Jo Harpur started her jewellery design business four years ago and now has two full-time employees. Her products are found in many Irish retail outlets and, after taking to the air with Aer Lingus Boutique, she now distributes internationally.
Harpur was shortlisted to the final eight for Up and Coming Business Woman of the Year with Image magazine in 2018 and was recently awarded accreditation as Business All-Star Thought Leader in Design Leader Jewellery, with the Business All Stars of Ireland.
What sets your business apart from the rest?
I put a huge amount of time and thought into the design of my jewellery and making the packaging luxurious. I choose to have the products handcrafted in Spain, because of the excellence of craftsmanship and accessibility for me to travel and observe quality control. My designs are unique and offer affordable luxury.
What was the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
Leigh Tucker, who designs children's clothing for Dunnes Stores, said to me, "You cannot do everything in your business. Know your limits and get the experts in when you need them."
This was a complete eye-opener and I’ve carried this nugget of wisdom with me. I recently hired a social media wiz and an in-house photographer too so I can focus on the development of the business.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Not realising or forecasting the amount of capital needed to get the business off the ground. I've saved money by doing many things myself in the beginning, but every business needs a substantial investment at some point. When Kilkenny Design rolled out my designs, I had to up production and that had a knock-on effect on my need for capital.
And your major success to date?
I'm excited to have gained the trust of high-end customers like Kilkenny Design, that have profiled me in 14 of their outlets nationwide, along with many other Irish retailers. Supplying in-flight with Aer Lingus gave me a great start. I was the best-selling jewellery house two years in a row in 2016 and 2017 and I'm proud to have supplied South African Airlines too.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
The person who stands out for me the most is Margaret Heffernan of Dunnes Stores. I'm impressed with how she transformed Dunnes Stores into a destination for true Irish designers, something which is positively reflected in their annual turnover to say the least! She embraced what was on her doorstep and has truly put confidence back into the market.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
The banks are still cautious and it can be difficult to get any financial help or backing. But, if you have the trust of your customers, use this to put a good business plan together. Initially when I approached the banks, they were extremely helpful but asking for my second round of funding proved a bit more tricky and they soon clipped my wings.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
I think they need to understand that small business owners are not in business to rip anyone off. We are here to help build a strong entrepreneurial infrastructure. As we bailed the banks out, a reduced interest rate on loans for very small businesses would be a great help. Supporting small enterprises is good not only for the community, but for the overall economy.
What's been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
Managing stock is a challenge due to the amount of stock going to different outlets throughout the country and making sure that we have enough product in stock is also a challenge. I can see the need to employ an operations manager in the near future.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
I'm seeking to work with many more retail outlets and to achieve this is on the top of my list. Also, with the help of Fingal Enterprise Board, I am slowly gaining traction in overseas markets. I now supply some shops on the east coast of America after doing a trade fare with Enterprise Ireland in New Jersey and I've started to supply some retailers in Spain.
My long-term goal is to expand my business into a full lifestyle brand with many more beautiful products for women all over the world.
What's your business worth and would you sell it?
I have no clue what my business is worth at the moment, as there are many exciting developments happening behind the scenes. And as passionate as I am about Jo Harpur Jewellery, you'd find it hard to pry it out of my hands!
If I were to sell, considering the hard work and dedication I have put into it, the buyer would have to commit to keeping the spirit of the company, as they would certainly be buying a big part of me!