'I've run 27 businesses in total' - Steve Bennett, Genuine Gemstone Company

How I beat the odds: The Genuine Gemstone Company founder has sold everything from wine to software, but he's hit the jackpot with gems.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 27 Mar 2015

I started Gems TV in 2004 but I sold out two years later. I had gone into partnership with our biggest supplier, which was based in Thailand, and we fell out. The new owners then floated the company on the stock market in Singapore and at one point the market cap was well over $1bn. But things started to go wrong: they expanded too quickly, the share price kept dropping and their losses increased.

I approached them and said I'd buy the UK business back. In June 2010, my wife and I remortgaged our house and borrowed a lot of money from the banks to raise the £3m needed. Everyone thought we were mad - the company was losing £500,000 a month at the time.

But we believed in the business. We refocused the brand and brought it back to selling only genuine gemstones, whereas the previous owners had moved into costume jewellery and cheaper stones. We cut back on overheads, changed the management team and turned Genuine Gemstones around. We turned over just under £100m this year and some £3.5m of that was profit.

It's very much a family business run by me, my wife and my brother - and my 23-year-old son has just joined too. In business, people jump into partnerships too early and that was the mistake I made the first time around. If you think about getting married, you check each other out first. In business, too many of us jump in too quickly.

I won't say partnerships don't work, but they are tricky, although clearly I didn't fully learn my lesson because we tried to partner again in Germany a year ago and lost a lot of money when it didn't work out.

We sell through three TV channels and our website, although we're also looking at concessions to give us a retail front. Not only do we have a UK TV presence, we also broadcast in America 24 hours a day. We have 400 permanent employees in the UK, although this rises during the busy seasons. The number is so high because we don't outsource any part of the business. Everything from the call centre to the warehouse is managed in-house. There's also a big workforce in Jaipur, India, where all our jewellery is made.

Raw minerals and fossils have been a fascination since school, although I got into the business quite late. My brother and I started with our own mail-order business and later set up a software company, which we sold to Great Universal Stores in 2000 for a good amount. We've run 27 businesses in total.

With hindsight, I would have done millions of things differently, but I never regret the decisions I made. I probably still would have done the first Gemstone partnership because that was really what got us going. But I wouldn't have partnered in Germany.

I lost £7m when I tried to do a wine shopping channel, which was a really stupid thing to do because it's difficult to sell a product that people like to taste before buying. We got it horribly wrong, but you learn far more from your mistakes than you do from your successes, because they're more painful.

I've made a pledge to everybody that Genuine Gemstones is the final business venture for me. We love what we do and we recently acquired our own gemstone mines.

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