Thursday, 8 June 2017

Starting a Jewellery Business

ipad-website-cmu-750Wow, it’s now 7 years since I launched my online jewellery store and a lot has changed since day one.

I really thought it would be easy, I had a long and varied computer background and well understood (or so I thought) how to create webpages, manage a server and hack the odd program to make it work the way that I wanted, not the way the original programmer intended. Seems easy enough.

Prior to my computer career, I managed and provided all the technical support to a number of photographic labs. These ranged from large commercial providers where we would print photos the size of walls for advertising, through to the everyday, drop your film off and and get the prints and negatives back in a few days. I also installed the first mini-lab for Kodak in Box Hill, a suburb of Melbourne. It was run under a different name so they could get customer feedback that would be unbiased by the having best known brand in the world of photography on their signage. Surely someone with this much experience wouldn’t have any problems taking photos of the jewellery we sell? Being highly technically  skilled does not guarantee you can take a good photo, this is definitely a different skill set.

Well, let me say nothing is ever as easy as you would expect. Take photographing something really small and very shiny (like a silver charm) for example. Having the correct lighting for the shot is absolutely critical, which in itself is no easy task. When each piece is different in shape and reflects light very differently, the lighting needs to be changed for every photo. The camera position is also critical and needs to be changed to suit each different silver or gold charm to get the best angle(s) of view. Changing this of course means that the lighting has to be re-adjusted, oh dear.

If you have ever taken a close up photo of jewellery, you will know that this is just the start of your problems. You have to deal with reflections, something that doesn’t happen when shooting products that aren’t a mirror finish like silver or gold jewellery. Taking a single photo usually means that the whole piece is not in focus, it will be sharp at the front, middle or back, but not all three.

Our photos have changed considerably over time as we have acquired new equipment. A light tent is important as it guarantees constant lighting, unaffected by any ambient light sources, and was the first upgrade to our kit. The first camera we used was a Fuji Finepix, it did an OK job, but lacked any real control over close focusing and exposure compensation. We upgraded to a Canon SLR with a true macro lens. This gave us much better control over all the camera functions and was a big step forward. The real advantage though was being able to connect it to a computer and control everything from the computer screen. Focusing was still a problem as the depth of field when shooting close up is very narrow and our photos where still not in focus all the way from front to back. You can ‘stop down’ the lens aperture to compensate, but this introduces other issues with digital cameras. So to counteract this we invested in some new software that could take multiple images, from the front to the back of a piece with each focused at a different point. A companion software program combines all the individual images into one, that is in focus all the way from front to back. Yeah, a perfectly focused close up photo of a stunning gold charm!

Of course, getting the photo from the camera is just the start. It then has to be cleaned up in a graphics program to remove the background and any tiny dust spots that may have been missed when shooting. Colour correction is also needed at times and images may need to be lightened or darkened to stand out from the background. To make the images load quickly from our website, they must be as small as possible. There is always a trade-off between speed and quality, so getting just the right balance is important.

Our website runs eCommerce software that does everything from showing our jewellery products and their options and pricing, searching for items that we stock and looking after the transfer of funds from PayPal when we make a sale. It is comprised of hundreds of individual programs that interact with each other to form the shopping cart sections of our website. The overall layout is now based on bootstrap, which is excellent for creating a responsive design, that views well on computers, tablets and mobile phones.

Over the years we have made many custom edits to the cart software to make it do things that the software company hadn’t included. This in itself isn’t really a problem, until they release an update and we have to find and re-edit the changes we made earlier in the updated programs. As they are very active in improving their software, these updates are released more frequently than we would prefer. Thankfully, they have also included many of the ‘fixes’ we have custom written into the base product, so we have less to do each time.

Web design, cart software and photographs are only a small part of what it takes to build a jewellery store in the online world. There are so many other aspects to running a successful online store, each with its challenges. As a small business, we don’t have a massive support crew to call on day and night, so it mostly is a matter of head down and bum up until a solution is found.

So, would I do it all again? The same way? Hell, NO! Hindsight tells me I should find someone who had already been through all the trials and tribulations I have experienced over the past 7 years and paid them to do it for me. Having said that, I have learned a lot and if anyone needs my help to launch a new online store, I am well armed with the knowledge I wish I had when I started out.

Starting a Jewellery Business

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