Scott Thompson on trade shows, BAFTAs and the brand’s 10th anniversary
Carat* has been making its presence felt in the UK with more trade show appearances, continued sponsorship of the BAFTAs and a growing portfolio of stockists. Its chief executive Scott Thompson tells Kathryn Bishop what’s next for the brand in the UK and beyond.
If you are a jewellery retailer you would have been hard pressed not to notice the rise of Carat*, the simulated diamond and gemstone jewellery brand, this past year.
The introduction of everyday friendship bracelets, pop-colour cocktail rings and statement red carpet jewellery has caught the eye of buyers, press and consumers who have been won over by the brand’s variety of designs and impressive simulated gemstones that so closely mimic the real deal.
Carat*’s chief executive Scott Thompson is based in Hong Kong but regularly travels back to the UK to check in with Chris Moses, the brand’s head of wholesale. Under Moses’ guidance, Carat* has been building its presence on our shores, this year alone securing 60 new wholesale partners, 10 shop-in-shops and a 15-door deal with Aurum Group.
The brand celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2013, kicking off celebrations with a high-profile event in central London dubbed Carat X, where celebrities, jewellery retailers, fans of the brands and press are set to toast its success.
Professional Jeweller: This has been a big year for Carat* in the UK – tell us about the last few months
Scott Thompson: After the Jewellery Show London we had about 90 wholesale partners and I hope after IJL we pass 100 in the UK. This year is also our 10th anniversary and we have some top-secret plans for a big event later in the year. We’re working on something that will be fun, special and interesting that we’re dubbing Carat X. It will be an evening event, it will be glamorous and it will bring in some celebrity names, plus guests from the jewellery trade.
PJ: Are you launching any special collections to mark the anniversary?
ST: We are launching new products all the time, newness is what we’re about. Off the back of that we’re working on a new line that we’re currently calling Babylon, made with lots of rough cut and briolette stones. It is all about colour so will feature created sapphires, rubies and emeralds. In fact, [Eastenders actress] Samantha Womack wore the range at BAFTAs. It is a bit off the beaten path for Carat* but the beauty of Carat* is that it is still refined, even when the jewellery is bolder.
PJ: You tend to take old collections and revive them with new colour ways or shapes; why do you do this?
ST: Sometimes trends fade away, sometimes they come back, sometimes we create forward-looking designs like the Chelsea bracelets. Timing is everything with jewellery, especially with fashion-related products such as ours, so I’d rather be arriving with a collection on the upswing of a trend, than being too avante garde or too early with it.
PJ: Is it right that Carat* has plans to open a US office and a US flagship?
ST: We constantly have US expansion in mind and it is in the pipeline. We have a great love affair with the US as our e-commerce thrives in the States – it is definitely our best market for online retail. We’re constantly being asked by our customers there as to when we are going to open [a US store]. I think it will be early 2014 now.
PJ: How are your UK online sales?
ST: In all honesty we haven’t grown that much [this year] but that’s probably because our retail prices have increased in the UK which might have eaten into our online sales. But we can allow our retail partners to access the sales from our e-commerce site, so customers can order items online to collect from their local Carat* stockist. That way the customer has a point of contact, rather than having an e-commerce team to deal with that might not be so close by.
PJ: Are their particular brands that you like to see Carat* sold alongside?
ST: In the UK that is mostly Chris’ decision, but for me I like to see Carat* in established retailers that stock other brands that complement us. I’m happy to have brands like Swarovski and Thomas Sabo around us. We are different businesses but we thrive on each other’s presence.
PJ: With the new store openings has Carat* become more in demand among independent retailers?
ST: We are getting a lot of interest and people are calling us saying they want to stock us, which means our marketing has worked. Beyond that, retailers talk to each other and I hear a lot from retailers who have heard that others are doing really well with Carat*. The replenishment figures are also strong; selling in to a shop is one thing, but getting re-orders has been really good. Basically retailers realise now they are in the jewellery business, they’re not just diamond or sapphire jewellers, but have to look at trends and adjust their business accordingly. The bolder ones have taken advantage early on and are forging the way. Hopefully Carat* is the next big thing here in the UK.
PJ: Tell us about Carat*’s marketing – you have an ongoing partnership with the BAFTA awards here in the UK
ST: Our marketing budget this year is close to £500,000 and this is also our third year working with BAFTA. As well as that we have a lot of above the line print advertising to support the brand in magazines such as Harpers Bazaar, showing that we’re not just guys with suitcases of jewellery. Carat* is now in some of the best department stores in the world, from Lane Crawford to Harrods and Selfridges, and in some of those places were the best performers in the jewellery department. I think for us, it is the whole brand behind Carat* that makes it all the more successful. One thing I always say is that even when an item of clothing is synthetic you still wear it, and probably more so if you like the design and the brand; if that clicks then the person buys the product, and that is what’s happening with Carat*.
PJ: What is next for Carat* in the UK?
ST: We are now being sold through Harrods’ airport shops, which is a new channel for us, being duty free. We have also been approached by airlines asking us to sell on board but we’re at a certain capacity that we can manage at present, so we’ve had to say we can’t do it right now but we want to do it early next year. They want us to reconsider but we have to deliver what we have promised to others right now. We have plans for more Carat* mono-brand stores in the UK, again in London as it remains the heart and soul of the business. We are looking intensively at other locations in central London, in particular Marylebone Lane and the Kings Road, as we want a larger flagship. Our store in Covent Garden is not as big as I’d like it to be.
PJ: You mentioned that Carat* is taking new design routes; are you able to tell us any more about this?
ST: We want to explore the fashion side of jewellery design. Carat* has a lot of classic designs but I think from next year we want to push more on the design front with some more eccentric, not so commercial pieces – designs that will be great for press editorial. I think Carat* needs more offering in that area. After all, we’re about the make believe.
This article was taken from the September 2013 issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.