The week before opening my new shop was hectic. I flew down to Melbourne to purchase stock with my remaining money. With a limited budget it was a difficult exercise. I not only needed stock but a selection of display stands and of course presentation boxes and bags to put sales in.
I had been buying a little bit of opal jewellery from Ziggi Kiefer. Ziggi was a wholesaler and later opened a retail jewellery store in Melbourne. (His daughter still runs it). He was absolutely a tremendous help to me. He spent two full days, taking me around what he considered the best suppliers in Melbourne. He knew most of the owners of these businesses and made it a point of getting me the best deals and ensuring that any further business would see me “looked after”.
I then drove to Sydney for a day and visited several wholesalers to fill some of the remaining gaps in my stock.
With all the accumulated treasures the last couple of days were spent arranging these to best entice future customers. In hindsight I can describe my stock as “sparse”. Importantly, I had nice stock, of good quality, and a little different to what was main stream. Most of my display cases had more space then stock and I had not a single piece in backup, other then rocks and crystals I had found over the years.
The night before opening I invited friends and anyone who had helped along the way to a preview. We had a fantastic party and I drank much too much champagne. The results of that were only nullified by adrenalin on opening day.
My bank account had less then a hundred dollars in it, my wallet was empty, I owed my dad considerable money but finally the dream was reached and my new business ‘MINESHAFT’ was open for trade.
The first few weeks were a blur. We had a lot of customers as they were all keen to explore the new center. Almost everyone who entered the complex for the first few weeks came in and checked us out. I had no idea what to expect. I knew how much I had to sell to remain viable and that was the only concern. Each time an item of stock was sold a replacement or sometimes two was immediately ordered.
Luckily, there was no other jewellery store in the complex. We quickly became ‘Jack of all trades’ and took in jewellery and watch repairs and anything else that could generate revenue. I would deliver the repairs to a local goldsmith and a watch repair guy on the way home and pick them up on the way to work. I started to design customer’s jewellery and sent these down to Ziggi who had an extremely good goldsmith. It was all a learning curve that had to be learned instantly.
The challenge was to identify areas that could generate sales and head in those directions as quickly as possible. I believed Canberra with its’ embassies and diplomats presented a good opportunity for the sale of opal. I sent letters to all of these, telling them that Mineshaft stocked opal. I remember vividly the first large sale of opal jewellery we had. The immaculately dressed gentleman asked if I could show him four nice opal pendants. I only had four, so undeterred I got them out and placed them in front of the diplomat. I told him these were the best four opal pendants I had, going on to explain their virtues. Luckily he was very happy with these and didn’t need to see any more. He threw me off guard by asking for my best discount. This was going to be the biggest sale in my short retail career so I cut my profit down to a minimum. When he opened his wallet I barely made an impact on the wad of $50 notes it contained. First lesson learnt well!!!
My dad, Cynthia and Anne’s mum would come and help from time to time. My dad, being a retired headmaster, needed people to talk to so he would entertain the customers with idle chit-chat. Sometimes he would follow a new customer in and when they looked at an item he would say “If these people don’t want this piece could you put it aside and I will come and get it later.” Inevitably the customer sensing the competition would buy the object. I think my dad found this entertaining. Anne’s mum loved working in the shop and simply being with people. Living in the bush she rarely had reason to come to town so this gave her life a little spice.
Our opal sales were continuing to grow so I decided to make a trip to Queensland and find a supplier of Boulder opal. I headed for Quilpie and when there asked around for opal dealers and cutters. This led to meeting Des Burton.
Des Burton is an icon of the boulder opal industry and is hugely responsible for the resurgence of boulder opal mining in the 60’s and 70’s particularly around Quilpie. His processing shed I will long remember. Leaning up against the fence were giant walls of assembled boulder opal mosaics about two meters by a meter.