With a British-made story, a line-up of new collections and a debut bricks-and-mortar boutique, Brown & Newirth has proved that slow and steady really can win the race. Professional Jeweller speaks to sales director John Ball about the results of four years’ hard work…
In a world of fast fashion, snap decisions and instant social media posts that can make or break a brand in seconds, it’s admirable to meet a company that is willing to play the long game to secure quality and success.
British-made wedding band and bridal jewellery company Brown & Newirth has been steadily and thoroughly implementing changes; from senior management shuffles to new product launches and point of sale refreshes, for four years.
“Four years ago I joined the business and we started building a team,” explains sales director John Ball. “Each year we’ve had a strategy of change and that might be focused on standard procedures within the business, it might be people within departments, it might be technologies that we don’t own at the moment, such as casting equipment and new production equipment.”
He continues: “All of that took three to four years to put in place. It was only once the rest of the business was tidied-up that we started working hard on products, Brown & Newirth rewards and all of the branding and hard copy collateral.”
Wrapped-up in this long term plan was a keen focus on future-proofing Brown & Newirth; especially strengthening the company’s long-term formula for success and staying true to its values without missing any key industry milestones, such as the move towards wedding band sample boxes. As Ball explains: “We weren’t the first to do it [sample boxes], but we were certainly the first to do it in large scale commercial volumes. All of our customers now have plain profile boxes meaning they carry 68 plain rings in varying profiles and widths in plated brass.”
Of course, this was a significant investment for the company, totalling around £500,000 including all marketing collateral. This was later followed by a diamond-set wedding band sample box, with another round of marketing materials.
Ball adds: “It was only once all of that was in place that we could then move on to the next phase. Everything we do is leading on to the next phase, and that’s why it took that long to put the right new collections together.”
The new collections Ball is referring customto represent a “comprehensive category and collection launch” for Brown & Newirth. Exclusively new ranges, including an engagement ring offer, were showcased at International Jewellery London last month, giving existing and new customers an in-depth look at the company’s newness going forward.
“We didn’t have anything from the existing range in the display case. We normally mix the new in but we were able to have 100% new, which can go one of two ways: you can look at it like we’ve desperately tried to ram as much in as possible, or you can take our view that we worked for four years to make sure that when we did launch an engagement ring collection that it really was comprehensive.”
As well as engagement rings, Brown & Newirth also introduced some attractive coloured stone and Celtic-inspired designs at International Jewellery London. Much of this growth can be pegged on the company’s dedicated design team – introduced four years ago – following a period of heavy reliance on workshop staff to develop fresh offerings.
“I introduced a dedicated team of designers and product developers,” Ball continues. “The latter being people who play around with metals, setting techniques and new technologies, not just someone who draws something and pits something into the range. We really do look at ways in which we can differentiate ourselves.”
The best-sellers at International Jewellery London this year were the coloured stone wedding band and eternity ring designs, including sapphires, rubies and emeralds. This is likely to be followed-up with more single stone and cluster rings, and complementary single stone earrings and pendants.
Ball says of the new range: “50% of our sales at the show came from that new collection, so we were very pleased. Hence the reason why we now know we have to do some pendants and earrings and some other diamond rings, and engagement styles. Albeit, we know [coloured stones are] likely to be less popular in engagement rings as the UK consumer still wants pretty much 100% diamond content in engagement rings.”
Alongside product, Brown & Newirth presented refreshed point of sale materials at International Jewellery London — the result of 12 months of development. After positive retail partner feedback the new materials will reach the market in the next 16 weeks.
Discussing the need for a point of sale makeover, Ball notes: “Ours was approaching four years old and it wasn’t quite fitting with our current profile. We’ve grown-up and matured as a business and we needed something that was more luxurious in look and more in-keeping with the kind of design elements of the boutique.”
This ‘boutique’ is a debut Brown & Newirth shop-in-shop at Lumbers in Leicestershire — a retail business that has recently undergone its own £1 million relocation and refurbishment plan.
When asked whether this move represents a shift into branded territory for Brown & Newirth, Ball explains: “Branding is a word that is overused and we understand that in order to become a true brand you’ve got to really internationalise and generally be around for a long time. Some do it sooner, Pandora being one, and we just thought it would be a good idea to explore the options of boutiques. We started to talk to important customers, Dominic [Gomersall of Lumbers] liked the idea and we then moved on from that.”
The shop-in-shop will sit alongside Lumbers’ existing roster of global jewellery brands, offering customers a more encompassing bridal experience. The retailer has also enabled Brown & Newirth to trade exclusively in its wedding ring category, alongside a broader selection of engagement rings.
Despite this hugely positive and exciting foray into branded boutiques, Brown & Newirth won’t be forgetting its roots as an unbranded supplier. “We are not a brand per se where we have the choice to make every stockist branded, we have a commercial need which is revenue as well and you can only achieve that if you have both [branded and unbranded],” Ball adds.
He continues: “We don’t see that the boutique roll out will be more than a dozen over the next couple of years and we have 350 stockists, so it will never be 100% branded in the UK — all we are doing is offering the brand option.”
Of those 350 stockists, 250 have the Brown & Newirth brand through existing point of sale materials. I ask whether this could signal a shift towards a more American-inspired bridal market, where brands and well-known names are the key to sales. “I think we can take a leaf out of the Americans’ branded bridal book,” Ball remarks.
“I think there is plenty of room out there for those who just want to sell product and supply product at a price, but we’ve got to concentrate on the consumer and give them some choice. If one, two or three of us don’t break away and offer a branded solution we’re all going to be selling a commodity at a gram price and that takes the romance out of it totally.”
He adds: “It is very costly to do everything I’m talking about; from boxes and marketing materials to boutiques and the website.
“It costs a huge amount of money and the problem with all these commodity wholesalers – those that sell at a gram price – is that they don’t leave any money in their business to enable them to invest in what is more important to us, which is the long term relationship with the customer.”
This relationship is also being supported by shifts in the UK jewellery retail landscape, including a renewed focus on bridal jewellery and unbranded fine jewellery.
“What’s happening in the marketplace is that retailers are looking up and saying, ‘we don’t have as much fine jewellery as we should do’. Some of the brands now dictate far too much, so retailers are thinking of making themselves a brand again. Whether they do that with a Brown & Newirth point of sale or somebody elses product it doesn’t matter. More importantly for the industry it is great that we can start to sell some more fine jewellery.”
Ball doesn’t profess to have a crystal ball, but it is clear that he has the future needs and requirements of Brown & Newirth carefully mapped-out. With the industry changing swiftly and significantly, this sense of long-term strategy and patience is what will ultimately pay-off. Anything else is undermining its own DNA and the industry as a whole.
This feature originally appeared in the October issue of Professional Jeweller.