Michele Black is one of the very few jewellery store owners who can genuinely claim to know exactly what their customers want – after all she was a customer in her store long before she owned it.
Michele bought several jewellery items, including pearls and diamonds, at the Precious Jewellers store in Manuka, an inner suburb of Canberra, in her early 20s.
As a regular customer Michele developed a strong relationship with the store’s staff, and therefore, not surprisingly, the owner offered her a job as a sales assistant when a position became available.
Michele happily accepted the job and enjoyed her new role of selling jewellery in the store she had once shopped in. At the same time she undertook a variety of courses, including gemmology, valuing and jewellery design, to increase her knowledge of the products she already loved.
However, ten years later she left the store to move to Adelaide with her family. There she continued her jewellery retail career at Chez Jewells for five years before returning to her hometown in 1991.
On her return, Michele decided to pursue her love of jewellery retailing independently.
“I designed a collection of gemstone jewellery which I sold from my home. I had great support from previous customers who came to private showings.” she recalls.
“I then used the funds which I made from selling that collection to design another collection and then eventually was able to open up a small studio in an upstairs location in Manuka.”
The studio proved to be a success but Michele knew that she needed a larger space, ideally at street level, to grow her business further.
Therefore, with two partners, she bought Precious Jewellers – which fortuitously had just been put onto the market.
Michele eventually remodelled the store, changed its name to Creations Jewellers and began to restock it with new designs.
The business partnership ultimately came to an end as she and her two partners “wanted to go in different directions” but Michele was by then ready to meet the challenge of running a jewellery store on her own – and her two children, Natalie (a gemmologist and jewellery designer) and Ben (a jeweller) joined the business soon after.
In the years since, Creations has evolved into a well respected high-end “destination store” for Canberra locals and visitors alike.
“We have retained the essence of the old store, which was a precious jewellery store with its own resident jewellers, but have just made it a little more sophisticated,” explains Michele.
Today Creations is an extremely modern looking store with around 40 stand-alone beechwood and glass display cases – each filled with jewellery “telling a single story” – and a large window showcasing the store’s four resident jewellers working at their benches.
“The store used to sell jewellery that was a bit more arty,” says Michele.
“We still do a few quirky arty pieces but we tend to focus on far more lasting quality classic pieces.”
“I think the fact that we also expose our jewellers to the customers rather than keeping them hidden away in the back tells the customer so much about who we are and what we do.
“When customers see the jewellers at work they know we make the jewellery we sell and they really like it when the jewellers actually come out and talk to them.
“I also think it is often better for a customer who wants to have a piece of jewellery made to speak directly to the jeweller or designer rather than playing a game of ‘Chinese whispers’ with a sales person who then speaks to the jeweller.”
Perhaps most important to Creation’s success is Michele’s own style (“I wear a lot of jewellery and often sell pieces that I wear,”) combined with the store’s eclectic product and service mix.
“We sell something for everybody,” she says. “A lot of jewellery stores only stock fine jewellery but we stock items ranging from $50 silver rings to $50,000 pieces so there is always something for everybody.
“We also make sure that service is utmost in the store. I would rather look after our customers with excellent service rather than be inundated with many customers and not be able to look after them in the way we would like.”
And Creations has certainly had a lot of sales success. Notable customers in the store include former prime ministers, dignitaries and other federal politicians as well as ambassadors from countries around the world.
Indeed, one such American ambassador was so impressed by Creations that he convinced Michele and her husband Rodney (who takes care of the store’s administration) to try their luck in America.
Always on the look out for exciting challenges, Michele and Rodney headed to the US and opened an Australian Creations store in the BayWalk shopping centre in St Petersburg, Florida in 2000 while Natalie and Ben remained in Canberra to run the Manuka store.
“We did a lot of South Sea pearls, coloured Australiandiamonds and Australian opals in Florida,” recounts Michele.
“The Americans really liked the fact that they could come and buy directly from the designers of the jewellery as there aren’t too many jewellers running jewellery stores in the US – most of the jewellery stores in the US are stocked with designs and brands made elsewhere.”
Michele says that although the business “went well”, it was a “very tiring lifestyle” as the mall was open from 10am to 10pm seven days a week.
After four years, the couple decided to sell up and return to Canberra when Natalie became pregnant.
“I wanted to come back and be a ‘grandma’,” she says, “rather than just fly back and forth three or four times a year.
“I knew that when the baby arrived Natalie would be spending less time in the store and that Rodney and I would hardly ever get to see them.”
Michele is obviously happy to be back home with her first jewellery store – and her family.
Despite the uncertain economic conditions in recent years, Creations is thriving.
“I think we have been cushioned from the economic changes in the rest of the Australia,” she says, “so much so that our average price point has increased significantly in recent years.
“Our customers are fiercely loyal. We have had the same customers for years and now have their children and their children as customers too.
“They have all known my kids since they were little and now they are getting to know my grandkids (Maddie, Alice and Tahlia) too.”
Indeed, with Ben and Natalie well ensconced in the family business, Michele is already making plans for the grandkids to join when they get older…