Ring Builder – Cullen Jewellery
Business name and what it does?
The business I founded in 2018 is named Cullen Jewellery (link:https://cullenjewellery.com/), and is based in Melbourne, Australia. It specialises in ethical and premium lab diamond and moissanite engagement rings.
We offer a comprehensive product range and a premium experience that allows our domestic and international customers to buy luxurious products while ensuring their values remain intact. Cullen Jewellery is committed to operating fairly and sustainably through its use of recycled metals and only lab-grown gemstones. Its affordable products empower generations, as people can live and embody their values with traceable, conflict-free, eco-friendly, and sustainable jewellery.
Founder’s story and what motivated them to start the business?
I wanted to start a business my whole life. I truly believed that was the best way for me to control my destiny, so I had massive ambitions growing up. My background is unique as an entrepreneur, and I think it is due to the adversity I faced when I was younger. It has pushed me and enabled me to have a distinct perspective on the day-to-day affairs of running a business.
I grew up on a dairy farm, where there was twice-daily milking, limited freedom, and general monotony. While it was peaceful, I knew that it was not the life I wanted but one others had envisioned for me. It was then that I began to dream bigger. I realised I did not want to be at the mercy of the weather — which agriculture always is — or an authority figure, who might not always protect my best interests. I wanted autonomy over my career and job, which attracted me to become an entrepreneur. When I had the opportunity to leave rural life, I seized it with both hands and headed to RMIT University in Melbourne to study Entrepreneurship. There, I finally had my chance to begin elaborating on what type of career I wanted.
Initially, I had no specific ideas. I was open-minded and determined to find a gap in the market that I could learn to build on and leverage. One day, while shopping for an engagement ring, I had a frustrating customer experience. I wanted to buy a moissanite ring for my partner, an ethical and cost-effective alternative to mined gemstones. However, there were no local options, and the only viable business in this space was in an entirely different city. I decided to purchase a ring from abroad, which meant the personal risk involved was significant as I had no way of verifying their credentials. I realised that others could not — or would not — take that risk.
Accordingly, Cullen Jewellery was formed in 2018, and the rest is history. I started small, working with a jeweller who had previously prepared a ring for my partner. Then, I focused on other aspects beyond production, such as digital marketing, and the company began to grow gradually. Now, we have a large international market, fast-increasing demand and brand awareness, and a new HQ that we may soon already outgrow.
The challenges the business/market is facing?
The main challenge is that these are all uncharted waters for me. I had never worked in a business before — let alone started one. As someone who has never had a full-time job in any industry, there are pitfalls everywhere that I need to identify and avoid regularly, while continuing to embrace profitable opportunities. This is particularly so at this point of scale. Notably, this variety is what makes it exciting as well. I try to view uncertainty as an opportunity, as when one door closes, another opens up. This means understanding the constancy of change, accepting that some things are outside of my control, and continuing to take care of my team and workplace culture — a big part of why we are certified as a Great Place to Work®.
Another challenge is the tight labour market in Australia. That means that despite needing to hire as we grow, there is a dearth of candidates with the requisite quality for which we are looking. On one of Australia’s most popular job platforms, job ads have doubled over the past 12 months. Businesses have taken a hit with people generally sticking around more in their current companies due to uncertainty and the lower-than-usual immigration numbers in Australia due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Simultaneously fewer people applying for jobs and more jobs out there have facilitated a challenge for us as a rapidly-growing, predominantly e-commerce company.
Additionally, increasing competition in the lab diamond and moissanite space is a challenge. In the last 12 months, lab diamonds have become more popular, which means that the number of manufacturers has increased. It takes a while for the raw product to get to wholesalers, who then notify jewellers. More jewellers are picking up these products, mainly because they are superior on environmental and social sustainability issues. In Australia, there are occasionally massive bushfires, and given the climate crises elsewhere around the world, the environment is and will rightly remain a constant talking point for the foreseeable future. It is back squarely on the agenda in this post-Covid-19 landscape, so other jewellers are realising that their product range is starkly limited in options that are not harmful to the environment.
However, while other jewellers have started selling lab diamonds alongside mined diamonds, we do not offer the latter. We sell lab-grown diamonds and moissanite exclusively. This is because the social and environmental costs of mined diamonds are no longer justifiable — if they have ever been — especially as lab diamonds are exactly the same chemically and aesthetically. This opportunism by our competitors harms our industry, and we are trying to counteract it by showcasing our authenticity and giving back to local and global communities that are in need through various initiatives.
The opportunities the business/market is facing?
The biggest opportunity is our growing international market. We are e-commerce driven and have many satisfied customers in countries like New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. Their word-of-mouth referrals result in a self-reinforcing cycle of customer retention and acquisition at a global level. This allows us to expand staff, locations, and product range.
Technology is also a massive opportunity. We essentially want to be a technology business as well as a jewellery one. In that regard, our digital marketing and website are vital. We have launched a brand-new website recently, which has allowed us to develop and showcase incredible new software. This includes a state-of-the-art ring builder that facilitates all possible combinations and can display interactive videos of each diamond with 100x magnification and an authenticity certificate that can be verified in live-time (link:https://cullenjewellery.com/pages/ring-builder?start_with=setting).
For us, it’s also essential to be at the forefront of upcoming technology. This would entail fewer human resources and more efficiency in implementing our exacting standards in the future, leading to a better understanding of our target market and optimised logistical processes. This will make a massive difference to our staffing costs and help us scale quicker. Ultimately, it is about the customer’s experience, a process that includes productivity and automation as vital components. The question is really about how effectively we can seamlessly integrate showrooms with our digital offering via augmented reality and the like. Our back-of-house work and investment in research and development give us our competitive edge, with the other side of the coin being people-facing — they have both supported our 100% customer satisfaction rate.
Advice to others about business?
I think that running a business is such a diverse experience because I am constantly learning about all the different parts that are essential to its success. I would say there are three things that I would recommend keeping in mind:
- It’s all about the customer and their experience. This means your relationships with them online, over the phone, via email, and in-store. You must ensure you are consistently innovating to offer them the best experience possible.
- Trusting your gut is only reliable if you have within you all the information you need, which is unlikely. At any stage of running a business, there are different challenges that would benefit from a specialised perspective. Therefore, a more prudent approach is to surround yourself with a dependable team and seek relevant counsel. This is important while you continue to invest in your own education and personal development, thereby feeding your gut with more experiences to recall in the future.
- Study hard skills instead of soft skills. This would include subjects like coding, law, and accountancy, which are not essentially just a few books away from having a passing knowledge. One of the challenges in my position is not to be taken advantage of by people who are more knowledgeable in the hard skills I seek. The equivalent — being fooled by soft skills — is much harder as these skills are intuitive and can be picked up more seamlessly within management contexts. Therefore, podcasts and books are helpful. Having a hard skill also means having a plan B, as given uncertain market conditions, it always helps to have something to fall back on.
Ultimately, this is only a snapshot of my experience as the founder of Cullen Jewellery. The most crucial element is to believe in yourself and work hard for what you truly want. That way, the only limit remains the sky — for now.
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