How Samantha Wills turned a Bondi Beach market stall into an international operation
From a market stall at Bondi Beach to a $1.5 million international operation in five years might seem like a pipe dream for some, but Samantha Wills has established a shiny future in the jewellery fashion market.
Wills moved to Sydney when she was 20 and started making the jewellery as a hobby.
“People told me I should try and sell it, but I thought ‘you’re kidding aren’t you, nobody is going to pay money for this’ because I was making it on my dining room table,” she remembered.
“But they told me to try selling it down at Bondi Beach Market so I started selling there every Sunday. I would make jewellery at night time during the week and then sell down there. After a few months I was making more in one day at the market than I was doing my full time job.
“After a year at the market a friend of ours had a showroom at the Australian Fashion Week and they said I could buy a spot on their wall – about the size of a standard door – for $500.
“I was worried about the $500 because it was effectively what I would make in one week at the market, so I thought maybe we would be able to just cover our costs. But at the end of the week I had written $17,000 worth of orders – the very next day I quit my job and the rest is history.”
Wills continued making the jewellery herself for two years with help from friends and family before the demand was so great that she couldn’t keep up.
“We took on staff after two years and gradually grew that way,” she said.
“We were still making it in-house in the third year and then in the fourth year we sourced production houses in China and India. At the moment our production is 80% offshore and 20% in-house.
“We have an agency in America – so we have a presence in LA, Dallas and New York – and we also have an agent in New Zealand and a distributor in Japan.
“We also have a PR company in Australia and one in the US so while there are seven in the in-house team there are also third parties affiliated with the brand as well.”
When asked what she has learnt while building the company, Wills is quick to point out that she is still learning.
“I started the company when I was 21 years old and I think at that age you assume you know it all,” she said.
“But I guess that when it is your money you learn quite quickly – it has been an incredible learning curve. Products are one part of it but there are so many other elements that make a brand successful and I think that is where my strength lies – in creating a brand that goes beyond a product and harnesses the essence of the brand and the lifestyle of the brand.
“Sending those key messages is just as important as producing the product.”
Wills said she had been lucky her jewellery had proven to be popular with a number of celebrities including Eva Mendes, Pink, Nicole Ritchie and Jennifer Hawkins.
“Celebrity placements are great to leverage with our international clients and also here for our accounts because it places us on the international stage,” she added.
“Our focus for new growth is the United States where we have been in the market for six months. We are still finding our feet with our sales force but we have a really strong PR company working for us there so the trickle down effect is bringing us new business.
“The market over there is so big that it is not something we are basing our business model on but it is definitely a next step for the brand because of our celebrity following – it is definitely recognised over there.”
The company’s online footprint is also expanding after the success of its boutique internet store.
“Online retail in Australia is very under done and it is something we are really focusing on,” she continued.
“That’s something that is proving very successful for us over the past year and a half – it is probably making up about 30% of our turnover at the moment. It’s not something we have even put a marketing plan behind yet, we just thought we would give it a trial and the response has been fantastic.”
And her advice for others looking to give it a go?
“I consider myself very lucky that what I do is not only my job and career, but if I wasn’t getting paid for it I would still do it as a hobby,” she explained.
“I think if you are going to take the risk to start your own business then make sure it is something you are passionate about, because it is not easy and there are a lot of sleepless nights. If it is a love and a passion then that definitely is something that keeps you very motivated even when times are tough.
“Do your research before you launch into new markets, particularly in these times we are in at the moment – you don’t want to be investing on a whim. If it is a product then know who your customer is and know what they want from your product and if it is a service then do something that makes you different or makes people talk about you.
“The best referral is word of mouth, so do things that get people talking.”
At a glance
Name: Samantha Wills
Position: founder and creative director Samantha Wills Pty Ltd
Turnover: $1.5 million
Growth markets: Australia and United States