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Silvermoon created to fund surfing

JENNY KEOWN
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2012

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Simon Thwaites knew he had an entrepreneurial spirit as an Otago University graduate when he managed to raise the funds to travel to Europe within three weeks.

It was 1989, and he and his girlfriend wanted to head off on their OE. He searched the student job board and found an ad seeking sales people to attract players for a new indoor netball league. The league had attracted little interest because the sports centre was a long way from the university.

Thwaites convinced the sports centre owner to let him handle player recruitment. He then found a popular university pub, the Captain Cook Tavern, as a sponsor, and printed flyers featuring Captain Cook in a netball skirt shooting for goal and a free keg of beer each week.

"It was a bit of a laugh," said Thwaites. It was also a huge success. Students signed up for teams in their droves to the point where they had reserve teams, and the delighted sports centre owner paid Thwaites a bonus on top of his commission. That experience sparked Thwaites on to bigger and brighter things, including helping turn around his uncle's packaging business in Australia and then establishing jewellery business Silvermoon in 2000.

The impetus for the start up was Thwaites returning broke after travelling to exotic countries to surf. To fund further trips, he began importing silver.

Silvermoon's first outlet - a kiosk - was in Christchurch. At this time, the demand for kiosks in shopping malls was low, rents were cheap and landlords were flexible.

By 2005 it became clear women buyers favoured branded jewellery and the brands wanted their product displayed in the right environment.

Silvermoon spent $3 million converting its kiosks into shops, attracting brands such as Kagi, Karen Walker, Georgini and Louis Thompson. Today the business has 90 staff and 13 stores, with a strong presence in Christchurch and Wellington.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I was a dreadful employee. I needed the freedom and motivational drive that comes with being your own boss.

What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?

Finance. No bank would touch Silvermoon in the early days. It is not until you are a sure thing that banks throw money at you.

Name one thing you've learnt from in business and from who?

Don't unnecessarily over-extend yourself. As we grew and produced good results, the bank eventually offered us credit.

One year I asked for a reasonably conservative amount and the bank (pre-global financial crisis) offered me substantially more than I wanted. I thought I was bullet-proof and took the extra money. I borrowed more money than I needed. We got through, but it made life difficult.

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What are your business and personal goals?

To keep reinventing the Silvermoon business model. To keep acquiring the world's favourite jewellery brands.

To improve our on-line sales. To diversify into non-jewellery businesses as time allows. I'm keen to stay fit so I can keep up with my three-year-old.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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