Helen Twose 's Opinion

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Revamp makes Silvermoon jeweller shine

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Jewellery seller strikes gold after costly decision to retool the business.

Gold medal-winning Paralympian Sophie Pascoe is the face of Silvermoon jewellery.
Gold medal-winning Paralympian Sophie Pascoe is the face of Silvermoon jewellery.

When the sparkle went out of Simon Thwaites' jewellery business, he refashioned it into a new creation.

Despite the booming economy in the mid-2000s, Thwaites' Silvermoon brand, which sold jewellery from a dozen mall kiosks, was going backwards.

He'd established Silvermoon in 2000, using contacts built up over a 10-year OE to buy low-end sterling silver jewellery direct from artisans in Bali, Thailand, Mexico and Italy. But after six years the once booming business was losing its lustre.

Friends in the global jewellery trade told him the big trend was in branded jewellery, and Thwaites needed to move fast to revive his Silvermoon brand.

Thwaites, 46, signed up popular Danish charm jewellery brand Pandora and also began stocking jewellery created by local fashion designer Karen Walker.

Initially he sold the brands from the kiosks but it was only a temporary stop-gap and he needed to invest in converting Silvermoon into "beautiful stores".

Brands dictated how their products were displayed instore, including specifying the counters, a cost Thwaites says was tough to take, but necessary to put the business back on a strong footing.

"We had to just bite the bullet, go to the bank and cross our fingers and have belief that this was a trending thing that was the future."

Thwaites says the decision was based on listening to what customers wanted and seeing what was happening overseas.

"I believed that we were on the right path, and it's proven to be the case, but I sold my house and also took over a million dollars in debt.

"We had some runs on the board so the banks were happy to get on board, but they were challenging times."

Despite the anxiety about the costly move to branded jewellery, it set Silvermoon up to survive and flourish during the global financial crisis.

Consumers still wanted to treat themselves and sought out reasonably priced, quality jewellery from brands such as Swarovski, Boh Runga, Dyrberg/Kern and Kagi, which he was now stocking alongside Karen Walker and Pandora.

"They say in retail you need to change your model and format and shopfit every six years, and in America now, every four years, and we had just done that so our timing was spot on.

"We went from a dusty old kiosk to a 21st century shopfit at or about the time [of the GFC] and the customers loved it."

A store opening at The Palms Mall in the company's Christchurch stronghold prompted queues of more than 100m, as people waited to get in.

Thwaites' business nous won him a place as a finalist in the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

Silvermoon now has 12 New Zealand stores, with a focus on the South Island and lower North Island, plus a Pandora franchise store in Christchurch.

Several sites in Christchurch were destroyed during the earthquakes and some loyal customers have moved out of the city, so Thwaites says he recognises the need for more North Island outlets.

Growth will be "nice, prudent smart expansion as opposed to the very early days of kiosks where we just exploded".

Thwaites has also taken on champion Paralympian swimmer and Cantabrian Sophie Pascoe as a brand ambassador.

He had never met Pascoe before approaching her, but had heard her speak at several awards functions and says she encapsulated a character and values people could relate to, as well as being interested in fashion.

"Yes, she's a good sportsperson, but she has a lot of other qualities that make her an outstanding individual."

The deal, which will feature Pascoe in media campaigns for Silvermoon, runs for four years.

It's the second important milestone for Thwaites this year. At the end of January he completed a transaction to buy back 50 per cent of the company he'd sold to an old school friend, Peter Dobbs.

Thwaites says the selldown in 2009 had allowed him to clear more than $1 million of debt and buy a house, but after a couple of strong trading years he was able to buy Dobbs out again.

Looking back on 14 years in business, Thwaites says the biggest lesson he's learned is to set aside his ego when making decisions, looking instead at the bigger picture, internationally and locally, and listening to what customers are saying. He says it's too easy to stick with what you think has worked in the past.

"You can get caught with your pants down and I've learned that. We were wise to make the change that we did but it was a decision that had to be made."

- NZ Herald

Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Helen Twose is a freelance business journalist who writes regularly about KiwiSaver and entrepreneurial companies. She has written for the Business Herald since 2006, covering the telecommunications sector, but has more recently focused on personal finance and profiling successful businesses.

Read more by Helen Twose

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