A worldwide market for quality gemstones and opals always existed, but it took a creative approach from companies like Gem Rock Auctions to seamlessly connect buyers and sellers. Wayne Sedawie, founder and CEO of Gem Rock Auctions, always figured there had to be a better way to buy fine jewelry, gemstones and other fine accessories. Sedawie created a specialized auction environment specializing in gems and jewelry – similar to the online marketplace eBay, but with singular focus on a few products – and Gem Rock Auctions has never looked back.
Today, Gem Rock Auctions is one of the fastest-growing online auction sites in the world. The company’s innovative approach and customer-first culture helped Gem Rock Auctions connections with gem stores and jewelry outlets in more than 20 countries around the globe.
We spoke with Sedawie about the uber-competitive online gem industry, how he’s learned from past mistakes, where Gem Rock Auctions is headed, and many other subjects.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
In 2001 I went to the Las Vegas Gemstone show to sell opals. I was an opal cutter from Australia at the time. While I was at the show, I met a founding partner of an online auction website. He approached each store to buy all their stock. We had several coffees, and he gave me the idea to start an auction website for my opals instead of traveling to trade shows to sell my Opals. He encouraged me to start, but I knew nothing about the internet so I had to start learning. I was so busy chatting to people that I didn’t sell an opal at that show. It was my best show ever because I learned so much and it set me up for the adventure that I was about to begin.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to become an entrepreneur?
Always have high goals and ambitions and never give up. I have tried many businesses over my life including selling cane furniture, insurance, opal mining, opal cutting and selling and finally creating two of the biggest gemstone and opal website on the Internet. Always be open to new opportunities even if they have nothing to do with what you are currently working on. Imagine going from cane salesman to Opal cutter.
The budget for survival income. When things go wrong, and they will, cash flow is so important. So many businesses crash when things get tough.
Where do you see your business in 10 years?
At our present rate of growth of 45%, we expect to hit 100 million dollars in annual sales in ten years. Our site will be the world’s leading website for our products that provide a safe and secure platform for buying luxury goods.
Our Verified Sellers program and our unique ‘Gemstone Sheriff’ programs are now more important and vital than when started ten years ago. Buyer confidence is still the most important part of our business.
I’m excited to see how advances in technology will help my business. Visual technologies such as Virtual Reality, live streaming and interaction are all very exciting concepts.
How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Our business is all about trust. The best way to build trust is to educate. When a customer is looking to buy a luxury product like a gemstone they want to know that company they are buying from is legitimate.
Our marketing activity involves lots of article writing, explaining what to look for when buying certain gemstones, what different technical terms mean and even how rough gemstones are transformed into faceted gemstones.
In recent times the use of video has really exploded, which has been great for us because we can visually show our customers the differences in gemstones. It has also made it easier for us to educate our customers.
Paid advertising works well for us when it is visual. Facebooks dynamic product ads and googles product ads work well because when a customer looks at one of our 90,000 gemstones it is continually surfaced to them in Facebook and on the Google display network. This evokes a passion response and leads to high conversion rate.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
When we started, we looked to third-party companies for help. We found that everyone was an expert who claimed to increase our sales by 50%. However, the reality was that they would only increase a few percent and continue to be expensive. It taught our internal team that we needed to learn what there was to know about internet marketing, SEO and website architecture before reaching out for help. 2016 was the first time five years that we sought external help. We feel as though we found a great company to work with, Ignite Visibility.
Our biggest technical problem has been the servers. It was challenging finding a company who could handle an auction style website. There are millions of calls to the database on an auction based website and even today we are pushing the limits of our current provider.
In 2008 our sites crashed. We had a poor backup solution, so we had to invest in moving everything over the USA. This crash cost the company sales, downtime and customers. Our quick “band-aid” solution cost the company six months of low sales that year.
Today, our sites get 2.8 million web requests per day, which is just under 32 per second, so we never underestimate the importance of server and backup systems.
It took us a long time to understand the flow of our customers to our site and how long it took to make a sale. Our products are all unique so customers would looks at our website, then come back on average 17 times before making a purchase. We underestimated the impact of paid advertising to help get sales over the line.
How does your company provide innovation within your industry?
We have several different programs that we run that set us apart.
- Our Verified Sellers Program. While we have multiple sellers from all over the world selling on our website, each one must go through a strict process to be approved. We only approve sellers who are in the industry, who have passion and knowledge for gemstones and who want to help grow our business together. Our verified sellers are industry oriented sellers, which helps us get recognition of our industry-leading opal and gemstone sites.
- No Synthetics, Fakes or Imitations. When our sellers join us, they agree only to sell natural gemstones. We have never had a synthetic, fake or imitation gemstone sold on our website and we have sold over 250,000 gemstones. We’re proud of that accomplishment, and it’s one reason why we’ve gained trust in this industry in such a short amount of time.
- Gemstone Sheriff Program. This is an industry first. The gemstone sheriff program allows customer to click a button on any item and request a ‘Gemstone Sheriff audit’. Once that button is clicked, a panel of gemologists are notified to review the listing. This program is important to verify the integrity of our website and give customers peace of mind when purchasing from us.
- All the above programs create a level playing field for both gemstone sellers and buyers to compare gemstones, which is unheard of in the industry as all other platforms have both natural and fake gemstones mixed in together.
Mr. Sedawie’s persistence, passion and creative business acumen are qualities than business leaders everywhere would do well to emulate. Check out Gem Rock Auctions by visiting their website. The company offers a $10 discount with a free registered account.
Thanks again to Mr. Sedawie for taking the time to speak with us – and make sure you check back with Innovative Company for more interviews with today’s most accomplished executives!