EDITOR’S NOTE: In this occasional column, we’re asking experienced custom designers and makers to share a few of the things they wished they’d known when they were getting started. Alex Gulko, owner of Alex Gulko Custom Jewelry in Ann Arbor, Michigan, talks about finding the best location for your business and the importance of being an early technology adopter.
When I immigrated from Ukraine in 1993, I opened my business right away. The money was tight, so I tried to find something that was more reasonably priced. I ended up buying a business that was located not in the best spot in the city. I really should have looked for a better, more central location. It took several more moves to get to where I am. Even though the rent is more expensive, I’m getting my money back because of the high number of customers I have. Also, the business now attracts the type of client who would not go to a worse location. And most importantly, the current location reflects the image I wish to develop.
I didn’t create a site early on because it didn’t offer a chance to communicate in person. I need to learn from my clients as much as possible; I focus on listening to them—something that can’t be done online. But in retrospect, I should have developed a website earlier than 2002. Because marketing is not my strength—I prefer to work with clients on their designs—I didn’t focus on my online image. Now I know that I need a site, and it needs to be great. I redesigned it recently and see that the effort has paid off—the website now attracts more traffic. I still maintain that the best way to collaborate on the design is in person, but the internet can bring the clients into the store.
Before I got into computer-aided design (CAD), I did everything by hand. That involved many appointments, going back and forth, numerous steps to finalize the design. I should have started using CAD five years before I did. I have been using it for 10 years, but the software has been around longer. Had I adopted it right away, it would have saved me some time. Because of my engineering background, I was able to learn the software on my own. It took me about a year before I started incorporating CAD in my design. But the best way to learn would have been in a workshop taught by a professional. I couldn’t do it because then I would have had to close down my business, but those jewelers who have time should.