We chat to CPM client Christine Furner about her commitment to serving customers and her principled, “Old School” business philosophies.
Christine Furner has been in business for 36 years, and while you’d expect the wealth of knowledge that accompanies this much experience, her eagerness to share it is just one characteristic that makes her story remarkable.
Christine Furner has been in business for 36 years, and while you’d expect the wealth of knowledge that accompanies this much experience, her eagerness to share it is just one characteristic that makes her story remarkable. What may be most surprising though, is how her business continues to boom in this economic climate, with no online presence, and no advertising.
Christine’s professional journey began in Johannesburg in 1981, where as a shy housewife and mother of 3 young kids, she decided she wanted a financial pursuit to expand her horizons and supplement the family income.
An invitation to a jewellery party changed her life. Here was a product that seemed to sell itself, and one she could comfortably handle while her children were at school.
She recalls cold calling as “terrifying”, but after just three months of literally going door-to-door and hosting her own parties, Christine became business partners with the woman who had only recently hired her.
She had discovered a career she loved and it skyrocketed: overseas products from a Zimbabwean supplier were promptly added to their local stock, and they built up a sales team of 12. This business flourished until Christine’s husband was transferred to Durban, which presented the opportunity for a new partnership with her overseas supplier. Christine’s keen eye for fashionable pieces was fine-tuned by the volume of sales they were making, and soon she was jet setting around the globe to source bulk orders. It was only a matter of time before her experience would naturally lead her to expand into manufacturing.
In 1997 a store was secured in Durban North and is still Forever’s home to this day. The mixed retail / manufacturing premises came with a less than savoury reputation, which Christine turned around though her honest and generous conduct. Her priorities have always been to operate with absolute transparency and fairness. Impeccable record keeping put clients at ease, confident that every bit of gold they handed over was either used or returned.
But the approach that really set her apart was the time, effort and money invested in her customers. She notes that “you can’t always win”, but she tries her best to never let anyone walk out the door unhappy. For Christine, the basics of good business comprise of serving patrons impeccably cross the counter and pricing her goods and services fairly.
In the early days of the store she placed an advert or two in the local paper, but has long since abandoned that ‘hit and miss’ approach in favour of spending money directly on her customers. Giving out a surprise discount or freebie (like a watch battery) is an unexpected touch that delights the customer, turning them into loyal fans.
While they do handle a lot of engagement rings, all 5 in-house manufacturing jewellers focus on listening to the unique needs of each customer and delivering bespoke pieces to spec rather than specialising in a particular signature style or product.
Christine does enjoy handling unusual requests that other jewellers don’t want to take on due to time constraints or profit margins. These satisfied clients are worth their weight in gold (or referrals, as the case may be). It goes without saying that all pieces are crafted beautifully and as happy clients show these off, word-of-mouth recommendations keep the business running at capacity.
Forever’s clientele range from the highest to the lowest echelons of society, and going the extra mile for every one of them has paid dividends. This old-school approach to caring deeply about people, and a focus on her principles rather than shiny digital-age marketing tactics is the keystone of Christine’s success.
She simply hasn’t needed to invest time or money to set up digital channels like Facebook or even a website. She treats her staff as she would want to be treated, including little touches like cake and balloons at birthdays, giving them all public holidays off, and avoiding stress or asking them to work overtime unless it’s an emergency.
In 2017, as entrepreneurs feel the pressure to be on every new platform that pops up, this is a timely and important reminder that success is built with solid business practices, not just Instagram followers.
Christine’s tips for young jewellers:
KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER AND OPERATE WITH HONESTY AND INTEGRITY:
“Treat them like friends and serve them well and they will keep coming back, send you referrals, and you’ll never have to spend a cent on advertising. Don’t be greedy. As far as you can afford, don’t put large mark-ups on stock or services.”
BE VERY VIGILANT ABOUT SECURITY:
Knowing your customer profile and taking a huge interest in them has the added advantage of being able to spot people with criminal intentions.
“You get to know your customers and your type of customers. If the wrong kind of person comes in you can pick them out so easily.”
“Unless you’re in a shopping centre, keep only lower value items in the windows – your true customersknow what you have.”
The biggest challenges Forever Jewellers suffered were all related to crime. In the messiest incident a safe was blown across the workshop and through workbenches and desks, but the most dramatic one almost cost Christine the business as the insurance company covered only a fraction of the replacement value of her entire gold box, since the theft didn’t fit any of their category definitions.
She considers crime to be the single biggest challenge facing the industry.
Christine believes it takes 3 years to start seeing consistent results.
“In the first year you barely make enough to buy new stock, in the second you’re investing profits into stock, and by the third year you find a rhythm, you’ve got stock and you can invest in expansion.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew, make sure your business fits your lifestyle and your capacity for stress. It takes time to become established and learn to put all
the systems of a jewellery shop in place.”
ASK FOR HELP:
“Tertiary education teaches you how to design and make jewellery but not how to deal with customers, quote customers, and all the little tricks that make things run smoothly.”
Find a business mentor who is willing to share their knowledge.
NEVER GO INTO DEBT:
Forever Jewellers pay every account they can immediately. They don’t owe anybody anything and everything in the shop is paid for.
“Debt can kill your business. If you owe money or have consignment stock, and something goes wrong (like a robbery, or a very expensive stone breaks and has to be replaced) – you’re finished. Be as debt free as humanly possible.
Then you can sleep at night.”
You can find Forever Jewellers at:
9 Mackeurtan Ave, Durban North.
Phone Number: 031 564 7230
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org