In your own words, Matt, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I grew up around the jewelry industry my entire life. The business is three generations old, not counting me. But it was always my plan that I would never work in the jewelry industry, that I would break the mold and do something different. I worked as a chef for 5 years. But as soon as I left the restaurant industry, I decided to give the jewelry business a shot. I figured, “Why not?” It turned out to be a very natural fit. I worked with my family for 6 years, acquired a lot of industry knowledge, got certified with several different major agencies around the United States. And I decided that I wanted more than just the big retail box experience. I liked the one-on-one interaction but I don’t like that big retail business model. It’s very overhead-heavy and volume-driven. I’d rather give a more personal experience to five clients than breeze through 100 clients. That led me to start my own business as Baton Rouge’s only private jeweler.
I have an old friend who’s an entrepreneur, and he always used to say, “You have to pass the alarm clock test every morning.” No matter what you do, when that alarm clock goes off, you’ve got to get out of bed and find something that drives or inspires you to do it. What drives you?
I took a leap of faith doing this. The reasons that motivated me to start the business are not the same reasons I get out of bed every morning and go to work now. During that first month it was very difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Now I know I can do it. I look at what’s out there in the market that can be captured, and how unique the business model is to this area. Failure’s not an option for me. Also, I really enjoy what I do. I love working with people. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I couldn’t sit in a cubicle or behind a desk. I’ve got to be interacting with people on a day-to-day basis.
What factors do you find to be critical in succeeding as an entrepreneur?
Networking, networking and more networking. Especially with what I’m doing, being a one-man operation. You have to get out there and show face for it. You can’t just sit in your office and wait for your phone to ring. It’s just not going to happen. You have to get out there and expose yourself to the community. Something I never had the opportunity to do at Patton’s is reach out to the community. I couldn’t devote time to it and do these different things to put my face out there. That’s something I’ve really tried to take advantage of is networking.
What networks have you found to be useful for you?
Obviously, BNI has been really successful. But I’ve been in it for four years, and it has been more successful since I founded my business than in the three years I was in it with Patton’s. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with my outlook on what I need to get out of BNI, but then it also has to do with the time I’ve devoted to it outside of work. Forum 35 is another one I’m becoming involved in. I joined 2 months ago, visited a couple of their events last year. It’s not as business-oriented networking as much as it is social networking. It just kind of helps me establish myself with other young entrepreneurs around the community. So I would say for anybody that’s a young professional or entrepreneur, Forum 35 would be a good one just for the social aspect.
Which of your personal attributes do you think are the biggest factors in your success?
Industry knowledge is the biggest one. There seems to be a lot of mystique around the jewelry business. People don’t really understand how it works or where diamonds come from or how I get the inventory. I worked with my family’s business for 6 years. I was a buyer, so I was responsible for about $6 million worth of inventory. I had these one-on-one relationships with these suppliers, and I dealt with them on a daily basis. When I left to go out on my own, I struggled to get accounts with these people with my new business. People are very unwilling to do business with new companies in the jewelry industry. Having that knowledge of the jewelry business really helped me get in the door with suppliers. I’d also have to say my ability to interact with people. I watched my grandfather do it, my dad do it. I consider my dad to be one of the best salespeople I know. I don’t even think of him as a salesperson – he wants to be a client’s friend. Friendship first, sales second. If you’re in it just to make money, you’ll never be as successful as you really can be. You’ve got to take care of the client first.