Séamus Fahy – founder of Voltaire Diamonds
What is the most unique thing about your business?
Voltaire Diamonds is all done by appointment. I don’t have a jewellery shop, therefore I don’t have the overheads of a jewellery shop. It’s a nice environment, you’re getting top quality product at very competitive prices.
A lot of my clients say they’re intimidated by jewellery shops. But you come in here and it’s relaxed, there’s no pressure on people and there’s no pushy sales techniques. We design the rings, but you can add your personal stamp if you want.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
On day one, I should have set up with a website so it was geared up with search engine optimisation. I didn’t do that. So for the first two years I would have been on the third page of search results when you Googled engagement rings. Nobody goes to page three; very few people go beyond the first three or four on page one.
About a year and half ago, I redesigned the website and made it SEO optimised. Now I’m at the top of page one. All of a sudden my business jumped. But if I had been at the top of page one from the beginning, I might have struggled to deal with all the business.
What has been your major success to date?
Still being in business four years later. Since I set up the business a lot of jewellery shops have closed.
I opened a London office four or five months ago. I was finding through Google analytics that my business was getting a lot of hits in London. A lot of people are leaving Ireland now – people in the engagement ring phase of their life tend to be moving to London. The younger ones are off to Canada and Australia. Sales in London are starting to grow.
The recession suits me perfectly; more and more people are looking for value for money now. I set up in late 2007. All my friends thought I was nuts, but at the time I didn’t know the recession was about to come.
Right at the very start I managed to get great write-ups on the likes of Boards.ie and Weddings Online. The online forums are huge for me business, as is Facebook. My competitors haven’t copped on to that. Half of them don’t have a Facebook page, or if they do I haven’t seen it. There are around 18,000 fans of Voltaire on Facebook.
With a jewellery shop, they rely on people walking past and calling in. I don’t have that. Reputation is everything.
You still get people saying they’re off to Antwerp or New York to buy engagement rings, but I guarantee to beat those prices. You are sitting in New York and Antwerp here. The international price of diamonds is the price – there is no difference. We’re all buying at very similar prices.
People think they can get better deals abroad, but they can’t.
Who would you admire most in business and why?
It’s probably Michael O’Leary for his no-nonsense approach.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
Try to reduce VAT rates for labour intensive businesses. I know they’ve done it for the tourism industry, but maybe there are other industries out there they could do it for.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Initially when I set up the business, it was getting suppliers to actually take me seriously. I visited wholesale suppliers in Antwerp and London. Without a website, without the qualification from the GIA , no one took me seriously. I studied gemology with the GIA in London to get that level of credibility.
The diamond business is all about trust. At the start everything was prepaid, now it’s all about credit. If I let down one supplier, it’s a very close-knit community – they all know each other.
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