For someone who inhabits a seemingly glamorous world where high-end jewellery meets TV broadcasting, Debby Cavill is remarkably down to earth. Her offices occupy a part of Birmingham that would have quite probably been familiar to the Peaky Blinders, amidst a part-Victorian, part-1920s style of buildings in Digbeth. Inside, away from the surrounding inner-city Birmingham where engineering works live next to canalside restoration, it is white walls, roof-light ceilings, minimalist furniture – and television studios.
For 15 hours a day, the jewellery TV shopping channel that Cavill created – Rocks & Co. – broadcasts across the UK on Sky and other satellite stations. But the TV channel’s team of ten presenters are not the stars of the show, important though they are in establishing trust. The ‘star’ accolade goes to the items of jewellery that each day capture the hearts of thousand of viewers looking for something special at prices, the company claims, are ‘below cost’.
It’s a commercial model that professors of business schools might well describe as ‘disruptive innovation’. Certainly, it’s helping to change a trade that Cavill describes as traditional – where “things are done that way because they have always been done that way”. And she should know – for she was born into the jewellery trade and it has featured in her life ever since.
“My father was a jewellery agent representing several of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter manufacturers,” she recalls. “He later worked for the family-run business of Centre Jewellery – perhaps best known for their diamond jewellery. My mother also worked in the trade for KE Rowles – a Jewellery Quarter business that sadly, like so many others, is no more.
“From an early age, gemstones, silver and gold were a part of my life which helped fuel my interest in jewellery design and manufacturing techniques.”
Weekends and holidays – when not at Joseph Leckie School, in Walsall – were spent working with her family and friends in the trade within the Jewellery Quarter, concentrated on Caroline Street and Vyse Street. When older, Cavill attended jewellery shows across the country listening to and taking note of what most interested the buyers and which designs were most appealing.
It was to prove a formative experience: “Jewellery design has always fascinated me. I hope I was not too forward – but I was always happy to give an opinion on new designs for jewellery. Indeed, it was the seasoned professionals in the trade that really gave me an insight and sparked my interest.”
Whilst jewellery has been central to her life, Cavill has also embarked on several other ventures away from the trade. Her CV reveals time as a British team gymnast, as a model
(legs and swimwear), as a member of cabin crew with Britannia Airways – and presenting
on Birmingham’s first commercial radio station, BRMB.
“I hadn’t actually intended to. A friend entered me into a competition called ‘Search for a Star’ on BRMB with the prize of becoming a host. I ended up presenting travel during the Breakfast Show – ‘Cavill on Travel’ became part of the Les Ross Breakfast Show. It was great fun – and it introduced me to the world of broadcasting and of production. I helped support two outside broadcasts of the hugely-popular Parties in the Park.”
Not that radio presenting was Cavill’s sole ‘other’ job. At the age of 22, she took over what was then a failing gift shop in Sutton Coldfield. Being self-employed enabled her to accommodate the needs of her young daughter who, more often than not, she took to work with her.
“It taught me many lessons – particularly with money. I shudder when I think of the interview with the bank manager who said firmly to me: ‘You have £5,000 guaranteed by your father; don’t you dare lose it.’ He really hauled me over the coals and made sure I accounted for every penny.”
Once she’d turned the business around, Cavill sold it and instead turned her attention to catering – sandwiches to be precise. “The truth is, I was driven by the needs of my children,” she admits. “I was trying to recover from a marital split and there was the need to look after my children whilst still earning. So I made sandwiches while they slept and sold them to businesses between 11am and 1pm when the children were at school.
“It wasn’t easy – but demand grew and in 1998, after several years of growth, I was able to sell up. That was the great thing about sandwiches; I had a customer base but the business was not dependent on me.”
The allure of jewellery, however, was never far away, and Cavill recognised that retailing was changing and if she was to return to jewellery, she needed other experience. As a consequence, she got a job with Jungle.com – at the time, the UK’s second largest online retailer.
“It gave me the opportunity to discover how e-commerce could be utilised to develop business ideas – and it led to my co-founding a new venture in conjunction with other entrepreneurs in their field. It was called Gems TV and we launched in 2004.
“We were at the cutting edge of jewellery retailing – the very first specialist jewellery TV channel in the UK. Meanwhile, there were other business challenges that appealed: property development and a wellness retreat – and in due course, I came up with a different jewellery retail formula.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, given her family roots and the support they have offered, it was family to whom she turned for advice on her new concept. “I wanted to create a business that was different to other jewellery TV shopping channels, concentrating on retailing high-end jewellery using some of the world’s finest gemstones, and with our own design and manufacturing facilities. It was to be called Rocks & Co. and I first sought the opinions of my mum and dad.”
Rocks & Co. is now part of elumeo SE, a European leader in the electronic retailing of fine jewellery. The company manufactures in Chanthaburi, Thailand, a major hub in the gem trade. And Cavill, now aged 53, is proud that she has “developed close working relationships” with trading partners across the world that gives her access to some of the finest gemstones for her jewellery designs. She also trades gems that don’t quite make the grade her own jewellery requires.
“By controlling every element of production, we pass substantial savings on to our customers whether on the Rocks & Co. TV shopping channel or online. Every item has a certificate of authenticity and all precious metals are assayed independently, normally at Birmingham Assay Office.”
Rocks & Co. first broadcast in 2008, and sales have increased year-on-year. But do consumers really trust buying jewellery online, or from TV? Annual revenues of more than £20m would indicate so – as do the online reviews.
“Our presenters are important. They are the human face of the business but also qualified and highly knowledgeable,” says Cavill, who continues to enjoy her particular passion – jewellery design.
One of the most successful slots in the daily schedule is ‘Creation of the day’ that’s broadcast each evening at 6pm. Cavill, who lives in Stratford-upon-Avon, is personally responsible for the designs: pendants, rings, necklaces and earrings. Her own collection is highly sought after and is made to order in the gold colour – yellow, rose or white – and the ring-size of the customer’s choice.
Family continues to play a big part. Her son, Toby, is managing director – “Toby speaks fluent Thai, which proves useful with our overseas interests.” Her daughter, Cherry, is the lead presenter and her mum, Dilys, now works in the company’s call centre talking knowledgeably to customers, answering any queries and giving advice. Altogether, Rocks & Co. employs 62 staff.
“In the call centre, you get to speak to customers direct and it’s a great training ground and introduction to the business. It’s where most of our people start – and my mum loves it! But we have a family rule – a pact – we don’t speak business on family occasions.”
Rocks & Co., says Cavill, is helping to break the “jewellery mould”. She says: “There’s nothing wrong with bricks and mortar jewellery retailing, but how many times do you go into a jewellery store? Once, maybe twice a year? TV has made jewellery accessible. It enables consumers to buy impeccable quality at a price that is unachievable elsewhere.
“We still aim to provide a personal service. We speak to a good many customers through our call centre. We monitor and respond to what we read about ourselves online. It’s a competitive sector. You have to win on all fronts if you are going to succeed.
“It’s not all been rosy. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that failure of a plan or an idea is not a bad thing. You can learn more from it than you ever can from success. And there’s nothing wrong with adjusting a business plan. You have to be flexible, dynamic and innovative in this day and age, and when I feel inspired, hopefully that reflects to our customers.”
Rocks & Co. broadcasts on Sky 672 from 8am to 11pm, Freeview 40 from 1pm to 11pm, and Freesat 814 from 8am to 11pm.