Connect with us

Best of The Best

Best of The Best: From Storefront to Online Only

Published

on

Best of The Best: From Storefront to Online Only

BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND

Published in the June 2012 issue

After 36 years of running a traditional brick-and-mortar retail venue for custom jewelry design, Gary Dawson decided to take the whole operation online. He sold his business and struck out into uncharted territory. “I had an exit strategy — a great employee purchased the retail venue from me, but I was nowhere near ready to retire,” Dawson says. “I love what I do and I can’t visualize not doing it. But I wanted to be able to structure my time in a way that suited me better.”

 

Best of The Best: From Storefront to Online Only

BY EILEEN MCCLELLAND

Published in the June 2012 issue

Advertisement

After 36 years of running a traditional brick-and-mortar retail venue for custom jewelry design, Gary Dawson decided to take the whole operation online. He sold his business and struck out into uncharted territory. “I had an exit strategy — a great employee purchased the retail venue from me, but I was nowhere near ready to retire,” Dawson says. “I love what I do and I can’t visualize not doing it. But I wanted to be able to structure my time in a way that suited me better.”

THE IDEA

CUSTOM STRENGTH • “The thing we do that makes us stand out from any other business I’ve discovered online is that the primary thing we offer and sell is the service and design work. Tons of people in the industry have sites, but most of them offer primarily product. They might offer some custom but it’s usually about modifying product rather than starting from scratch.” In addition to custom design, the website also has a small selection of “available now” items and a small collection of unusual consignment items for sale.

THE EXECUTION

Advertisement

FIRST, CLIENTS HAD TO FIND HIM • One key to executing the idea was to hire a Web developer who understood what Dawson wanted to do and who was versed in search engine optimization. Advertising consists largely of Google Ad Words. “I don’t spend a ton of money on Ad Words. I keep it relatively low key because I’m afraid to bump up my advertising much. We have as much work as we can handle at the moment. A huge operation would lose some of that personal aspect. As the site has evolved we’re getting a lot more people through the organic search process.”

Dawson has some help with logistics and in the shop, but he is intimately involved with every aspect of the business. A designer and goldsmith, he has presented at the Santa Fe Symposium of Jewelry Manufacturing Technology and has lectured for Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America on a variety of topics.

Dawson loves working with people, a trait even more important since he needs to establish rapport over the phone or by e-mail. “One example is I had something like 35 e-mail exchanges with one of my clients before she committed to the job. She said, ‘It’s going to be a big deal to me. I’m not intimidated by the process or not meeting you in person. But I still need to get to know you.’”

Dawson had assumed video conferencing would be a common mode of communicating with clients, but it’s turned out to be very rare.

Once he establishes trust, the design process is very similar. He offers to let clients examine a wax model, but so far they’ve been satisfied with photos. “It’s not hugely different but one thing is different that may have contributed to it being such a viable niche for me. People may be willing to share more intimate details with a faceless entity than they would to walk into a store and talk about it face to face. There’s been a subtle shift to the off-beat.”

For example?

Advertisement

“A woman called me up and we talked on the phone only five minutes and she said ‘You’re the one for the job.’ It was a tearful sort of a thing. She had picked up a sand dollar on the beach with her sister who was in the terminal stages of cancer and she wanted to make it into jewelry. I’m not 100 percent sure that that same person would’ve walked into my store or any other store with that request.” Dawson created a shadowbox for the fragile keepsake, and it became a pendant.

THE RESULTS

FAN BASE • Since the orders started coming in, Dawson describes the business as incredible. “It compares very favorably in terms of the income I can produce,” he says. “And the overhead is low.” Dawson has drawn clients from nearly every state and many parts of the world. “It took a leap of faith,” he says, “but there seems to be a niche of demand that was not being satisfied. “I think I couldn’t have done this 10 years ago,” Dawson says. “We are just at this point reaching a critical mass of techno-savvy consumers who trust that when they push the buy button they are going to get the product in the mail. So, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to trust me with their grandmother’s 2-carat diamond in the mail.”

DO IT YOURSELF

It’s important to not only like making jewelry, but also enjoy working with people.

Working at home demands a strong work ethic. “I have to be responsible to my clients. It’s not like I can walk away for days at a time. I have inquiries coming in daily, sometimes hourly.”

Unless you really understand Web development and SEO , hire someone who knows what they’re doing and don’t be afraid to spend some money on it. “And make sure your web developer understands your vibe. My guy, Mike Dickman, got what I do in the course of getting to know me and somehow he was able to build that into the website. So people who are coming to me are somehow prequalified.”

Expect some lag time. “I’d been getting inquiries for a few months before I got the first job. It was kind of stressful but I had faith and confidence in my ability to do the work.”

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Wilkerson Testimonials

Wilkerson Helped This Jeweler to Navigate His Retirement Sale Despite a Pandemic

Hosting a going-out-of-business sale when the coronavirus pandemic hit wasn’t a part of Bob Smith’s game plan for his retirement. Smith, the owner of E.M. Smith Jewelers in Chillicothe, Ohio, says the governor closed the state mid-way through. But Smith chose Wilkerson, and Wilkerson handled it like a champ, says Smith. And when it was time for the state to reopen, the sale continued like nothing had ever happened. “I’d recommend Wilkerson,” he says. “They do business the way we do business.”

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular