As an entrepreneur and natural innovator, Alison Cooper finds creative solutions to gaps in the market. She has successfully founded and scaled several businesses. Having sold En Route International, her £40m leading airline on-board service company, to dnata (part of The Emirates Group) in 2017, she went on to create Alicia J Diamonds. Alison noticed that clients who wanted to buy a high-quality diamond engagement ring didn’t know where to start or who to trust, and that many jewellers weren’t offering good advice or value for money. Alicia J stepped in to solve that problem with a personal bespoke online jewellery service. Alison is also involved with helping young women step into business, via The Prince’s Trust Women Supporting Women initiative.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I spent 15 years building an onboard food solutions company for the aviation industry – En Route International – and sold it to dnata (part of the Emirates group) in 2017. After I left, I wanted to do something different, and started Alicia J Diamonds. I’ve always loved diamonds and gemstone jewellery. I used to spend a lot of my life travelling and would seek out wonderful jewellery in Dubai in particular. I trained as a diamond specialist and teamed up with international diamond experts and the company was born.
Alicia J is an online bespoke jeweller, but our USP is personal service. We offer consultations to design bespoke jewellery and also have a ready-to-wear collection available in our online shop. The jewellery world can be a mystery to many who are looking to buy diamonds and gemstones, particularly engagement rings. People don’t know where to start. We help them understand that there’s more to diamonds than carats, and together create the perfect personal piece.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
Friends and family have always asked me to source jewellery for them. They knew I had a good eye. Some of those people were my grown-up son’s friends who wanted to buy engagement rings. I realised that they really didn’t know what to look for or ask when buying a ring. So I helped them find the best diamonds, the best designs and the best prices. I realised that I could start a company that did that for many more people.
Some were sceptical that I could sell diamond jewellery online, but the pandemic proved that it’s worked brilliantly. We can still meet up with people in person, and use video calls and email to share jewellery designs and ideas. It’s a lovely process.
How did you achieve awareness?
I have invested in a great website and we are always marketing. We recently launched a wonderful ready-to-wear Bold Rings collection for those who want to shop off the shelf, and did some fun photography for that, which is all over our social media and website. We also hosted a Big Breakfast event to raise money for the Women Supporting Women initiative from The Prince’s Trust, in partnership with Coutts and with Daniel Galvin Jr. A percentage of the sale of our Bold Rings goes to the charity – and it’s been excellent for raising awareness of our collection, too.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
As an entrepreneur and investor, having sold my previous company, I am the main investor in Alicia J Diamonds.
What are the key successes?
We’ve definitely proven that you can successfully sell diamond jewellery online and still offer an attentive personal service.
I also think that because we inform all our buyers about what to look for when choosing gemstones, particularly diamonds, we have empowered people with knowledge. They will be much more informed if they want to buy gemstone jewellery again. And they feel more attached to the pieces they have bought and designed with us because of that knowledge and being involved in the process. My aim is to shine a light on how to source the best ethical gemstones.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
I underestimated how much time and effort we needed to put into photography and marketing, I think. Instagram constantly needs new images, with fresh takes and ideas. I came from a B2B business and I’m still learning about running a B2C business.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We are concentrating on building our online presence. In fact, we’ve just relaunched our wonderful website with a new shop. Our ready-to-wear collection of Bold Rings is proving popular, so we will expand the shop with more items.
For the future, we’re considering which international markets to target.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
You will always meet people who tell you all the negatives about why you shouldn’t do something. If your intuition says you should do something, don’t listen to those negatives. You can always make it work if you’re dedicated. There will be knockbacks and things that go wrong. You just have to say, ‘Okay, that didn’t work, but it’s part of the journey.’ Pick yourself up, decide not to make that mistake again and carry on. Learning from mistakes is part of the process. You will need lots of energy but it’s worth it.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Forget micromanaging and develop a policy of trust and empowerment within your team.
Have clarity on your vision and share the vision with your team.
Be authentic. Be real and treat your customers the same to create a loyal customer base.
Look outside your industry. Look at other industries and see what you can adopt.
Remember the fear of failure is natural, but don’t let it deter you and remain ambitious.
If you need investment on your entrepreneurial journey don’t accept money from investors that your intuition says you won’t get on with.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
It’s not a person, but I admire the Apple (https://www.instagram.com/apple/) brand. I love their products and their stores – the look and style of them. Everyone still seems to want their products.
In terms of people, I’m inspired by Jo Malone (https://www.instagram.com/jomalonecbe/). I love her products. Jo Malone is a fantastic brand and now she’s moved on to set up Jo Loves (https://www.instagram.com/jolovesofficial/), and I buy those products, too. I’ve followed her because I know I’ll enjoy what she produces – again, the look and style appeal to me.
Another one is Chrissie Rucker (https://www.instagram.com/chrissierucker/), who founded The White Company (https://www.instagram.com/thewhitecompany/). It’s a great brand that’s instantly recognisable with its own USP. She’s also involved with the Women Supporting Women initiative for The Prince’s Trust, a charity that we work with too. It’s an excellent initiative for young women who need a bit of extra help into work and education.
I know not everyone loves him, but I still admire Richard Branson (https://www.instagram.com/richardbranson). He’s not afraid to stand up to others. (I’m thinking of when Virgin challenged British Airways about having too many slots at airports). He’s definitely a believer in his own ideas and makes them happen. He’s a doer, and I identify with that.
I’d also say my son Rob Lessmann (https://www.instagram.com/rlessmann/). He has his own interior design company Design’d Living (https://www.instagram.com/designdliving/) and is at the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey. He has loads of get up and go and works very hard. I admire that about him and he’s on the road to success with some fantastic interior design success stories.
What are your favourite inspirational/motivational quotes?
I follow Community of SEVEN on LinkedIn, and the woman who runs it posts inspirational quotes that chime with me. A recent one which has stuck with me was: ‘You can’t force anyone to value, respect, understand or support you. But you can choose to spend your time around people who do.’
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