Calla Gold Jewelry
Santa Barbara, California
In this occasional column, we speak with custom jewelers operating without a storefront, exploring the different ways they run their business, the challenges they’ve faced, and how they deal with finding and marketing to new clients.
Tell us about your studio.
I came into the jewelry industry in a very unusual way. I was working multiple door-to-door sales jobs, including selling one company’s gold-plated jewelry items. I started to learn about fine jewelry and decided to become a jewelry stylist, helping people select the right jewelry for their face shape, neck length, etc. I did straight sales by appointment and then started offering repairs. From there, I moved into custom jewelry design. For my design work, I converted a bedroom in my home to an office with desks for myself, my partner/husband, and my administrative assistant. This is where I create my designs for custom work. I don’t meet with clients at my home. Instead, I work by appointment and meet them at their home or office or at a local social club I belong to. I work closely with bench jewelers from a couple studios in Los Angeles.
Why did you choose this way of doing business?
Having been in door-to-door sales and owning my own housecleaning business, I was comfortable meeting women in their homes and chose to model my business as a private, in-home experience.
What are the advantages of this way of doing business?
Many times, while picking up repairs or discussing jewelry, clients will run back to their jewelry boxes and pull out an item that wasn’t on their initial list to discuss. Often this impulse to pull out an old inherited ring or jewelry from an old boyfriend will lead to custom design or repurposing.
In addition, sitting with my client in her home creates a more relaxed experience. It becomes about more than jewelry—it’s about how their son is, what their mom is up to—and friendships occur. I like that.
What are the disadvantages of this business model?
Driving fifteen miles to pick up two gold-plated chains to repair or driving for naught when a client forgot the appointment. I am responsible for filling my appointment book with appointments. If I’m not “on” and doing the necessary phone calls and outreach, I can have a slow week. It is necessary to have self-discipline and energy to sustain and grow my business.
How do you find new customers?
The business has a strong online presence, with informative blog posts, social media, and e-mail outreach. Attending social and business mixers, charity events, and educational events keeps my name out there.
Most of my new clients used to come to me by referral. Nowadays, more people call after discovering me online. I’m a naturally social person and meet people who become my clients in the strangest places. For example, once I gave directions to the leader of a group hike miles from the trailhead. We were all sweaty and dusty, but I gave him a bent old business card that I had shoved into my pocket. Five years later, I designed his wedding rings.
How do you convince customers used to shopping at traditional jewelry stores that you are a legitimate business?
We usually start with something small, such as a repair or two. Soon we start discussing their jewelry wishes and any jewelry that they aren’t wearing. By helping them, I demonstrate that I’m creative and good at problem solving. If we mesh, then I have a new continuing client. The resistant ones are often the husbands. I find that sending a few of my blog posts or showing them my book on custom design calms any worries as to my fitness to design for them.
How do you handle meeting with clients?
If the person is a referral, we’ll often meet at their home. If it is an internet client, I meet them at my club. Once they have proven to be delightful and safe, I’ll usually see them in their home for subsequent appointments.
What safety precautions do you have and what precautions have you taken?
I try to focus on working with my established clientele and referrals. People who are local to me and find me online are happy to meet at my club. If I get a bad vibe or do not wish to see a client again, I will send my husband to deliver to them. This is rarely a problem.
Have you had any difficulty with obtaining insurance for your studio?
I cannot be insured because I don’t keep jewelry behind a security door. I do take safety precautions when I am in possession of a client’s items.
Has your lack of a storefront ever affected your ability to work with vendors?
Luckily, I have worked for many years with the same vendors. I find that by paying immediately, never bouncing checks, and being respectful of the terms when using memo, I have been treated with trust and respect. I am listed, but not rated, with the Jewelers Board of Trade and that has proven helpful when buying from a new vendor. I find being a member of MJSA to be quite helpful when I need items outside of my local vendor’s selection.