Nelson-based jeweller Benjamin Black talks about co-founding his namesake business and developing a wholesale jewellery line.
What does your business do?
Benjamin Black Goldsmiths began in 2013 as an online store and later physical store. Our ethos is about creating ethical jewellery and we wanted to do it the old fashioned way - by hand. We source our metals from New Zealand.
What was the inspiration for starting it?
I did my apprenticeship and had been working for seven years in the industry and had been recreating more than designing pieces and so I really enjoyed the creation side of things and saw a bit of a gap in the market with ethically-made and handmade, which is when I met Amy Cunningham - it was a bit of a love story - her strengths really meshed with mine and the business came together.
We wanted to have a jewellers that talks to customers, as opposed to in the workshop outback with no contact.
How big is your team?
We have an apprentice who just graduated with the highest marks in New Zealand, so he and I are the jewellers, and then we have a business development manager, my sister does all of our graphic design and Amy who is brand manager; so five in total.
What are your long term plans?
We also have a fashion jewellery brand that we wholesale, Black Matter, and were focusing a lot on growing that side of the business at the moment, we're stocking outside of Nelson and New Zealand.
In February we're off to New York, we've been invited to a trade show over there. Nothing is set in stone but the plan is to be stocked in stores in the US. We recently got into Ballantyne's, a department store in Christchurch and that's where we are positioning ourselves - we'd like to be in high-end department stores.
We started Black Matter in three years ago, and that was mainly because in Nelson it is very seasonal, people seem to hibernate in the winter in Nelson, and we had to think outside of the square to keep ourselves busy. For growth for the Benjamin Black side of things, it's my name on the business so people want to see me so it's hard to grow that side of the business and scale it whereas with Black Matter, although I'm designing it, it's more of a team effort and a better thing for us scale.
Is a wholesale and retail mix common in the New Zealand market?
I wouldn't say many people offer both. A lot of jewellers are either just focused on one or the other. I wanted to have lots of people working for me and employing lots of people and better the community so I created Black Matter.
Why is charity and giving back to the community so important to you?
There are a couple of reasons why we do lots for the community. One is because we want to give that creative freedom to Joel our jeweller and ourself.
We still have a direction our jewellery is headed instore but I don't want that to limit what he is creating, or any jeweller that we have in the future, so being able to create something anything we like to donate to charity gives them him the opportunity to do what inspires him. We work with the Cancer Society, Big Brothers Big Sisters, various schools who do different fundraisers, and some others.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Don't be afraid to ask advice from people who have been in the industry and in business in general because they have so much knowledge to impart. We see quite a few small businesses closing down and sometimes it seems like it might be just lack of business knowledge or help with things owners don't know.