#LearningCurve: Success just a stone’s throw away

Stone Etc owner Mimi Rupp at her temporary crystal shop in Main Road, Walmer
Stone Etc owner Mimi Rupp at her temporary crystal shop in Main Road, Walmer
Image: Brian Witbooi

Stone Etc ‘passion project’ becomes rock-solid business for Bay couple branching out into all the etceteras

She started her journey as entrepreneur as the installer of SmartStone products in Port Elizabeth, along with her husband, but Mimi Rupp soon turned her passion for semi-precious stones into a career of its own.

Can you give me some background on yourself, and how and when the businesses were started?

My husband, Bernhard, and I got involved with SmartStone in April 1994.

We were paving contractors for many years and were then invited to the launch of this very exciting new product called SmartStone.

We loved what we saw and in next to no time we were the main installers of SmartStone. Very soon Bernhard was offered a shareholding, which he accepted, and that was followed by me buying out the remaining partners.

I launched Stone Etc in September 2011 due to a need for garden pebbles, garden accessories, furniture and pots, along with my love and interest for semi-precious stones, minerals and crystals.

This list soon included succulents.

What is your core service?

At SmartStone we manufacture cast stone cement products such as cobbles, pavers, flagstones, tiles, cladding and various garden-related products. Stone Etc has various aspects to it.

I started off with us sourcing and supplying garden pebbles, garden accessories and furniture, then branched out into semi-precious stones, quartz and jewellery once we opened our new premises in 2011 in Villiers Road, Walmer.

Thereafter, I also started my own succulent nursery on the same premises.

The premises are currently closed for renovations and will re-open later this year.

Where was the idea for Stone Etc born?

Being from Namibia and growing up on the farm, I have always had an affinity for stones, crystals and nature. This passion became an extension of myself in pursuing it as a prospective business.

Initially, however, I started the garden pebble business to specifically provide employment opportunities for unemployed women from the Walmer township down the road from our SmartStone premises in Victoria Drive.

It then just went from strength to strength and the garden pebble business of Stone Etc was born.

What makes Stone Etc unique?

I would like to think that, again, my business is unique due to the level of service we give our clients and to the uniqueness of the handpicked products that we source. Each item in my shop is handpicked by myself and as such there is no repetition of a product, making it an individual and unique buy.

Stand by your brand and do not give up. The tough times ground you and shape you for the better times ahead
Mimi Rupp 

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
Well, they would find it very difficult, mainly because there is no model. Stone Etc has been an expedition in what I enjoy, a passion project that went wild.

There has never been a goal or a focus, it has always been about sharing my passion and enjoyment for nature and its elements with others.

Should someone wish to copy this business model it would come down to what they are passionate about, and how they envisage expanding that passion into a sustainable, viable business.

Do you have tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

Every business is different, but at the foundation of it all, all businesses rely on the same basic principles to be solid and successful. These principles include doing your research, asking for advice – never be too proud to ask for advice or help – and making your business an extension of your personal brand.

You also need to network, network, network! You never know who will need your business at a later stage. Stand by your brand and do not give up. The tough times ground you and shape you for the better times ahead.

How do you measure success in your business?

When your business is your passion project it’s never clear to yourself how to define the success. I think with Stone Etc it is mostly defined by the ability to still do it year after year. That is its own success story at the end of the day.

What kind of advertising do you do?

Due to the retail and personal nature of Stone Etc, I focus my advertising on social media predominantly, but also by attending almost every expo, market and carnival that I can.

Visual representation is the key when it comes to the types of clients that Stone Etc attracts, which is why it is important for me to be present at these events as part of my advertising campaign. I also use radio advertising.

What is your company’s vision?

My vision is for my client to have as much fun as what I have. I would like to be the No 1 go-to shop for getting that item that is different, quirky and affordable.

What is your target market?

Stone Etc has two separate faces and as such there is a break in its target market. The garden side is aimed more at your DIY gardener, gardening enthusiast and professional landscaper, whereas the crystals, quartz and jewellery are directed at holistic and gift shoppers.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

Very, very, very important! In this day and age one cannot be without an online presence. We live in an age of instant gratification, meaning that the client would like access to your business or brand at all hours, in the convenience of their own homes or even while with friends.

Your online presence gives them access to you, even when you are not able to attend to them personally. It is also a great platform for general information and offers.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business?

Stone Etc is always expanding. It’s the nature of a passion project. Your interests change and grow, and as the business grows with it, it gives you the opportunity to diversify, complement and expand.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?

There is no one lesson, but a collection of little ones: the support of family is invaluable. Don’t burn bridges. There is no such thing as “it’s not my job”.