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 A hidden jewel among the tourist shops

 

 Jade, a unique jewellery business in Stellenbosch, does not stand out much among the clutter of curio and coffee shops in the heart of the Stellenbosch tourist district. Its simple name and quiet stylishness hides the careful balance that it has to maintain through wild exchange-rate and seasonal fluctuations. And it is only after speaking to the young couple who own the jewellery shop that you realise that the biggest thing it hides is its potential.

It’s been a month since Annemarie van Wyk, 25, and her husband Rhys van Wyk, 29, have taken full ownership of the shop, having bought it from Annemarie’s mom Karin Delport, who founded the business seven years ago and carved out a distinctive niche in the jewellery trade.

Jade is not a bead shop – Rhys and Annemarie hate that description – but neither does it deal in precious metals and stones. Rather, it trades in custom-made jewellery pieces of semi-precious stones and high-quality materials, including coral and pearls. A typical client, says Annemarie, is someone who wants a piece of jewellery to go with a specific dress, for example. Jade comes up with unique design for each customer.

Jade finds itself firmly in the tourist industry. Just more than half of the sales in the Stellenbosch shop are to overseas tourists, while its branch in Franschhoek does up to 70% of its business with foreigners.

It is a simple enough concept, but Jade’s story is one of extremely hard pioneering work in the dynamic market of tourism, fashion and international trade. Annemarie was only twelve when her mother planted the seed from which Jade grew. The family spent three years in China where Annemarie’s dad, Christoff, worked for a large multinational company. When they returned, Karin bought a case full of pearls with which she launched herself into trading on a wholesale basis with semi-precious stones.

Working from her home, Karin sold to boutiques and jewellers, and within three years the business grew so much that Christoff left his corporate career to join Karin in opening the shop in Stellenbosch. The project was largely self-financed, apart from a working-capital injection by Business Partners at one stage.

When the shop opened, Annemarie had just finished school and immediately started working full-time for her mother, selling in the shop and designing pieces for customers.

One of the most important factors that allows Jade to keep its niche of affordable custom-made jewellery is the fact that its raw materials are sourced from all over the world. As a child Annemarie had accompanied her mother on numerous buying trips, and at the age of nineteen she made her first solo trip to China on behalf of the business.

After three years at the shop, Annemarie took a break to study, but as soon as she got her degree – and married Rhys, a marketer and MBA student – she jumped back into the trade in which she had grown up. Rhys sold his car to capitalise the franchise branch of Jade in Franschhoek, and the newly-wed couple set about building it.

Then things changed very fast. With Rhys showing promise on the finance and administrative side of the business, Christoff decided to go back to his corporate career. He landed a job at Carlsberg Brewery in Malawi and Karin, wanting to join him there, decided to sell the business to Rhys and Annemarie.

As young as they are, is it clear that nothing was given to the couple on a platter – something Annemarie says she is very grateful for. It was through hard work under the guidance of her parents that they got to know every aspect of the business.

Although they are brimming with ideas for expansion, there is nothing wide-eyed or naïve about their approach. Rhys says one of their main challenges is maintaining sales through the seasonal fluctuations. They have a two-pronged strategy to bridge the off-season. First, they capitalise on their strong relationships with their overseas suppliers by buying in bulk not only for the shop, but also as wholesalers to other local businesses.

Second, they are determined to remain affordable to locals as well as tourists. The recent depreciation of the rand has put major pressure on their pricing strategy, because their raw materials are bought in dollars. For now, their strategy is to sharpen their buying even more – buying better quality at even better prices in the cut-throat world markets.

Annemarie is steeling herself for her next trip to China, one of four that she does every year, and probably the most stressful part of her job. Although she is an experienced traveller and knows the East since childhood, buying means working long days at high concentration, bargaining and maintaining relationships, while trying to predict what will sell back in South Africa.

There is a third strategy that Rhys and Annemarie see as a logical further step in countering the vagaries of the market – making sales in dollars, pounds or euros. This probably means opening an outlet in a city in the northern hemisphere soon. It is still some way off, but it all starts by dreaming about it, they say.

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