Richard Prout, managing director of 1791 Diamonds which makes engagement rings, diamonds rings and wedding bands

1791 Diamonds exports to the USA, UK, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Its first export market was Australia, which it entered in 2010. It exports millions of dollars of designer engagement rings every year.

What made you decide to export?

We are exclusively online and as a result can respond to our customers whenever suits them and wherever they are. The traditional problems and barriers associated with exporting are much easier to overcome these days. Our web site is in multiple languages and multiple currencies. Our systems interface with logistics and shipping companies such as FedEx, and even calculate the taxes and duties in other jurisdictions. We have some small costs to set up the accounting and legal entities and procedures for each country, but it's really no different than setting up in our home market of NZ.

Where are your biggest export markets?


Australia is our biggest export market at the moment. We sold approximately $2 million of rings there in the last 12 months. Our growth rate, year on year there, is about 60-70 per cent.

What does exporting mean for your business?

Around 80 per cent of our business is export. We really don't think of it as something special or different. Because we're able to advertise online, it means there's really very little difference selling a ring to someone whether in Auckland, London, Sydney or New York. Regardless of where they are, we typically talk via phone, or video call, and of course email is useful too.

How do you market in your overseas markets?

Most of our marketing is based around internet advertising. However, we do some marketing in print media, which is good for brand building. Our internet advertising is largely based around Google display ads, search ads and product listings ads.

Are online customers overseas becoming more confident about buying jewellery online? Why do you think that is?

About eight per cent of engagement rings are bought online in New Zealand, and a slightly larger percentage in Australia. In the UK and USA it's already more like 15-20 per cent.

The trend in e-commerce is 25-30 per cent per annum increase compared to one to 3 per cent in legacy retail.

Up to five years ago we used to get a lot of questions from potential customers worrying about buying online, now it's quite rare that any customers worry about it. In fact they quite often bemoan the service they get in stores, or simply don't have a store near to them with elegantly designed and exquisitely crafted product.

Online or offline, it's all about employing people who are really passionate, experienced and whose values meet those of our customers. Let's face it, an engagement ring is one of the most emotional purchases someone will ever buy, and so customer service personnel often have to provide very personal advice and assistance.

How do you profile your customers overseas?

We use very sophisticated demographic, geographic and even temporal targeting in our campaigns and of course we are very responsive to those searching for engagement rings online. This is one of the key strengths of advertising online.

How do you communicate what makes your product different online? Do people know it's made in New Zealand?

This is something online media is quite good at and print media has a key role to play here too. We find the more prestigious print media transfers some of its prestige to us, often in terms of feature articles where we might be mentioned along with other brands in a more independent review editorial. People seem to prefer independent objective journalism compared to a just being persuaded by an advertisement we wrote ourselves.

It seems a combination is best. We capture people when they type certain words, or fit our target profile, but they may then use Google to find editorial on trusted print media sites to verify our business and our products.

In some territories we promote the New Zealand origin of our products; in others we don't necessarily push that. We are guided more by what our customers are seeking rather than what we want them to know about us. If they do ask, we of course have a quite wonderful story to tell: we live among glistening lakes and snow capped mountains, which provide the most wonderful of inspiration and love to put into an engagement ring, but at the same time, we can plug into the world wide web and sell to people around the globe.

What overseas markets are you focused on in the next few years?

A lot of our expansion is focused on Asia right now, and progress seems to be very positive.

Next week, we take a look at the kind of flexible working arrangments SME owners are offering their staff and themselves in the current market. Surely a perk of running your own business is an opportunity to have more freedom on how you work and when and you should be offering this to your staff too. Tell us your stories.