Why digital has always been the way forward for Hamilton’s The Jewellery Judge
Steve Knight is well-acquainted with digital revolutions – in the 1980s he led one. Knight, the owner of The Jewellery Judge, a Hamilton-based appraisal business, pioneered computer-aided appraisals. “I was told you can’t use a computer to do that,” says Knight. “I said, really? Watch me... and I developed software to do appraisals that is now used around the world.”
In the 1980s, when Knight got the idea for the software, he tried taking a programming course but he just didn't connect with it. “I don’t have the right mindset,” he says. Instead, he talked to the instructor and they found the right programmer to build the software. “I was in my apartment in Toronto at the time and I would have the main sheet and I would run sheets of paper off that going into the kitchen, the bedroom, the living room that said okay, if I’m here, then I go down this path… and then I gathered it all up and got a programmer to program it.”
The software was the first of its kind and helped change the way appraisals were done. “It took a 25-minute job down to three minutes,” he says. It’s still in use, but today, Knight takes a more analog approach, something that almost seems to counteract the inundation of digital tools.
“I specialize in doing jewelry appraisals while somebody watches – they come in and we call it The Jewellery Judge experience,” he says. “It’s not something you can do online.”
Knight is renowned as a gemologist and independent appraiser, which brings plenty of appointment-only clients through the door. But Knight’s past experiences have taught him that digital has a role to play in some way. Prior to the pandemic, Locke Street in Hamilton saw massive reconstruction and improvements that blocked access to many of the businesses. It hurt foot traffic along the key business district. The pandemic came shortly after.
In both cases, he helped offset the effects by investing in his digital presence with help from Digital Main Street. The program combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario alongside partners like Google to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future.
“A lot of people don't understand how great a thing they've done,” he says. “It’s giving stores an opportunity to get some form of presence online that really didn’t understand how to do it before and then giving them money to do that.”
Knight applied for and received the Digital Transformation Grant twice, using it to rebuild his website and add new features. “The second time they talked about trying online bookings and I said, okay, fine, I'll try that,” he says. “Well, now I book most of my appointments online by having the online booking, it opened up the opportunity where (a client) can see what I'm doing and act immediately to book.”
Knight says he’s become a stark advocate of the program – in some small way, helping to push along yet another digital revolution, this time on main street. He estimates he’s got 15 different businesses to invest their time in applying for the grant, even going so far as to “photocopy his check” to prove it. “I’m sitting looking at my window, I can look at all the stores that never had websites never had anything,” he says. “Now all of them have websites, all because of Digital Main Street.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 in Southern Ontario.