Two former Qantas customer service officers looking for a better work/life balance are rapidly making a name for themselves in the Australian jewellery industry with their wholesaling business – Arctic Wolf.
The couple, Christine and Robert Barry, were both happy in their jobs at Sydney Airport but the long hours and relatively low pay were limiting their dreams for a better life for themselves and their three children.
“I was looking for a way to earn extra money without having to work overtime and do double-shifts at the Airport as work/travel were taking up to 18 hours a day,” recalls Christine.
It was at this time, Christine started to notice magazine advertisements for Pandora jewellery.
“I really liked the personalised jewellery concept so I contacted Pandora to find out if there was any way I could get a job selling it but was told that I couldn’t.”
Disappointed by the less than enthusiastic response to her query, Christine thought another company selling personalised jewellery might be interested in her customer service skills and so, on that same day, began an online search for one.
“I looked for ages but couldn’t find another personalised jewellery brand/supplier in Australia,” she says.
Immediately recognising the business opportunity this absence presented, Christine “started Googling” to find one elsewhere – and eventually discovered Chamilia.
Founded in the US in 2002 by Killian Rieder (a former designer for fashion brand Polo) and Jeff Julkowski, the company manufactures bracelets, bangles and necklaces that can be personalised with its collection of over 600 14 carat gold, sterling silver, Murano glass and colored stone beads.
“I sent an email to the company straight away enquiring about distributorship,” says Christine
Seven months later – Christine and Robert received the response they were waiting for.
“In the middle of the night we got a phone call from one of Chamilia’s senior managers,” she recalls.
“We had a long conversation. He wasn’t particularly interested in our business background but in what type of people we were.”
A few days later the couple flew to the Bangkok Gems & Jewellery Fair to meet him and then a month later flew to the company’s head office in Minneapolis in the US to discuss a distributorship.
After several months “to-ing and fro-ing’, the couple opened Arctic Wolf for business in May 2007 with a bank loan for $50,000 and their first order of Chamilia beads and bracelets.
Both Christine and Robert readily admit that although they had successfully gained the distributorship of Chamilia in Australia and New Zealand they were still largely ignorant as to how to sell the product to retailers.
“We knew we had a great product but we were so naïve we didn’t know how we could let retailers know about it.
“We still had virtually no knowledge of the jewellery industry – we had no reps and we didn’t know how to place an ad …”
The Barrys had no option but to start visiting retailers and selling the product themselves – one by one.
“I went down to the local shops at Warriewood and sold some pieces straight away.”
Off to a good start and fully aware of the brand’s potential but with a limited marketing budget, the Barrys then decided that exhibiting at the 2007 JAA Jewellery Fair in Sydney was their best strategy to establish Chamilia’s brand name on the local market.
“It was really hard work to get our stand ready for the August Fair as we were still working fulltime for Qantas but in the end it was worth it because we ended up being one of the most popular stands there – we were inundated with interested retailers.”
The business was on its way but the couple’s already long working hours were still increasing as they were both still employed by Qantas.
However, as the business gradually increased its market presence, Christine and Robert quickly realised that their dream of a better work/life balance was a genuine possibility – if they had the courage to quit their “day jobs” at the Airport.
Robert was the first to leave in late 2007 and then Christine followed suit in December 2008 when Chamilia had firmly established its brand name in the Australian jewellery industry.
Today Arctic Wolf distributes Chamilia jewellery to over 300 gift and jewellery stores around Australia as well as stores in New Zealand and Singapore.
Although still clearly number two to Pandora in the Australian market, Christine is happy with the brand’s growth and is adamant that Chamilia does not produce “Pandora copy beads”.
“Pandora was not the originator of personalised beaded jewellery,” she says. “Pandora is just one brand – the concept is a European charm bracelet.”
“Today Chamilia is fast becoming the ‘it’ brand in a rapidly growing personalised jewellery category.”
“Chamilia’s high definition, quality and detail to each bead combined with an extensive choice of styles and colours, including licensed a licensed collection of Disney beads, is proving popular with retailers and consumers.
She adds that there are several advantages for retailers who choose to stock Chamilia.
“We are easy to deal with and turnaround orders in 24 hours,” she says.
“In addition we don’t oversaturate areas. If a store’s sales are going OK we give them exclusivity as we don’t want our clients to be competing with each other for the same sales in the same area.”
She says the company is also happy for retailers to stock other personalised jewellery brands alongside Chamilia.
“We are happy for retailers to stock our product next to their other brands as we feel that retailers and consumers deserve freedom of choice.
“I am also confident that in most cases they will choose our beads due to the brighter silver and higher definition in our designs,” she laughs.
Having come a long way in the three years since selling the first pieces of Chamila in Sydney, Christine plans to keep promoting and growing the personalised jewellery brand as well as promoting and growing Arctic Wolf’s recently acquired Diamonfire collection of simulated diamond jewellery.
With experience selling Chamilia under its belt, the company has quickly established the new brand which launched at the JAA Sydney Jewellery Fair last year. Diamonfire is “already being sold in several quality jewellery stores around the country” and Christineis confident that number will grow significantly in coming months.
“We don’t want to offer retailers just one brand,” she explains. “Jewellery retailers can’t afford to just depend on the ongoing success of beaded bracelets and nor can we.
“We need other brands offering different products to remain competitive. Chamilia and Diamonfire certainly won’t be the only brands we’ll be offering Australian retailers.
In fact Christine and Robert travelled to Switzerland’s BaselWorld watch and jewellery show at the end of March to “research new and exciting brands to bring back to the Australian market” and to catch up with senior management from both Chamilia and Diamonfire.
“We do not want to be seen as one dimensional. We want to be seen as an honest, reliable company that provides excellent service and a range of excellent products that all retailers will be proud to stock.
We want to create an atmosphere of confidence and helpfulness to all our retailers and buying groups so that doing business with us is worthwhile and easy.
“If we can give this service to all, then this will in-turn grow our business as well as enhancing retailers businesses– as the saying goes ‘what goes around comes around’.”
Indeed it seems that the Barrys are as versatile and adaptive as the animal they named their business after – Arctic Wolves are one of the very few mammals able to withstand the inhospitable terrain in the Arctic Circle where the ground is permanently frozen and the temperature is sub-zero all year round.
Yes it seems Arctic Wolf is well prepared to survive and thrive in our jewellery industry!
For more information visit Arctic Wolf on www.arcticwolf.com.au or visit www.chamilia.com.au or www.diamonfire.com.au