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Chris and Stuart Freedman, founders of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads

Craft Business: Tell us about the history of Fire Mountain Gems. How did the business get started? Chris & Stuart: It started as a hobby in 1973. The hobby was lapidary – cutting faceted stones. This was a great hobby for an engineer – angles, optics and gemology. The problem came when we became buried in finished stones and had to start selling them to keep going. Soon we had four people in the garage, cutting full time. We put small ads in trade magazines and started selling cut and uncut, rough gems. We started sending out flyers with lists of cut and uncut stones. This was lots more fun than engineering and we soon moved to commercial quarters, and became a rock and gem/silversmithing shop. In 1986, we moved to Oregon, USA, where we now operate as a full-service, jewellery-making supply company. CB: What approach do you take when it comes to the jewellery and beading market? C&S: When we were just starting out, a seasoned businesswoman told us, ‘Take good care of your customer and your customer will take good care of you’. That’s about the extent of the worldly wisdom we have to pass along. It sounds so easy – it isn’t. You really have to learn to listen and to be open to questioning some of your own beliefs. CB: What has been your greatest challenge? C&S: Resisting well-intentioned advice, mainly from employees and friends who have wanted us to jump onto every fad and gimmick. Anybody want to buy a room full of dumb ideas? We’ll say it again: when you need good ideas for products or processes, ask your customers. CB: What has been your greatest success so far? C&S: Our greatest joy has been watching our customer lists grow worldwide. The bulk of the growth is from referrals; one jewellery maker referring us to another. However, we don’t measure success in numbers because customers aren’t numbers, employees aren’t numbers, and vendors aren’t numbers. Those who like numbers tell us that we are now the largest fashion jewellery supply company in the world. Thanks everybody! CB: What are your most popular products? C&S: Our single most popular product was an accident. It happened more than 30 years ago. Our most popular product line then, as it is now was gemstone beads. Customers who didn’t want to buy an entire strand of one item asked us to sell the beads individually. To enable this, we got four large trays, each having 100 pockets. When customers requested them, we would carry the four trays containing 400 types/sizes/shapes of beads out of the back room and over to the front counter. As I was bringing them out one day, I tripped. The four trays flew up in the air and beads went everywhere. We had two rules: 1. If you make a mess, you clean it up, and, 2. The rules apply to everybody. As I was sweeping them up, an idea came – why don’t we sell bags of assorted beads and other desirable items. It could be like a ‘grab bag’. We would tell the customers how it originated and call it The Boss’s Bead Bag. After 35 years, that is still our bestselling item. CB: Do you provide retailers with any support? C&S: Yes, we treasure our retailers; if they don’t succeed, we cannot succeed. We provide them with: - Platinum Partner special pricing that doesn’t appear on catalogues or on the web - Advanced access to all our publications (about 2,500 pages of printed matter every year) - Patterns/designs with instructions for classroom usage - Updates on current designs and colours - Exclusive weekly previews of new items CB: What does the future hold for Fire Mountain Gems? C&S: The customers are still telling us what they want, so we are working around the clock to provide it: - New ways to order and pay, including mobile and PayPal - New products – we have 116,000 items on the web, but we get many requests daily for new items - Faster service worldwide – secure, inexpensive delivery with lowest possible tariffs or duties.

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Chris and Stuart Freedman

Chris and Stuart Freedman

The husband and wife team and founders of Fire Mountain Gems established the company in 1973, and have been based in Oregan in USA since 1986.

We look forward to many more years of service to our customers around the world.

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