Starting a Jewelry Business
Interview with Gaines Horn of Horn's Jewelry
Gaines Horn's parents started a jewelry business in the 1950's. Today, Gaines and his brothers continue to design and sell jewelry.
Horn's Jewelry is located on a small riparian flat along the North Fork of the Trinity River, in Trinity County, in far northern California.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
We design, manufacture and market unique Jewelry. Our current most popular line is miniature rock climbing jewelry designs, many which are fully functional (working) items that can be attached in various ways to necklaces or earrings, or made into pendants and cufflinks.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
My father and mother started Horn's Jewelry in the mid 1950's. I have been a part of the business since I was nine or ten years old. After the business was relocated to the wilderness in 1967, I would help with various things that needed to be done. My younger brothers began to take part, as they became able.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
Yes, and it was partially effective. Shortly after my brothers and I took over the business in the early 1990s, we developed a business plan that helped us focus on expansion. Prior to this point, the focus had been custom and one-of-a-kind high-end pieces. My brothers and I were interested in pursuing a wider retail market and in developing wholesale accounts. The business plan helped us set our course.
What do you think are the benefits and challenges to running a family owned business?
Horn's Jewelry is a partnership. The benefits of owning a business with family members is that you can capitalize on individual strengths and interests. Not having to deal with employees and payroll is also a huge advantage. While we haven't experienced any real challenges in working together as a family, I would advise others to realistically evaluate whether working with family members would lead to harmony or dissension.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
"Green" is a subjective term. Jewelry making is inherently a green process in that much of the metals used are recycled and have been since the profession started. While we even go to the extent of melting scrap aluminum to make equipment to supply power, and to make and repair equipment used in the jewelry making process, I avoid the label "Green" as I feel that it is a less than honest marketing method.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
Carefully evaluate equipment needs, purchase only that which will get the job done long term, and avoid buying fancy add-ons. Some things can be built in-house with great cost savings and are even better than buying. For example, when we first started to expand the business, I needed a scale to measure the weight of plaster used in the lost wax casting process. Due to the expense of a commercially available scale, I decided to make my own. Using scrap aluminum strap from a discarded hospital EKG machine, a plastic Wesson oil bottle, a tin can, a paper clip, a length of steel binding strap and some string, I made a scale that directly measured the plaster compared to the amount of water needed for the mix. It worked much better than any scale on the market would have and cut out several steps in the process. That was almost 20 years ago and I still use it today.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Our first priority is customer service. We listen to what our customers want and strive to meet their needs to the best of our ability, which cultivates a loyal customer base and often leads to the development of new products. In our remote location, developing a web presence has been the single most effective factor in our business growth.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Do more market research. Don't chase fads unless you can have a really fast turn-around time on new products. Especially for the Internet, think less artistry when naming items or web pages and think more about keywords. Also, continue to improve the quality of your product or service, even if it doesn't seem cost-effective short term. For wholesale, where margins are low, avoid averaging. Carefully price every detail or customers will find the loopholes in your pricing structure and you'll be working for nothing.
What a great family of entrepreneurs. Good luck to you and your brothers!
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