The Entrepreneur Global
Alanka Nanayakkara-Senanayake | Building Relationships That Go Beyond a Selling Point
In this article, we look a little deeper into what makes Renelle the brand that it is, through Alanka Nanayakkara-Senanayake; who is the director at both Renelle Pvt Ltd and Ellawala Exports (Pvt) Ltd, the company that supplies most of the gemstones to some of the top brands in Europe.
Have you heard of jewellery stores in Sri Lanka being open to clients only through appointments?
Well, of course not — it’s not a common practice in this industry.
However, at Renelle High Jewellery, the ‘by-appointment’ basis works incredibly well in their favour.
It is precisely this customer- centric attitude and approach towards their trade that allows Renelle to continue to stand out in Sri Lanka’s gem industry as one of the most luxurious and high-end brands to exist.
Alanka is also a graduate gemmologist, jewellery designer, director at Renelle High Jewellery and the founder of Halo, a brand established in 2017 that specialises in handcrafted gold-plated silver jewellery.
When asked how they came up with a tactic that sets them apart from any other jewellery brand in the market, Alanka responds with, “We mostly wanted to give a customised service to our clients so they walk in [and] they feel like they’re in their own jewellery store, and they can pick and choose and wear whatever they like. And so that got us thinking and we thought okay, we can focus on what they want, we can focus on the design aspect, sit down with them. Sometimes I spend hours with some of the clients and I love being with them and understanding what they visualise in their mind. And until we get that product they want and that finished item that they like, I won’t let them go […] and yes, it’s been successful so far.”
Origins: “Did You Always Know That This Is What You Wanted To Do?”
“Not at all,” Alanka laughs, shooting down the assumption that, because she grew up with it, she must have known this would be her career path.
Fresh out of school, Alanka was on the lookout for universities in which she could study law – when her father offered her the opportunity to work with the brand he created instead. Despite not being involved with the business beforehand, she was interested enough to give it a shot.
“So I went to the Gemmological Institute of America and did this special course on gemstones, which is just coloured stones, and I loved it. On the first day itself, I got into details of how these beautiful things come to life and the science behind it – and that was it. I was completely in love with gemstones after that.”
Alanka didn’t just stop there – she soon found herself in the lapidary, the department of the company that works on cutting the stones, and learnt the whole process from scratch. Wanting to educate herself even further on the subject, she also did a designing course in Paris. “I learnt a lot about the craft, about how much work goes into creating these pieces,” she says. “Actually, I must tell you, after that course I have a huge sense of respect to my team who’s in the workshop because I had broken nails and cuts after doing everything from scratch.”
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She adds, “It’s a whole new experience for me, I loved it though. I mean, even though I had my cuts and bruises here and there […] I just went to kind of make myself knowledgeable about the subject of actually getting down and manufacturing these pieces.”
Key Differentiator: “What sets you aside?”
Apart from their client-centric demeanour, there are other factors that make Renelle unique.
“We have everything done in-house,” Alanka explains, “starting from where the gemstone will come to our production unit and it will go into cutting, and then we will overlook everything from the cutting to polishing and thereafter towards the manufacturing of the piece [we] have designed. So every aspect is looked into detail. So in terms of that, we are specialising in quality.”
The team at their workshop has been trained by master craftsmen from Paris – after all, the devil is in the details and not even Renelle’s jewellery pieces are an exception to this rule. “I would say the uniqueness is that we focus a lot on quality, you know,” she tells us. “That we look into detail on everything in the whole process […] Even if we have to polish it a little more to make it look brilliant and fancier, we would do that too […] my team is all about creating something that makes someone else happy.”
According to Alanka, everything starts and ends with quality for Renelle. This way, they are always on par with other global brands.
Marketing: “What Strategies Have You Noticed Work Best?”
When asked what mediums have helped promote Renelle to the leading brand it is today, Alanka narrows it down to two; word of mouth and social media.
She also goes on to add, “We are known in the Asian region because we take part in some of the exhibitions in Singapore and Malaysia. So people have gotten to know us through the years with all these exhibitions.” In one of the luxury shows held in Singapore, Renelle secured a place as one of the top-ten exhibits – a fact that Alanka informs us about proudly. “So those are what has created the word of mouth as well. You know, we’ve been on magazines overseas and here [Sri Lanka]. I would specially put it down to word of mouth because I want to give that service so someone else will speak about it. And that has worked wonders for us.”
CSR: The Story Behind ‘Halo’
Not only does Renelle pay utmost attention to their clientele, but they also take their Corporate Social Responsibility seriously.
Having certified both the companies, Ellawala Exports and Renelle, under the SA8000 framework, they can now conduct their trade in an environment that develops and implements fair and socially-acceptable practices in the workplace. This ensures their adherence to one of the highest international standards in terms of social policy.
The goodwill doesn’t stop there.
Alanka tells us something she’s been very passionate about, that she eventually launched in 2017 when the opportunity presented itself: “I opened this brand called Halo, which is a silver jewellery brand, which provides a portion of its sales to Ratnapura. That concept came because I felt like they [miners] have given the life we have and this is our way of giving back – because that’s where it all starts.”
Alanka acknowledges that mining is a very risky job, and she wishes to give back in any way she sees fit.
“I also want to empower those families,” she adds at the end, “more than just giving them what they want at this moment and then finishing that off there.”
And Finally: “What’s The Advice You Can Give Them?”
Alanka has a few words for budding, ambitious entrepreneurs;
The first and foremost is to know your market. “You’ve got to think of your market that you’re aiming at and what kind of special thing you are going to bring to the market, something unique that comes along.”
The second is to specialise in that aforementioned ‘something unique’. “I think that would kinda narrow down exactly where you’re aiming at. Lots of people think that they could just open and aim to a wider audience but it’s very tricky unless you have something specialised in mind.”
The third – and what Renelle’s whole brands is built around – is to prioritise your client. “One thing I must say – and I’ve told my staff as well – whoever walks in those doors is special and should be well respected and [treated] like every other person. And I’ve had wonderful experiences because I’ve lived by that.”
Renelle is a living testament to how catering to customers’ needs and giving them paramount importance can in return build a relationship of trust and brand loyalty.
In Alanka’s words, “[This] relationship goes beyond a selling point, you know. It’s a relationship that we built over years, for generations to come.”