The diamond jeweller on growing Gemex to be a UK market leader.
Lee Ruben is the sales director at bridal and diamond jewellery manufacturer Gemex, creator of the Raphael collection. His brand has led the charge in fine bridal jewellery in the UK and is now breaking into the European market. He was named a Business Big Shot in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012, in association with the Company of Master Jewellers.
Professional Jeweller: You’ve had a pretty big year growing Gemex in the UK and overseas – tell us about it
Lee Ruben: Highlights have included breaking into new European markets, having exhibited alongside the best of the best at BaselWorld. One of our orders at Basel was seven figures. It’s also been great seeing high class jewellery shops stocking The Raphael Collection – a range I named after my 5 year old son, Raphael. Gemex now has almost 4% of market share of all UK platinum jewellery sales. We were also named Best Platinum Bridal Collection of the Year at the 2012 UK Jewellery Awards for the second consecutive year as well as finalists in the Supplier of the Year category again for two years running.
PJ: Building a fine jewellery business in the recession must have some challenges?
LR: The only challenge we face from time to time is persuading a small number of retailers why they should switch over to us. We overcome this easily by performing what I like to call the puppy dog deal. We give them our range free to stock in their windows for three months. In no time they start getting lots of special orders on the back of this stock. After three months we ask for our stock back. Do they want to give back the puppy dog they’ve grown to love so much? Absolutely not – they end up buying the stock and end up being loyal to us.
PJ: Gemex is going from strength to strength at the minute – how are you managing such successes in a marketplace that many are finding tough?
LR: The only part of fine jewellery that is still selling strongly is bridal jewellery – it’s basically recession proof. The two other very vital ingredients for success, apart from product, are quality and service. You can’t run a successful enterprise if one of those ingredients is missing. We have by far the most extensive product collection, our quality is the best in the market and our service is second to none. It’s very difficult to compete against us – some of our competitors employ twenty times the number of staff we do and I run a very tight ship. I also have a great team – customers always comment that their product knowledge, help and service is invaluable. I invest heavily in training and in my staff.
PJ: As a director, how would you describe you approach to work?
LR: Very ambitious, driven to be the best, can-do attitude, committed, dedicated, strong gut instinct, passionate, innovative, ruthless but fair and never taking no for an answer. I think of all customers as apples – they all eventually ripen and become ready to buy from us one day. I place a very strong emphasis on quality, customer service and reputation in my business. Customers demand answers to their enquiries there and then. I make sure my staff and I can give them the right answer first time so that they can close the deal whilst the iron is still hot. Retailers can’t wait or they’ve lost the sale. I am very fortunate to be in a position to own and run a business in an industry that I really love. It’s a dream job.
PJ: With a burgeoning business and young children, how do you strike the work/life balance?
LR: I don’t think my mind is ever off the job if I’m being honest. It’s not unusual for me to go to my office on a Saturday night to relax, after putting the children to sleep – work does relax me. It’s very tricky to get the balance right when you’re trying to build an empire and have two young gorgeous children. I’m accessible to my customers 24/7 and thus you’ll always find me with my Blackberry glued to my hand. I do try as hard as possible to give every minute of my spare time to Yasmine, who is seven and Raphael, who’s five.
PJ: So with 2012 almost over, how will you continue to grow in 2013?
LR: We have become the UK and Ireland’s number one supplier for fine diamond set bridal and eternity bands and now we’re looking to imitate that magic into an extensive range of engagement rings. We’re ploughing over £1 million of investment to develop this range. It is early days yet as we’ve just released a small range of these engagement rings but they’re already proving to be a massive hit with customers. Gemex is looking to expand vigorously into other international markets over the next 12 months and of course we hope to win more awards.