JOANNE OOI

CO-FOUNDER OF ON­LINE JEW­ELLERY RE­TAILER PLUKKA

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Q&A -

I have been liv­ing in Hong Kong for the past 20 years but I am an Amer­i­can. My en­tire ca­reer, ex­cept for one pe­riod where I founded an en­vi­ron­men­tal not­for-profit [Ooi was CEO of the Clean Air Net­work], has been about lux­ury goods, fash­ion, mar­ket­ing. When I was at the NGO, through a board mem­ber I met Jai Waney, who I founded Plukka with. He loved what I had done at Shang­hai Tang [Ooi was cre­ative di­rec­tor at the in­ter­na­tional cloth­ing re­tailer] and he watched me do a lot of brand-build­ing in Asia. He wanted to start a busi­ness.

We wanted to do some­thing that had a dis­rup­tive busi­ness model with man­u­fac­tur­ing as a cen­tral pil­lar of the busi­ness. We are based in Hong Kong and that is the epi­cen­tre of the world’s man­u­fac­tur­ing. We didn’t know what prod­uct cat­e­gory to plant our flag in and by chance I met a woman who is now our busi­ness di­rec­tor [Elle Hill], and she ba­si­cally turned on us to how screwed up the whole jew­ellery in­dus­try was. She ex­plained that a ring from a well-known de­signer brand that sells for $US900 ($1300) retail ac­tu­ally costs about $US45 to make. We just looked at each other and thought Eureka! This is the right prod­uct cat­e­gory for us be­cause it is clearly very in­ef­fi­cient and opaque to the con­sumer. That is why we went into it.

Only 12 per cent of the jew­ellery in­dus­try is owned by big brands. That is re­ally star­tling. The rest is all th­ese in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers and de­sign­ers. The whole in­dus­try is ex­tremely frag­mented, like the fash­ion in­dus­try was 20 years ago. To open a bou­tique in Lon­don or New York or Hong Kong as a jew­eller, you are go­ing to have to spend at least $US2 mil­lion just to make suf­fi­cient jew­ellery in­ven­tory. Then you have to deal with the store fitout and the lease. Most im­por­tantly, you are a not a fa­mous brand in that lo­cal mar­ket so you have to have enough money to spend on mar­ket­ing for at least three years to brand your­self. You may not re­coup your costs for a long time. Th­ese jewellers don’t have the back­ing of LVMH or any other big com­pany. If you don’t have that back­ing, it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to make an im­pact on a new mar­ket in this day and age.

Plukka has a multi-brand dis­play of jew­ellery de­sign­ers from around the world. Jewellers give us in­ven­tory on con­sign­ment. We do all the heavy lift­ing on mar­ket­ing, we PR it to death, we do

the ad­ver­tis­ing. They can be­come vis­i­ble and well-known in new mar­kets with­out hav­ing to lose their shirts. That is why our busi­ness model has been called the fu­ture of fine jew­ellery retail.

We rep­re­sent more than 60 de­sign­ers. I sign a new de­signer a week be­cause they want this global dis­tri­bu­tion that I give them. We are the only com­pany of our type. Our busi­ness model re­ally un­leashes their cre­ativ­ity for the world to see.

I grad­u­ated from law school and didn’t want to be­come a cor­po­rate lawyer in New York. I was in Hong Kong vis­it­ing my then boyfriend and fell in love with the place. So I came out on va­ca­tion and ended up work­ing in a gar­ment buy­ing of­fice. Then by sheer chance — it’s a very Hong Kong story — I met a friend of French shoe de­signer Stephane Kelian, and he was look­ing for some­one to head up sales and mar­ket­ing in Asia. I met him one day and the next day I was on the plane to Paris. I couldn’t speak French at the time but sub­se­quently be­came flu­ent be­cause I had to man­age this com­pany.

I was charged with whole­sal­ing and mar­ket­ing their brand in Asia. I learnt by the seat of my pants the en­tire lux­ury goods dis­tri­bu­tion in­dus­try. And in the process de­vel­oped a very big Rolodex of the all the top lux­ury re­tail­ers in Asia, through a very steep learn­ing curve. One thing led to an­other. My life has been pretty much a pin-ball ma­chine within the lux­ury goods in­dus­try ever since.

We started Plukka as an on­li­neonly busi­ness. To mar­ket the site, we showed the jew­ellery to a group of women in per­son and they freaked out over how beau­ti­ful it was and we thought, maybe we just can­not have a pure on­line brand. Maybe we need to bring the goods to the con­sumer. That is what led to the open­ing of our first pop-up bou­tique, which was so suc­cess­ful, we made it a per­ma­nent bou­tique [in Hong Kong].

We de­cided by that time that jew­ellery should be sold in a brick­sand-mor­tar en­vi­ron­ment. We an­tic­i­pate open­ing six bou­tiques be­fore the end of 2017. We have also launched a view-on-de­mand ser­vice in cer­tain coun­tries.

A lead in­vestor who is ex­tremely ex­pe­ri­enced rec­om­mended we list on the Aus­tralian stock ex­change. It has brought us a to­tal dif­fer­ent level of vis­i­bil­ity. It creates an im­me­di­ate halo of le­git­i­macy and trust.

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