Wellington business a smashing success

MARIA SLADE
Last updated 10:19 13/02/2012
Smash Palace
MAARTEN HOLL

Joanne Grove, left, and Caroline McGlinchy, run Smash Palace, making jewellery out of broken crockery. Their business is booming after their efforts to help Christchurch quake victims salvage mementos from the ruins.

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Caroline McGlinchy and Joanne Grove are accidental businesswomen in more ways than one.

Their artisan business making jewellery out of broken crockery, Smash Palace, was little more than a hobby for the two Wellington mums. Then the Canterbury earthquakes changed everything.

Suddenly the former art teachers found themselves at the helm of a burgeoning enterprise and on a steep learning curve.

After the February 22 earthquake, they felt a need to do their bit for the people of Christchurch. So they travelled to the quake-ravaged city, set up a temporary jewellery workshop in a friend of a friend's garage and spent three days turning shattered treasures into another kind of artwork.

The response was overwhelming. Queues of people carrying parcels of damaged china lined up outside the garage, and the pair ended up making more than 700 pieces of jewellery in the three days.

But what followed was the really surprising part. As a result of media coverage of their good deeds, Smash Palace was inundated with commissions for turning precious broken items into other keepsakes - not only from Christchurch, but around New Zealand and overseas. Since their July visit to Canterbury, they have completed 2000 commissions, and they just keep coming.

Demand for ready-made pieces also surged, and Smash Palace products are now stocked in nine retail stores around New Zealand.

"We had no idea what it was going to do to our business," McGlinchy says. "It literally blew up overnight, and we had to learn on our feet."

The pair had to set themselves up as a proper business, taking on an accountant and a business adviser and writing protocols for hiring staff.

The small firm must meet a raft of occupational safety and health requirements because the work is quite dangerous, McGlinchy says. A respirator mask needs to be worn when cutting the crockery because of the dust created by the grinding process.

The business partners have relied on the help of family and friends so far to keep up with demand, and now hiring two staff in the next couple of months is a priority. Finding premises is also at the top of the to-do list because Smash Palace is operating out of McGlinchy's garage.

Another aim is to have their own retail outlet, possibly by the end of this year, and to export.

Although it may seem endless to the people of Christchurch, the supply of broken crockery from the shaky city won't go on forever, but the two women are confident their business model is sustainable. They aim to focus on the concept of transforming people's precious heritage.

"It's jewellery, but it's completely in the eye of the beholder," Grove says. Smash Palace has made pieces out of everything from a treasured Cliff Richard mug to china that came from England on one of the first four settler ships.

Christchurch is not their only source of raw material. The business has a network of opshops and antique dealers around the lower North Island which sends damaged wares in return for a donation or small payment.

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Smash Palace's work will be included in a Te Papa exhibition about the Christchurch earthquakes.

- The Dominion Post

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