The winner of our recent #SquareStory competition, Clara Ho from Burton Metal Depository, set out on a mission to provide beautiful accessories for the modern man. We sat down with Clara, whose shop is in Sydney’s iconic suburb of Darlinghurst, to hear more about her work, her goals and the way she’s using Square to build her business.
What’s the story behind Burton Metal Depository?
I originally studied architecture and law at university, and worked for a number of years in boutique architecture firms before making the full-time transition into the jewellery industry. The turning point for me was doing a silversmithing course at the local TAFE whilst I was still in architecture school. Originally I just went to keep a friend company, but ended up falling in love with it and continued doing more courses! The very practical classes made me realise how much I loved working with my hands to create very personal objects that people would wear every day.
What are you best known for in your community?
People know my minimalist style of jewellery features a lot of unique detailing. I specialise in designing for men, so I tend to have a lot of men’s wedding band orders, as well as commitment rings and personalised cufflinks. But women also wear my pieces (as do I!).
Talk us through the steps you took to set up your business.
After the initial term at TAFE, I continued taking night courses in silversmithing, and got a weekend job working on the retail side of high-end jewellery boutiques. I did this for a few years but eventually balancing both of these with a full-time architecture job became too difficult, so I decided to leap into my new career in jewellery.
The experience I gained working in various retail shops played a big part in shaping the direction of my own business. From all the customer enquiries I got, I realised how difficult it was to find quality, locally made jewellery and accessories for men. So I decided to focus on that. I found the practical parts of setting up the business pretty simple, because there’s a lot of information and support online now. Plus, my first-hand experience working in an established small business really helped me understand what’s involved. What was more challenging was growing the business to get customers beyond just my (very supportive) friends and family!
What was the first month like?
It was super intense. I’m a perfectionist, so I wanted everything to look immaculate and work smoothly from the very start. But of course this never happens with a new business — you have to test your ideas, discover your flaws and adjust accordingly.
What has been your biggest challenge?
One of my biggest challenges is managing time efficiently. Like I said, I tend to be a perfectionist (and a bit of a control freak!) so I often end up overthinking and spending way too long on something. Plus I always want to do everything myself, which means the to-do lists just pile up.
You’ve been operating out of a pop-up shop on Darlinghurst’s Oxford Street. What has that been like?
I’ve done a number of pop-ups over the years. I think they’re fantastic opportunities and would highly recommend that all online businesses do one. Because they’re only temporary, you have to consider your investment really carefully. But, in my experience, the long-term benefits have far outweighed the costs. I’m really lucky that for this pop-up, I’ve had a great business partner to bounce ideas off and share the workload with. Also, it’s been heaps of fun working closely with our neighbours to hold events that generate traffic to all our shops.
And now you’re growing from a pop-up to a permanent shopfront?
Yes! My business partner, Giuseppe Santamaria, and I are so excited to finally get a permanent shop we can call ‘home’. Through our various pop-ups, we got to talk to customers and vendors and trial different ways of merchandising. We experimented with the layout and generally learned about what works. We’re applying all the lessons we learned in our new permanent location — including the idea of my jewellery bench and a ‘create’ area being integrated with the shop.
How has your background influenced the technology you’re using at Burton Metal Depository?
Because of my background in architecture, I’ve had experience drawing in CAD programs so I use modelling software a bit when I create my jewellery. I always start and end with my hands though, so there’s a human quality to each piece I create. I love the fact that I can combine computer software with one-hundred-year-old handmade jewellery techniques all in the one piece!
What about at the point of sale?
I use an iPad a lot, and there’s always one open on the counter in the shop. As well as using it to accept payments with Square, it’s invaluable for quickly showing people images of custom jewellery I’ve made, or explaining differences between metals, finishes and gems, etc.
Square [Point of Sale] is so easy to use, particularly with the modifiers and all the product variations. A lot of my jewellery work is custom. Someone might like a design they see in the shop, but they’ll want to add gemstones or modify details, which will affect the price. So it’s really great being able to adjust these costs on the spot, and process payments professionally.
I’m super excited to be opening the new shop, Fine Fellow, next month! It’s a retail, studio and event space which will also be home to Burton Metal Depository and Men In This Town (founded by Giuseppe). Hopefully after six months we will have established ourselves and settled into our new location. We can’t wait to meet the local community and work with our neighbouring shops to promote our precinct!
What’s the one piece of advice you’d share with new entrepreneurs?
Always consider any investment or decision you make in terms of time. Tom Ford said that time is one of the most important luxuries today, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Fine Fellow, the new store that will house Burton Metal Depository, is located at 11 Foley Street, Darlinghurst and opened for trade on Tuesday 18 April. Follow Clara on Instagram at @burtonmetaldepository.