Innovation is all well and good, but how do you bring a new concept to life in the marketplace and start deriving revenue from it?
This was a question Lauren Chang Sommer, founder of Moi Moi Fine Jewellery, grappled with in 2004 when she decided to launch a retail business around the little-known manufactured gem moissanite.
“Moissanite is totally a jewel in its own right. It looks very much like a diamond, but in actual fact it has more brilliance and a finer lustre than diamonds. These are actually measurable qualities … it's the GIA saying it, which is the Gemological Institute of America. They're the authority on diamonds in the world. They're measurable qualities and people really need to see moissanite to believe it,” Lauren explains.
Identify new opportunities and develop your messaging
“I first saw moissanite in July of 2004 and realised that no one in Australia was selling moissanite. What a great opportunity!” recalls Lauren (pictured).
Despite a lack of experience in retail or jewellery, Lauren – then aged 25 – encouraged her younger sister Alana to return to Australia from the US so they could launch their own business. Lauren’s belief in the product came from her own personal experience, in which she knew she would not be alone – and this first-hand experience became an important part of her brand messaging.
“I was getting married that year … and I was looking for earrings for my wedding day. Really, my options at that point in time were cubic zirconia, which were $100 for a pair of earrings, and, to me, I felt they were quite disposable. I wanted something that I could pass down, if I had a daughter,” explains Lauren.
“I was looking at diamonds, but I hadn’t bought diamonds for myself before and when I decided to look at that, it was [$10,000] to $15,000 for a pair of stud earrings, and I was thinking, ‘Well, I'm getting married, I’m not going to spend that on a pair of earrings for my wedding day!’.
“My father actually bought a pair of earrings for my mum while he was travelling overseas and when they came back and showed me, I thought, ‘Wow, that's exactly what I’m looking for’. They were moissanite earrings and, to me, I couldn’t tell the difference between them and diamonds – and when I asked about the price, we’re talking $1,000 for 1 carat per ear in 18-carat white gold. For me, that was accessible. It was affordable. It’s exactly what I wanted.”
Be an educator first, retailer second
After that initial discovery, Lauren set out to learn everything she could about moissanite, so she could answer any questions she may be asked by prospective customers.
“Diamonds are made of carbon, and moissanite is made of silicon carbide,” she says.
“That’s a naturally occurring mineral. It’s quite different to cubic zirconia, which is made of synthetic materials, and that’s why they get milky and they lose their lustre and they change and they don't have the longevity. Whereas moissanite, just like diamond, is made of a natural mineral, so they never change appearance or lose their lustre.”
Now armed with a wealth of knowledge about the composition and qualities of moissanite, as well as the global production chain, Lauren is able to educate her customers about its properties and why she is able to sell it at a much more affordable price than diamonds.
“You’ve got two things that you really need to market. You need to market what it is, influence people that here is an alternative to a diamond and here are the really good reasons why this is an alternative. That’s the first thing,” says Lauren.
“And then you need to influence someone … to actually get them to come into your store to buy something from you.”
Become the go-to product expert
In the process of educating herself on the product, Lauren has also become one of the foremost experts on moissanite in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, leading her to become something of a brand ambassador, speaking at national industry events and attending international trade shows – further raising her profile.
However, arguably the best business decision Lauren made was to negotiate exclusive distribution rights in Australia for moissanite, effectively locking out any future competitors while a global patent for the product remains in force.
“There’s only one sole distributor,” she explains.
Yet it is education that Lauren says has always been the core focus of Moi Moi Fine Jewellery.
“Definitely for us education and awareness is the key for moissanite, and still we need to continue doing that,” she says.
“In probably most businesses, it’s not that important to continue that … 12 years down the track, but for us it is. Moissanite is really on the cusp of something really big because of the improvement of the colour. [We] make all of our material very educational: we want everything to be really accessible and really fun!”
Lauren’s key advice for anyone building a business around an unknown product or service is:
• Identify the story of how you came upon or devised the product or service.
• Become an expert on it, and be able to communicate your expertise effectively to prospective customers.
• Consider a patent or exclusive distribution agreement to ensure that you are the sole point of access for customers.
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