Joanne Ooi: Plukka Is Synonymous With Commitment to Uncompromising Creativity

Joanne Ooi, former creative director of popular Chinese clothing brand Shanghai Tang, is now the co-owner of PLUKKA – an online fine jewellery boutique. ​The retail platform was launched in 2011​; the same year that Joanne was nominated for Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential List.

There is no doubt that this tenacious entrepreneur knows how to do business. Her extraordinary view on how things should be done helped PLUKKA become a successful venture and expand beyond online. A boutique each in Hong Kong and London has helped strengthen Plukka’s position in the industry. In this interview, Joanne tells me how she has built her business, her  decision to expand the e-commerce fine jewellery platform into ’brick and mortar boutiques’ and how she managed to stay motivated, even in the most difficult times.

KP: How did you come up with the idea to start Plukka?

JO: My original partner Jai Waney and I realised that the fine jewellery industry was extremely inefficient and fragmented. We felt that independent designers lacked streamlined distribution and marketing solutions. So, we decided to go into the industry. This is no sort of ‘jewellery love at first sight’!

KP: Tell me more about the platform.

JO: We wanted to provide an efficient, best of class sales and marketing platform for independent designers, who comprise the vast bulk of the industry. Did you know that international fine and high jewellery brands own only 12% of the entire global fine jewellery market?

KP: If the percentage is so little it must have been really difficult to build your business. How did you manage to stay motivated under pressure?

JO: The only way for me to carry on during tough times was to surround myself with motivated and inspiring people. I also found another resolution, which was to continuously challenge myself intellectually through experimentation and innovation.

KP: What qualities of yours have helped you to succeed in this business?

JO: Humility (because God knows I have had to pick myself up off the floor 100 times after realising an idea was dead wrong and/or failed) and tenacity. Related to the latter, is sticking to my commitment to work with the world’s most talented designers.


KP: I can imagine how many challenges you had to face. What was the biggest one and how did you overcome it?

JO: Starting a new retail concept and luxury brand is challenging every single day, especially online. It means that you have to continuously maintain standards of excellence while delighting and surprising clients and readers with fresh content and gorgeous imagery. The biggest challenge is therefore inspiring not just clients but our own team. Every day!

KP: I guess to surprise the clients you constantly need to look for new brands. Has the criteria for selecting them changed since the foundation of Plukka?

JO: Yes, of course. For example, recently we have decided to tighten exclusivity. For a while we were determined to sign up bigger name designers for SEO. But we have since decided it makes sense to work with fewer designers on a more exclusive, mutually committed basis.

KP: And what in your opinion helps those emerging jewellers to get noticed?

JO: True creativity, originality and incredible imagery of those creations, especially on Instagram.

KP: Having built a successful business, can you offer some advice to people wanting to set up online retail business or similar jewellery start-ups?

JO: This is going to be a rather generic warning but, just because you have a great idea and set up a website doesn’t mean anyone will know you exist, let alone feel compelled to shop with you. The cost of customer acquisition cannot be overstated because it is very high indeed in the e-commerce category of fine jewellery. My last point is related: above a certain price point, clients continue to want to see a piece of jewellery in person before buying it.

KP: Now you have a boutique in HK and London. Although your online platform was a success you expanded to off-line. Why?

JO: This is related to customer acquisition costs: the more consumers trust you, the higher your conversion rate will be. On top of that, ‘brick and mortar’ boutiques definitely increase brand name reinforcement and retention, which makes it more likely a potential client will type ‘Plukka’ into Google when shopping and this will boost organic and direct traffic to the website.

KP: How many designer do stock in your London and what are the criteria for choosing them?

JO: We stock about six to nine designers at any given time and require exclusivity in London in order to represent them at Burlington Arcade. Also, because we are new to the market, I strive to show pieces that possess outstanding design, so that we can telegraph our commitment to uncompromising creativity, loudly and clearly in this market.


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