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Talent Jewellery designer gives up year of pay to hire staff

Shereen de Rousseau in her studio

COURTESY OF SHEREEN DE ROUSSEAU

THE CHALLENGE

When Vancouver-based Shereen de Rousseau couldn't find the kind of jewellery she wanted to wear, she took matters into her own hands and designed her own retro, yet edgy, pieces.

As her hobby blossomed into a startup business, Ms. de Rousseau's eponymously named jewellery line quickly became a hit, catching on at numerous local boutiques.

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She painstakingly designed and made every single item of jewellery herself. As demand for her pieces grew, however, she couldn't keep up and was having to let down existing and potential customers.

"I would show a new store my jewellery collections, but then had to tell them it would be eight weeks before they could receive any pieces. Clients didn't want to wait this long and the sales I would lose while my products weren't on their shelves were significant," Ms. de Rousseau says.

She knew she had to hire staff to help boost her production and manage her expanding business. But by allowing other people to make her jewellery, she risked compromising the quality of her brand. She was also afraid that her vision for her jewellery would become diluted by allowing other artisans to work on her designs.

How could she balance being an artist and growing her business?

THE BACKGROUND

After working in the fashion industry for 20 years, Ms. de Rousseau quit to become a full-time mom. "My job required a lot of travel, which wasn't feasible with a young child," she recalls.

From a grassroots operation in her home's spare bedroom, she turned her jewellery-making into a registered business, and sold wholesale to several boutiques, first in Vancouver and then around British Columbia. She took a silversmithing course, rented a studio and began to create collections that were influenced by her upbringing in Brazil, as well as by Parisian flea markets she enjoyed visiting.

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Crafted from semi-precious stones, silver, gold and bronze plate, Ms. de Rousseau's jewellery, primarily bracelets and necklaces, retails for an average of $350 a piece.

While demand escalated, Ms. de Rousseau had to devote 90 per cent of her time to production and failed to fill all her orders. It left her with little time to design fresh collections and market her business nationally and internationally, which she hoped to do after receiving requests from Europe and the United States.

"I was so busy chasing my tail trying to make the jewellery that I wasn't focusing on the bigger picture," she says.

She had to find the right people who could expertly craft her designs.

THE SOLUTION

Her decision about who to take on board would be crucial to her success.

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"Despite there being great jewellery designers in Vancouver, I made a conscious decision not to hire them," said Ms. de Rousseau.

"I needed my vision to be replicated exactly and I knew professionals would be too tempted to add their own influences. What made me successful is the artistry of my work. I needed that to remain constant."

Instead of going with established jewellery designers, she decided to take on and train inexperienced people with a desire to learn.

In 2010, she hired one full-time and one part-time jewellery maker, as well as a production manager to supervise them.

To take on her new team and offer the necessary training, she had to forego her salary for one year. It was quite a cost, but one she felt was worthwhile to bring on the right fits.

THE RESULT

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Within a year, Ms. de Rousseau's stock increased sufficiently for the company to meet repeat orders in a timely manner. This year, she hired a full-time salesperson. She also plans to hire a bookkeeper.

"I'm now starting to see the fruits of my labour," she says. "Sales are increasing enough to enable me to pay myself again."

She predicts this year's sales will be up 50 per cent from those in 2011.

Just as important, Ms. de Rousseau has been able to cut back the proportion of her own time – to 60 per cent from 90 per cent – spent on making jewellery. She now concentrates more time on designing collections, meeting clients and marketing her business.

"This year, I offered three new collections instead of the usual two, and next year we're on track to create four," she says.

She hopes to eventually remove herself completely from the production process. As she says, the more she designs, the more sales can increase.

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Special to The Globe and Mail

Jeff Kroeker is a lecturer in the accounting division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on theReport on Small Businesswebsite.

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