THE BIG INTERVIEW: Meet the new man running Thomas Sabo UK

Thomas Sabo may have experienced a few leadership changes in the UK & Ireland recently, but it remains buoyant about its future, especially as the reigns for the region have now been handed to someone with a proven track record of success for the brand.

Meeting the new managing director at an event for wholesale partners in London, first impressions reveal he is confident. He’s confident about the brand, confident in its growth opportunities, and confident the UK will remain the second most important market for Thomas Sabo.

Tony Björk is a man who has already delivered growth for Thomas Sabo in Scandinavia, a region he will continue to manage alongside the UK & Ireland, and has worked closely with the eponymous founder to do so.

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As its second most important market, Thomas Sabo is now looking to work even closer with the UK to help make sure it understands the demands of its retailers and customers.

Here, Björk sits down with our editor, Stacey Hailes, to discuss his plans for growth and the three points of focus for his first year in charge: A digital transformation, profitability, and the brand itself.

Professional Jeweller: What first attracted you to Thomas Sabo as a brand?
Tony Björk: I would say it was the opportunity. Because I’d been in the fashion industry and Thomas Sabo is really about good quality design, and it’s such a strong brand, I was attracted to it and the opportunity I saw with it.

PJ: Why did you decide to take the position of managing director for the UK & Ireland?
TB: It’s about being closer to the market. The UK & Ireland is very important to Thomas Sabo, it is the second biggest we have on a global basis, and we see there are opportunities here that have not been explored.

PJ: What are your first impressions of the UK & Ireland?
TB: Very positive. I have to say that the brand sits right here. Since we are in fashion, we need to be here. It is the European hub of fashion. You also need strong partners in order to build the brand because I believe your strategy needs to be reflected in the distribution. To identify the right partner and work together with them in order to further strengthen the brand is very important.

PJ: Is the UK market very different from Scandinavia?
TB: I believe every market is individual and different. What I see here is good and really reliable partners that really believe and stand behind the brand. I also see an organisation of people who are really passionate about what they do. So the culture and values are very similar, because I believe in order to build a strong brand you need a good culture of people behind it, but other than that, I think the market is different. Our target is to learn as much as possible in a short period. I also think, if you look for example at Brexit, who can say what is going to happen in the next month or year? Not even market experts know. So obviously that presents an opportunity to really work closely with our partners, listen to them, and listen to the market needs. And this is what we want to do from the head office in Germany as well. We need to be much closer to the market.

The new MD views men’s jewellery as a big opportunity for the brand.

PJ: What have you got planned for your first 30 days in the role?
TB: It’s been really exciting so far. I would say the first 30 days is about getting to know the people. Setting up the structure and organisation, and more or less getting into place and getting a wider view.

PJ: What’s your main focus for Thomas Sabo in the UK & Ireland this year?
TB: The focus is digital transformation. We need to work and integrate in a way with our customer that is much faster moving than we did years ago. So digital transformation I believe is the key to being successful. Everyone needs to be on digital platforms in order to interact with customers today. I want us as a brand to be one of the role models, which is why we have amazing people taking care of our PR and so on. We believe that we need to do it in-house. We cannot outsource because no one should know the brand better than us. So that’s the first thing. Second thing is profitability. Profitability is very important. I cannot imagine a retailer or partner running a store without profitability. So we will really work on average transaction value, conversion rates – converting more customers into sales – and then also assortment. We need a strong brand and strong assortment to be successful today, otherwise it is hard to drive conversation and average transaction value. And thirdly it’s the brand. I believe in branded jewellery. So the strategy will be a lot of strengthening the brand and positioning it in the right way. I would rather see the opportunities than the challenges. And I see our brand as a leader going forward and partnering up with good partners and treating all our customers individually. There is no template for treating customers the same. Everyone has different needs and we need to be a role model of treating the partners individually. Because if we treat our partners individually they will treat our customers individually.

PJ: How will you be helping retailers boost sales?
TB: One of the things is we as a brand are really strong on quality, design and details. With quality we can actually charge a bit higher, meaning you get more value for money, and I think what is happening in the market today is there are two consumers — one is buying really cheap, fast fashion, and the other will invest more. Brands like Gucci and Chanel for example, they are going to the next level and growing, and they are really in high fashion. We want to take it up a bit. We also want to help the partners with knowledge of the brand, and positioning the brand in the UK in order to have higher value. When it comes to conversions it will involve a lot of training. Inspiring and motivating people on the sales floor. The more they know the easier it is to have an argument for why customers should be paying a bit more for a brand of a higher quality. After sales service and everything else is also key. Thirdly would be the assortment. If we can find the right assortment and partner, and improve the stock, we will improve the cash flow, and we will also improve the profitability. So it’s not only about mark up and percentage, it’s about the value you make for each product, and that’s where we will help.

PJ: How do you plan to drive the brand’s growth in the UK?
TB: I believe our partners can expect a strong brand. We will drive the brand, we will drive the brand perception, and also strategic wise we see Manchester and London as really important places to build the brand and strengthen it further. We also see those places are very strongly linked to our brand.

New chain-based collection set to be a bestseller.

PJ: Is there anything you implemented in Scandinavia that you plan to introduce in the UK?
TB: Yes, there are some. First of all the belief of a strong team — of identifying the right people and the right partners to deal with. Being much closer and working in cooperation with the partners — not just dictating the terms, but having a really open minded view on things in order to do business. For example, sales people are no longer sales people, they are more moving into a business consultant role in order to support the business in a much better way. They should actually understand the business more than the partner understands about themselves. This is one of our targets — adding value in the meetings. I don’t think there is one blue print but I really believe you need strong teams, strong partners, and to be winners with the winners.

PJ: What can retailers expect from you as the UK boss of Thomas Sabo?
TB: They can expect a stronger brand. My management style is a lot about people. I am very people centric because I believe that people can perform. I empower people. I also don’t believe that the individual is smarter than the team. So I try to involve as many people as possible in the decision making, letting everyone speak, in order to find the best solution. I am also very transparent. I share information, and I don’t try to hide anything. I am quite Scandinavian — I don’t know what the perception is here, but I walk easy and I talk easy because there are no quick fixes. Also, I think hard work is underestimated. Hard work is one of the keys to success. Or hard work is related to where you want to be. I think that boils down to the basics, doing the basics correctly, and being a little bit better than our competitors.

PJ: How will you be splitting your time between managing Scandinavia and the UK?
TB: I will be commuting back and forth. In the beginning I will be spending a lot of time in the UK to get a better understanding of the market, the business, and especially the business needs. My family are still in Scandinavia, so most of the weekends will be spent there. I have a really strong team I have built up so I can really rely on them, but I will not let Scandinavia go completely, but my time will be spent here.

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