For this meet the member we talk with Jackie Benson from Lance James the Jewellers in Hertford.
To start – can you give us a little background on yourself and your company.
I’m Jackie Benson, a professional jeweller, and passionate about jewellery! I own Lance James the Jewellers in Hertford. I graduated in 1995 and opened my shop in 2006. I’ve been a member of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths for 9 years.
Can you provide me with a description of your business?
At Lance James, we make sure our customers get exactly what they want. Our customers can speak directly to a trained jeweller rather than a sales person. Some jewellers say ‘you can’t have that’ or ‘we’re not doing that’ and can come across in a slightly snobbish way.
My team and I always offer best advice, even if that means potentially losing business. Sometimes we may recommend that a customer doesn’t do something but, unlike some other jewellers, we always explain what we are saying, and ultimately will be happy to follow our customers’ wishes.
How long have you been in business? In this business? In other businesses?
I opened Lance James in 2006, having spent 2 ½ years working with Lance James himself at his first shop in Brentwood. I’d always dreamed of opening my own shop, and having trained with Lance I asked if I could go and work with him. I loved his whole ethos, brand, customer focus and new way of displaying jewellery.
Once I was ready to open my own shop, I realised that trying to recreate what was already exactly what I wanted seemed to be a waste of time. Lance and I came to an arrangement which works a little like a franchise.
How did you get started in this business?
I studied in Kent at the Institute of Art and design with an HND in precious metals and specialised in becoming a trained Goldsmith. I graduated in 1995 and went straight ‘to the bench’ as a stone-mounter. 2½ years later I joined a Trade precious metals supplier where I set up a gemstone division, buying in stones and running the department for 7 years before working with Lance in Brentwood. In 2006 I fulfilled my dream of opening my own store.
What you consider your biggest achievement so far?
My biggest achievement has definitely been opening my own shop in Hertford! I spent months trying to find the right premises. Every Wednesday on my day off I’d drive out to different places. Once I’d visited Hertford I really liked the feel of the town – it has a good mix of independent retailers and not too many big chain stores. I decided it was the place for me.
It took me 3 weeks to completely refit the store, coordinate all the trades, and finally open the door to customers. I really felt it was a great achievement.
Could you describe one of your typical workdays for me?
I can honestly say two days are never the same! We spend the first 20-30 mins getting stock out of the safe and putting it out in store and windows. Sometimes we have a team talk before we open on any of the challenges we might have, and plan for our day,
Depending on what client jobs I’ve got to do, I either sit at computer and design on CAD, or sit at my workbench and design or repair something. Just today I’m working on a really chunky silver bangle which is the third day I’ve spent working on it just to get it into the right shape! It’s a gift from a daughter to her father and they’ve designed it together to get just what they want.
Some days might involve me going out networking and of course talking to customers about bespoke designs, or meet wedding couples to talk about their special rings.
What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
Delegating! I love what I do and love being hands on, but as the store has grown and the team has grown, I’ve had to learn that I can’t do everything!
What do find most enjoyable?
I still get a real buzz out of making jewellery, and answering a customer’s brief. Working out what the customer wants, deciding together what is going to be made, the satisfaction of making exactly what they want and seeing the smile on their face when they see the finished product makes everything worthwhile.
How many hours do you work in a typical week?
40 hours in the shop and usually a few hours three times a week at home in the evenings, plus wedding fairs on Sundays 6 months of the year. Thinking about it is 24/7!
Which seasons of the year are toughest in your job?
As you might imagine December is by far our busiest, especially the three weeks before Christmas! You might think January is quieter – it is in the shop, but the wedding fair season kicks off and I’m usually at a fair every weekend in January and February.
Whom do you seek advice from for your business? Who has been the biggest influence in your work life?
Lance James and his wife Julia; Lance set up his first shop in Brentwood with his wife Julia. I most regularly ask advice from both of them - Lance for the craft side and Julia for the business side.
It’s hard to think of one single person who has been the biggest influence in my life. I inherited a really strong work ethic from my parents. My mum ran her own business from when I was quite young and my Dad was always very hard working.
I got my first job aged 13 and have always been driven 100% to achieve whatever I set out to do. Lance was the catalyst for me wanting my own store, and my husband and business partner Andrew has been my strongest supporter and given me confidence that I can achieve success.
Does your business have a stated mission statement? If so, what is it?
At Lance James, our entire philosophy is to delight the customer, and give them exactly what they want – the perfect piece of jewellery to celebrate their perfect special occasion.
The atmosphere in store is friendly and approachable and we consider that no commission is too big, too small or too complicated.
Do you have employees? How many?
2 full time and Andrew works in the business 2 or 3 days a week.
What can you tell us about your business that not many other people know? (this can be changed so that we can ask the member to “teach” something to the reader about their area of expertise).
Because we are jewellers, our staff training has to include some more unusual courses.
My team has to be prepared for our store being targeted for robbery! We attend training courses run by an ex Police Officer who uses actors to put us in a robbery situation. We are then asked to describe what the robber was wearing, what they looked like. They will run one scenario and ask everyone to answer their observation questions.
They then teach us observation skills, which would help Police with their identification. This could include where they come up to against the door (not how tall), were they wearing glasses, what were they wearing on their feet etc.
They run the scenario again and test us to see how much more we’ve observed. Their main emphasis is on us putting ourselves in a safe position and teach us not to try and be a hero.
What do you do for fun?
Tap dancing and gardening. My next project is a She Shed!
To conclude – tell us about you in 140 characters or less…
Down to earth, friendly and approachable, customer focused, passionate about jewellery. Being part of our customers’ special memories is a real privilege.
Member since: 11th March 2014
My name is Victoria Hunter and I'm a true Hertford person - I went to school in Hertford and grew up here. I understand the importance of bringing trusted businesses and the community together, and believe...