. "I've got no means to compare that figure with other businesses, but it feels high to me, especially given we're a new jewellery brand," she says.
"In our last customer satisfaction survey everyone told us what top quality jewellery we have. So investing in bedding down our production processes is really paying dividends."
Helyar-Moray says this lesson wasn't really a surprise. What was unexpected was a sudden change in the terms offered by a critical supplier.
"A supplier who had agreed we could place an order for a single item suddenly increased the minimum order to 30. This wouldn't normally be an issue for most jewellers. But it is for us when we offer eight different sizes and shapes of one style, and 10 different kinds of stone. We also can't predict what a customer will order."
So she was forced to source another supplier who would be able to maintain the quality that customers were accustomed to, and at the same time keep prices down.
"It was essential that we were able to continue offering affordable, quality, custom-made jewellery and maintain our business-model of having no inventory. We aim to bring jewellery customisation to everyone, so meeting that A$100 ($127) to A$500 price-point was essential."
Helyar-Moray was able to source a new supplier after considerable research, but then had to start at the beginning in terms of educating the supplier about what StyleRocks was about and her expectations about quality.
"These were just teething problems and we're now at a point where the process is running as it should," she says.
A third lesson was the importance of engaging the right suppliers, such as public relations consultants and IT support.
"There's nothing more upsetting than being promised the world and having very little delivered. It also leaves you out of pocket. It's also very difficult to find someone who will work to a success or performance fee," says Helyar-Moray.
"I found it is almost better to engage suppliers who are also start-ups, or to get a recommendation from another start-up," she advises.
If she had her time again, Helyar-Moray would have introduced gift certificates as part of her product range sooner.
"What we've found is that people tend to use StyleRocks for themselves but not as much when they are buying for someone else, because they don't want to risk buying the wrong thing.
"We've recently introduced lots of new options and the amount of choice available on the site has grown exponentially ... You look like a hero if you give a StyleRocks gift certificate to someone because you've found such a cool site."
Helyar-Moray - who is the mother of toddler twins - says her last lesson for entrepreneurs who want to successfully combine work and family is to get the right child care in place.
"It's not conducive to family harmony if you're working just two days a week from home and every evening and weekend. Ever since I have had an au pair and worked four-and-a-half days a week from an office, the business has exploded. Opportunities that were not planned, like orders from corporate customers, have come up.
"The business has grown incredibly because I can devote more time during normal working hours. Even having four days in which I can have business meetings has made a real difference," she says.
- Sydney Morning Herald
Do you feel better off than at this time last year?