The ‘C’ Word!
London Jeweller, Karen Young talks about the dreaded ‘C’ word and how to survive the Christmas Rush in this 2-part blog series!
Yes, I said it! The ‘C’ word – Christmas! It is no understatement to say that Christmas is the busiest time of the year for jewellers. It gets to December 25th and most of us want to collapse with exhaustion as all the orders are ﬁnally cleared and you have been working round the clock to get those very special handmade gifts to customers before the big day!
And I hate to say it, but the quiet summer months are the perfect time to start preparing and planning the last quarter of the year so that those crazy 3 months run like clockwork, and you can focus the majority of your precious time on making and fulﬁlling customer orders, and taking part in Christmas fairs which pay dividends well into the next year.
So what can you do to make the Christmas rush more manageable, and survive the chaos? Having one Christmas period under my belt now and having learned lots ﬁrst time around I thought I would share the top tips I have learned the hard way!
START PLANNING NOW!
You cannot start planning too early for Christmas – I know some jewellers who start planning for this as soon as Valentines and Mothers day are over. I ﬁnd however that orders really tail off over the summer period as people are on holiday (as are you!), and big events weddings are in full swing and so I like to dedicate August to planning and preparing and starting to build my supplies and inventory. So where to start?
1. BOOK YOUR CHRISTMAS FAIRS
One of the nicest parts of the Christmas period is taking part in fairs and getting in front of your customers (particularly if you mainly sell online). But the deadline dates for most Christmas fairs such as Crafty Fox and Spirit of Christmas Fairs are very early and you may even ﬁnd that some of the application deadlines are soon or have even passed so don’t delay – get your applications in NOW!
2. START BUILDING INVENTORY
The beauty of handmade jewellery is that you lovingly handcraft your work and and each piece touches the hands of the maker/ designer. However, making each and every piece from scratch when the order comes in can really push you to the limit during the busy period and you just don’t want the stress of having to continually order supplies and potentially run out. To keep the stress levels down I highly recommend that you start to do the following:
A. PLAN YOUR CHRISTMAS RANGE
Start designing your Christmas range as early as possible – even if it is updating the colours of an existing design or creating a few key pieces you will be promoting on the run up to Christmas. These should include your statement pieces to grab people’s attention, your bread and butter pieces such as pendants and rings and your up-sell items such as earrings. Pay close attention to what supplies you will need and start to build your supply of these items to make sure you will be able to order additional supplies if you need to (or use limited supplies to your advantage by labelling items ‘special edition’.
B. ORDER YOUR SUPPLIES
You have to watch your cash-flow, as it is easy to get excited and overspend, but there are some things you can do to generate some extra cash to allow you to build your inventory:
a. Have a pre-summer sale – sell off end of line pieces or excess stock
b. Host a de-stash sale on relevant Facebook groups or even eBay – you can sell off beads, excess supplies and tools you don’t use to generate some extra cash.
c. Sell your scrap!
You can even do what I did last year and sell your scrap silver – I made about £400 by selling my scrap to Cookson Gold which paid for my extra stock alone and the extra tools and consumables I needed.
When ordering Christmas supplies for my business, I will look at what I use the most frequently (for example I mainly use 0.8mm silver sheet, 0.8mm wire, 4.5mm tubing) and I will start to order extra with every order so that I create a stockpile. This way I don’t have a massive single outlay and I can spread the cost over several months.
I will also start to build my inventory of my most popular gemstones, beads and pearls (IJL in September is a great way to do this – I normally do the bulk of my gemstone buying at this event). You also get greater discounts when you buy in bulk (check out Ward Gemstones who offer great discounts when you bulk buy) so do try and save some money each month that will enable you to bulk buy when it counts!
Also, don’t forget to order all other supplies such as packaging, padded envelopes and all your parcel inserts such as business cards, social media cards etc! I nearly ran out of necklace boxes last year and had a scary 3 weeks until my new boxes arrived so make sure you have plenty!
You may want to source back up suppliers too just in case an all important material is out of stock with your usual supplier!
3. PREP AS MUCH IN ADVANCE AS YOU CAN
Although it would be lovely to make everything from scratch as the order comes in, this just isn’t feasible in the busy Christmas rush. You need to start prepping as much as you can in advance!
For example, I prep all my blanks for my tag necklaces, cuff bangles and rings in advance so that they have smooth edges and are nice and polished, holes drilled and are essentially ready to stamp. I also create a stock pile of my most popular charms and handmade earring ﬁndings etc, so that when an order comes in, all I need to do is stamp the names, words or phrases the customer has asked for, assemble the piece/ solder jump rings closed, polish and ﬁnish the piece and then pack and send it on its way.
If you get your work cast in silver start consider getting moulds made and your most popular pieces cast well in advance so that you have a supply of each piece where you simply need to remove the sprue, add any jump rings, settings or ﬁndings and polish and ﬁnish.
I texture sheets of silver on the rolling mill and cut out multiples of my most popular shapes so that they are in a semi-ﬁnished state, and I solder on ﬁndings and settings but leave them unset so that I only have to set the appropriate stone or pearl when the order comes through.
Rough castings ready to be de-sprued, polished and finished.
This one is a biggie – I get as much as I can hallmarked in advance (I mainly work in silver and gold so you don’t need to worry about this if you work with other materials)! Things like adding stones or stamping names don’t impact the hallmark (you just can’t solder any additional metals to a piece once it is hallmarked), so I send off a massive package of almost ﬁnished ring blanks, necklaces, earrings and bangles to be hallmarked as I ﬁnd this process is the one that takes the longest (approximately a week or even more on the run up to Christmas). I put each one in a little ziplock bag so all the components of the piece are kept together.
It is a bigger outlay at once but the cost per item to hallmark goes down with the more pieces you hallmark (particularly if you use the standard service) so I ﬁnd it really makes a difference to my proﬁt if I do this particular process in bulk. You can’t anticipate every eventuality or combination of order so I recommend focusing on your highest volume pieces ﬁrst, but prepping your ‘component parts’ is a great way of shortening your turn around time signiﬁcantly meaning less stress for you and happy customers as you can ship quickly.
4. TIDY AND ORGANISE YOUR WORKSPACE
I was so guilty of this last year! I was so busy that my workspace ended up in quite a state and I am sure that I wasted so much precious time trying to ﬁnd things! So do take the time to sort out and organise your workspace in August or September, and give all your tools and supplies a home!
This year I have put all my components in labelled ziplock bags and in alphabetised sections in an expandable folder. It meant I could always ﬁnd what I was looking for and could easily see when I was getting low in stock! I also recommend taking 15-20 mins at the end of each day to clear your workspace so that it is ready for the next day and put all your tools and supplies back in the correct place. This will save you heaps of time during the chaos, I promise!
In part 2 of this blog series I will talk about planning your Christmas marketing and PR and nailing your processes to make everything run like clockwork (most of the time :-)). Let us know if you have any tips for surviving the Christmas period in the comments below!