Inky Interview: Roderick Barker-Benfield, Rodology

Roderick Barker-Benfield - Inky Collective Blog

 

Roderick has been making (and taking apart!) since childhood, so it makes sense that he has grown into a successful designer-maker. He took some time out of running Rodology, upcycling antique watch movements into unique jewellery, to talk marketing, choosing stockists and giving up the day job.


How and when did you start making your jewellery?

Jewellery making was a bit of a happy accident really. When I was a kid (much to my parent’s frustration), I used to love taking things apart to see how they worked. Cameras, lawn mowers, radio sets – nothing was safe in our house. The problem came from the fact that I could rarely put these items back together again so instead I used to take whatever I had destroyed and turn it into ‘art’.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had commissioned me to make a piece of this ‘art’ for him.  I thought the piece would benefit from some old mechanical clock parts, but what I actually found when attempting to source them was a single complete watch movement.

I’d never seen anything so intricate or delicate before and knew I had to do something with it. Rather than take it apart to see how it worked I decided to skip the destructive phase and went straight to the art bit – I mounted it on a necklace and overnight ‘Rodology‘ was born.

Rodology - Pendants - Lady Emily - Inky Collective

You recently took the leap into full time making, was that an easy decision and how have you found it so far?

It was a very easy decision to make, but putting it into practice was a little bit harder. Up until breaking away and going full time on the jewellery, I’d been working various admin jobs for big companies to make sure I could pay my rent – they’re a great way to meet people, but, unless you’re in a creative environment, some of them can be quite dull.

I was really lucky with my most recent job as not only was the company one that lived and breathed creativity, they were also incredibly supportive and allowed me a day out of the office each week to work on my own stuff (big thanks to ad agency Karmarama). I’d use this day to make new products, follow up stockist leads, work on my website, that kind of stuff.

I decided to make the break when the Royal Academy of Arts got in touch wanting to stock some of my products. It was a big risk, but I’d managed to save enough money to survive through three months even if I made no sales whatsoever. Time was what I needed to be able to focus on developing relationships with new stockists and customers and the only way I was going to get that time was by taking the leap and jumping ship.

I’m pleased to say that so far it seems to have paid off and Rodology products can now be found in gift shops at the Royal Academy, the National Trust and various boutique outlets in and around the UK.

 

Take us through your design process, do you find the antique watches first or do you source items for a particular idea?

It varies really. A lot of the watchwork stuff I create depends entirely on what I can source. The first incarnation of my website sold each item individually, but this turned out to be hugely time consuming as I had to photograph and list each piece separately.

Since then however I’ve been able to establish a bit of a supply chain so know what I’m likely to be able to get my hands on on a week by week, or month by month basis. Turns out it’s much easier to sell products by what you know you can find rather than only what you have!

Having said that, it’s really nice to get commissions and I’m often approached by someone who has inherited an old watch and wants to turn it into a piece of jewellery. It’s nice to give a new lease of life to something that would have otherwise sat at the bottom of a drawer for years.

Having a stall at a craft market like the Crafty Fox is also a great way to get yourself out there and sell the more individual products you have in stock. As every item I create normally contains a watch movement that is at least 20-30 years old they each tell a story. Being able to meet your customers face to face and bring that story to life is a lovely way to sell your products and another great way to meet people.

Rodology - Cufflinks - Mr Darcy - Inky CollectiveYour pieces can be found in boutique shops across the UK, how did you go about finding and choosing stockists?

Fundamentally I like to be stocked in places that I would choose to buy from. No one is completely unapproachable and if you know your products and prices like the back of your hand then you’re halfway there.

It is of course lovely when a shop owner likes your products personally, but it’s far more important that they believe they will sell so do your research and see who else they stock first as these are the guys they believe in financially.

Stuck for somewhere to start? Find a couple of designer-makers that you really like and see where they’re stocked. You like their stuff and their stockist likes their stuff. It’s not a massive leap for their stockist to also like your stuff!

My first ever stockist was one that I approached shortly after making that first pendant. I’d created a few more samples as well as some makeshift packaging and hauled them all down to Brixton Village in South London to see if I could find someone that liked them.

Unfortunately for me I arrived just before Christmas when all the shop owners had already spent their Christmas budgets. Despite liking what they saw, no-one could afford to bring in anything else at the time.

Persistence paid off though when the lovely Emy at Brixi took a punt on me and agreed to take a few pieces on a ‘sale or return’ basis. They sold and have been selling well ever since so we made the switch to wholesale last year which has been much more beneficial for all involved.

Social media has also played a really important part in finding Rodology stockists. At least one of my stockists, Lois, I found because they posted playful pics of their designers products on Instagram which I really liked. Another one, Stag & Bow, I tweeted to ask if they liked what I made before going in with some samples. Social media is a great way to start the process and bypass the scary ‘just show up and hope for the best’ approach.

Once you have a stockist, developing a good working relationship with them is very important – make sure you deliver on time and as requested, but also don’t be afraid to chase up if they’re a bit late with payments. For me it’s great to have someone on the front line who deals with customers day in and day out who I can talk to about trends and what works well in their shop so I can think about this when designing new products.

It’s also important not to be afraid of ‘breaking up’ with a stockist if it’s not working out. I’ve made a couple of mistakes in the past by going with places that slapped ridiculous prices onto my products and pimped out all of their designers via social media except me. No surprises to find out that none of my items sold, so a friendly, but firm break up left me feeling slightly better.

Rodology - Brooches - Lewis Carroll - Inky Collective

What advice would you give someone looking to change careers for something completely different?

For me personally, starting a jewellery business whilst working another job was the only way I could afford to turn my passion into a career. It took a year and a half of networking like crazy as well as working evenings, weekends and holidays to build up a following and enough savings to take the risk of going full time.

It helps that I’m a realist too – if I need to go and get a part time job to make sure I pay the rent then so be it. That doesn’t mean I’m not a designer-maker or that I’ve given up, it just means things have been put on hold for a while whilst I find ‘additional funding’.

Ultimately do it wholeheartedly, but do it whilst setting yourself some important conditions. Work out a budget of what you need to survive on a monthly basis and save enough to see you through a few months with zero sales.  What you’re effectively doing is buying yourself time. And trust me; as a guy who sells watch movements for a living, time is more important than anything!


 

You can keep track of Rodology’s movements (pun intended) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

You can buy your very own beautiful upcycled jewellery in the Rodology shop or say hello in person at Crafty Fox Market, Dalston on the 29th of November.

Jen Wright

Jen Wright

Letterpress printer, maker and freelance writer. I blog about the people and things that inspire me, in the hope that I will inspire you.
Jen Wright

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So, what do you think?