Chisholm Hunter started in 1857 as a small jewellery store on Chisholm Street in Glasgow. Today, the business has gone from the ‘Shop of 10,000 Wonders’, as it was known back then, to an award-winning business which operates over 20 stores around the UK.
The story almost wasn’t one of success though, as 28 years ago the Chisholm Hunter name was on the brink of disappearance until the now director, Harry Brown, came along and resurrected it.
With Brown still at the helm, alongside director, Tracey Brown, the business is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year and is still going strength to strength in the jewellery industry.
Celebrating this milestone in style, Chisholm Hunter has opened an £8m flagship store in Edinburgh — something the company describes as its “most profound venture yet”.
Located on the corner of Princes Street and Frederick Street, and opposite Edinburgh Castle, the impressive multi-storey flagship is in a prime position in the city centre.
“We really have been blessed with the most perfect jewellery location in the city,” Chisholm Hunter director, Harry Brown, tells Professional Jeweller. “One needs only to walk down Princes Street to understand why we opened it.”
Brown admits he wasn’t particularly looking for a new flagship space, but when the opportunity presented itself he knew he couldn’t turn it down, in fact, he describes it as an “easy decision”. Notably, Edinburgh is the second biggest tourist destination in Britain, and footfall in Princes Street is five-ten times that of other local high streets in the city.
“It was evident there was an opening for a real luxury diamond merchant on Princes Street,” Brown says of the new store. “Fortunately we were able to purchase the entire building, therefore we had a certain level of autonomy in the concept and development of what is actually a Georgian building.” At almost 10,000 square feet, the store is spread across three floors, while a fourth has been turned into luxury apartments.
Housing exclusive brands, a selection of premium diamond jewellery, a dedicated Swiss timepiece room and a bespoke champagne bar designed by Clive Christian, the flagship store marks a new era for Chisholm Hunter.
“The opening of our flagship store is a significant moment for the business. The Princes Street boutique will be the centrepiece of our portfolio,” shares the company’s director.
Along with its impressive collection of premium diamond jewellery, the new store also houses luxury watches from the most prestigious Swiss brands such as Breguet, Blancpain and Vacheron Constantin, which are exclusive to Chisholm Hunter in the city.
“Our boutique broadens our potential in terms of what we can offer our customers,” Brown explains. “There are three luxury floors in total, to enhance the client buying experience, and the size and location of this store enables us to work in tangent with the brands and host a number of luxury events for our valued clients.”
Discussing his vision for the flagship, he adds: “The boutique itself provides us with an avenue to surpass the usual transactional service and make sure each customer is captivated by their visit. My goal for Princes Street is consistent with all Chisholm Hunter branches, to retain memories for every customer. With this store I would like to go one step further and state that our intention is to become the destination of choice for luxury products in Edinburgh.”
Brown says Chisholm Hunter has been founded on providing a customer service and experience which is a “Cut Above”. He shares: “That’s really our mantra, to try and be a cut above in everything we do. This luxurious and prominent store reflects the high standard of shopping experience that we push to provide our clients.”
Next on the company’s agenda is the refurbishment of its Manchester store, which is located in the city’s Arndale Centre. Capturing 42 million visitors per year, many of whom are tourists, the Arndale Centre enjoys strong footfall and to capitalise on this, Chisholm Hunter has occupied the adjacent premises and will be completely revamping the whole site to allow for a more impressive store which adds a sense of luxury.
Harry Brown says following the flagship opening and the Manchester refurbishment, the company will be in a strong position to assess its direction and how it is progressing.
“On top of this we are going to rejuvenate our website and social media campaigns,” says Brown of the company’s future plans. He adds: “This is because we have realised there is incredible untouched potential when you consider the size the company is now, the Chisholm Hunter brand footprint is only a fraction of what’s possible. With this in mind I am really excited for our online future.”
Chisholm Hunter has also appointed a new director in the business who is an ex chief executive officer of Fraser Hart.
For the financial year ending March 31 2016, Chisholm Hunter reported a turnover of £32.9m, up 11% on the previous year, with operating profit dipping slightly from £3.5m to £3.1m.
It’s no secret that conditions on the high street are tough for retailers, but taking into account Brexit and the current political situation, which has created uncertainty across all the cities Chisholm Hunter is located in, business is progressing well for the retailer.
With that said, Brown says Christmas will be the true indicator of how business is going, however he is “confident” that the people the company has in place will push Chisholm Hunter forward to turnover a “steady growth”.
For Brown, as the business continues to expand, the two main challenges Chisholm Hunter faces are continuing to retain and develop its people, and nurturing a culture of listening and responding to its customers and staff.
“We need to listen and identify their needs, and have a culture of them not being afraid to make suggestions and say ‘maybe we can do this different’,” Brown explains.
To combat this, in its 160th year Chisholm Hunter aims to improve internal communications with a view to increase employee engagement.
The company now publishes a weekly magazine to recognise, reward and share success stories throughout the business, and it’s currently working on developing a web-based platform so the team can communicate and collaborate more effectively.
Furthermore, Chisholm Hunter mentors its employees and encourages them to participate in a variety of courses including its in-house training programme, the NAJ diploma and brand training days.
“We have lots of things in place that we have been doing for years that helps,” Brown adds. “It’s just refocusing on the customers and our staff and continually trying to evolve, and improve, and change.”
He continues: “Our biggest asset is undoubtedly our people, without which all financial investment for new boutiques and refits would be pointless. We are lucky in so far as the average level of service at Chisholm Hunter among management is high, with many individuals working for the company upwards of 20 years. This I believe is down to the company culture and multiple avenues for progression within our growing estate.”
Other initiatives this year include 160th anniversary celebrations throughout the country and across its estates. For this, Chisholm Hunter will be collaborating with many of its key suppliers to provide appropriate festivities for its clients. One of these events will coincide with the official opening of the new Princes Street boutique. Although the director remains tight lipped when it comes to the details of this event, he says it is shaping up to look “magnificent”.
When asked what the company’s strategy is to stay at the forefront of the industry for another 160 years, Brown responds: “To continue to grow and develop our people like our lives depend on it because the truth of the matter is Chisholm Hunter would be nothing without our wonderful people.”