A Conversation with Susan Coram-Stanley

A lot of people in the world run their own businesses and since beginning this website I have been enjoying meeting some of them and hearing their stories. What I have found is, the story behind the story, is the most interesting part. Why do people start their business? What drives them? The ‘Why?’ for everyone is different. It was really a pleasure to meet Susan, Paul and Devon. Their ‘Why?’ is their love for their son, Koby, which has led to KJdesigns Handstamped Jewellery being a business with heart, run with genuine passion.

Susan and her partner Paul both had children from a previous relationship but they decided they would like to have a child together. However, they were told due to Susan being 40 years of age, they would need assistance to conceive. “We decided as we already had children we wouldn’t go down that path, because we didn’t want to become the couple that was all about having a baby,” explains Susan.

So they were thrilled when, against the odds, Susan became pregnant naturally. They looked forward to welcoming their new baby to their family.

Just over halfway through the pregnancy things went wrong and they suffered the indescribable, tragic loss of their precious baby son, who arrived stillborn on November 18th 2011. They named him Koby James.

“Dealing with losing Koby was really, really hard. In my search for something to honour and commemorate his short life, I came across the hand stamped jewellery. I really liked it and especially the idea of having his name on something. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone in New Zealand who made it. So I decided to make it myself.”

Susan tells me she has always been creative, enjoying many hobbies including making mosaics. She had always wanted to work from home, but never really knew what she wanted to do.

“Koby inspired me to start my own business. Not just that, he inspired me to see what I really wanted in life, what is important to me, and to go for it. KJdesigns is not just a business, it’s my passion. I love it. I love making things, designing things, meeting people, I love all of it. I love the fact that it enables me to say Koby’s name so much, and for others to as well. I love that it enables me to remember him in a physical way.”

Susan has been running KJdesigns Handstamped Jewellery for nearly four and a half years now. The business quickly took off and grew organically from strength to strength as more people discovered her beautiful jewellery and the personalised element resonated with her customers.

“The first product that I made was one that I don’t make anymore. They were beaded bracelets, with little name tags on them. But the holes of the beads were so tiny and my eyesight isn’t good enough for that now. Then I started making the pendants.”

Today Susan’s product range is extensive including jewellery, keyrings, bookmarks, cutlery, wine glass charms and gifts suitable for all occasions.

Although she has listed her products on online shopping directories Felt, Discover Me and The Hive, she primarily sells her jewellery through her own website, and rarely attends markets, with the exception of the Twilight Market in Leamington, Cambridge.

“I did a few markets in the beginning, but we were undertaking fertility treatment to conceive another baby at the time, which was a financial and emotional drain on us both, so I didn’t want to commit too much to doing markets on an ongoing basis.”

Susan recalls a time she came home from a market where she had been standing in the rain for six hours and only made $100. When she got home she discovered $200 worth of orders on her website!

The couple’s fertility treatment was successful and their son Devon is now an adorable and engaging two and a half year old. The day he was born was significant to their family for another reason too. It was the day that Susan’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Susan has added a pendant to her range with the inscription ‘Forget me not’ in honour of her mother and others suffering from this debilitating disease. Customers can have the heart in the centre of the pendant engraved with a loved one’s name. Susan donates ten dollars from the sale of all Forget Me Not pendants to Alzheimers New Zealand.

Her altruistic kindness does not stop there. Every year Susan creates pendants hand-stamped with tiny footprints – one pendant for every month since Koby was born. She donates them all to the hospital, to give to parents who are experiencing their own baby loss. This year there will be sixty pendants.

Susan’s advice to anyone starting a creative business is to have a plan and follow it.

“Get systems in place from the beginning and in particular setting up your website straight away saves a lot of time in the long run.”

This year she has been doing a small business management course, which she wishes she had done sooner. In a recent course assignment she had to predict her business forecast and in doing so she realised it was soon going to be necessary to take someone on to help in the business. Currently Susan’s daily routine sees her working six hours during the day, in two three-hour stints and spending more time in the evening working on the administration tasks.

“The only reason I am coping with the workload right now is because Paul has been off work since November due to a shoulder injury,” Susan explains.

Paul’s work as a hydrologist requires him to do physical work, climbing in and out of rivers all day.

“It’s looking like he won’t be able to go back to that, so he may join me in the business as a partner. I find it hard to let go of it, but I feel more comfortable letting Paul be that person who I share it with. It’s a delicate balance, especially when you are combining a relationship and a business relationship. We think having clearly defined roles within the business will address that balance,” Susan tells me.

“I will continue making the baby loss and personalised pieces because I have a passion for those and Paul will do the key rings, cutlery and more of the admin work. It’s important for each person to feel they are contributing,” she says.

Recently Susan has been working in collaboration with another local businesswoman called Nicola from Little Olive Tree. Nicola has made beautiful soy scented candles and Susan has personalised each one with the addition of a hand-stamped disc. These newly-released memorial candles are for the baby loss community, but the pair are also bringing out a more general range for their other customers.

To see the full range of Susan’s gorgeous work visit her website www.kjdesigns.net.nz or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/KobyJames.designs