Kiri Schumacher has been designing jewellery since 2002 (more than twelve years ago), and this figure in the contemporary jewellery scene is still full of passion and enthusiasm for her craft and business. How is that possible? Don’t the operational aspects of the business ever overwhelm and drown out her wishes to seek more inspiration along the way? How does she juggle roles in between her two-man team all this while? Find out in this case study.
After finishing up art school in 2001, Kiri dived head first into becoming a self-employed jeweller. She handcrafted her own range of jewellery for Kiri Schumacher Jewellery and started the ball rolling by approaching galleries in New Zealand personally so they would carry and showcase her jewellery for sale.
The association with certain galleries has helped build Kiri’s reputation in the market, and she has never felt the need to advertise because it was enough to be in those galleries.
Also, the feeling in a store affects the way the pieces are perceived and Kiri particularly likes that her jewellery are part of the art gallery culture, where the presentation is beautiful and customers are well taken care of.
“It’s great to sell alongside other artists that I really admire, with us all contributing to the industry’s culture. I really enjoy the way people are perceived as artists, and I love watching how all our works have developed and progressed over the years.”
Then came a time when Kiri needed to be more than an artist; she had to think of herself as a businesswoman as well.
“It has been an interesting journey in terms of developing a business because I started as a jeweller, an artist, where it wasn’t really about being a business at the start, so this jump was really eye-opening and educational because you suddenly have to deal with things like SKUs,” says Kiri.
“There were times when I had to think creatively around things like cash flow, because there is a fine line to it – I didn’t want to supply my products to too many places so I had to be quite strategic about where I sell to instead of just looking at cash flow as the most important issue in isolation, and try to sell to more stores.”
It has been a trial and error process and Kiri has hit a good middle ground between selling at the kind of places she wants to sell at, while not overselling and still having a good cash flow at the same time.
These little and big wins along the way have led to her current vision for global sales, which will bring along its own set of challenges, but Kiri finds it all tremendously exciting.
“The world is changing, people are consuming more online, yet I’ve been selling in a bubble in New Zealand, which only has so many contemporary jewellery stores.” She plans to further her social media engagement, and build contacts overseas for this leap into the international playing field.
Also, there has been the emergence of a new market of jewellery, where fashion and designer brands like Karen Walker are increasingly going into jewellery making and production as well. In the past, designers stuck to constructing garments and did not go into making jewellery. This has made the whole industry a lot more dynamic and competitive, pushing everyone to become more creative and bold with his or her ranges.
“One of the most important things I’ve realised in terms of running a business is that you can’t do everything alone. You need to delegate and I had to separate myself from my business even though it’s got my name and my creations. I have someone who helps me make the jewellery, various interns over the years, and another person who does the admin stuff.”
As the business grew, Kiri become a lot more involved with operations and spent less time on creative work. So she started putting herself into a disciplined routine that has been working really well so far. She would start everyday off by being creative, thus setting her up for the rest of the day when she can focus on operational issues later on.
“I’m not necessarily making jewellery every morning but I’m often drawing – it’s a beautiful part of the creative process for me. After that, I move on to the logistics and backend processes, where I might be liaising with clients, sending pieces out for gold plating, planning and mapping out ideas for exhibitions, or training staff.”
In addition, it is important for Kiri to keep in touch and stay engaged with the industry in order to keep inspiring people, by going to exhibitions and conferences, even on non-jewellery related topics such as architecture and sustainability. Thus it is not all business related for this passionate jeweller.
Kiri is also looking at collaborating with other artists, and even collaborating with specialists in other fields such as botany. She is also interested in doing residencies in nature-based locations, as she gets her inspiration mainly from plants, and flowers in particular.
Within the world of contemporary jewellery where products come at a high cost, stores don’t buy the items outright so jewellers almost always create pieces, and sell them to retailers on consignment. The consignment arrangement works such that jewellers like Kiri still retain legal ownership over the products even after they have been passed on to galleries for sale. They only receive payment after customers purchase the pieces at galleries. In the meanwhile, galleries and retailers can return the pieces to jewellers at no monetary cost should they feel that the items have been sitting around for far too long.
For Kiri, it’s all about managing her consignment inventory. The TradeGecko online inventory management system has helped to cut down on the number of processes needed to create her consignment invoices and shaved time off on tracking stocks.
“I sell 90% of my jewellery on consignment to galleries, and this is probably the most relevant and interesting part for me in terms of coming on board with TradeGecko, or searching for an inventory management system in general. I spent three or four months searching for a system before deciding on you guys.”
“The TradeGecko system looks good, you guys responded really well, and it’s been so thrilling to be able to offer feedback to what you’re doing and actually have a response – it’s great! You’ve made a couple of significant changes that affected our ability to be efficient. It’s a pleasure to conduct business with such a good system to take care of operations.”
Furthermore, Kiri learnt to be flexible – both internally and externally, in terms of being open to new ways of doing things, such as having awesome systems in place to free up more time for her to nurture her creative side.
This is why Kiri is also looking to set up Xero accounting software after learning about the TradeGecko – Xero system integration. And Shopify as well. These integrations would also go towards bringing Kiri Schumacher Jewellery into the international market without it being tied down to any geographic location. Thus allowing Kiri her coveted two or three months of inspirational trips or residencies per year to develop unique works and contacts.
"It’s quite an educational process on a lot of new business systems that increase efficiency and save time. Such as having SKUs, I haven’t had SKUs for my products before. And there’s many other logistical things that I’m getting up to speed with and going ‘Ahh..that makes things more efficient!’"
“So when you’re an artist and business woman at the same time, you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other when you’ve got really good systems like TradeGecko that allows you more time to be creative. Which is fantastic!”