Professional Jeweller editor Sarah Louise Jordan speaks to Engelsrufer chief executive officer Mario Martini to find out what makes his ‘angel caller’ brand concept so successful in Europe and in the UK.
In the world of branded fashion jewellery it’s often hard to say which is more important: the story or the product?
As far as Mario Martini, chief executive officer of Schmuckzeit Europe is concerned, “70% of the success of Engelsrufer, of the product, is the story”.
The origin of Engelsrufer’s ‘Angel Whisperer’ sound ball pendants is wrapped-up in Martini’s career as a retailer, which started in Germany in 1998. Within 10 years, Martini and his wife Sabine had opened seven stores in the Greater Nuremberg region — establishing the Martini Schmuckzeit name as a destination for fashion jewellery and watch fans in local areas.
Later, during a beach holiday in Bali, Martini discovered what would eventually become Engelsrufer. He explains: “Sometimes you see something and you feel ‘okay, this is it’. I saw it on the beach and the [seller] explained the story. I didn’t think about making a brand or a wholesale concept, but the product was like thunder in my head and I went back to Germany to show it to my staff and my wife. They said we should try it and so we sold the pieces from Bali for three months. We sold around 10 to 15 pieces every day, with the story on cards in the window.”
What is now Engelsrufer developed from these humble beginnings to become one of Europe’s most loved brands; having secured 900 customers in Germany and 400 in Austria. The brand has also performed well outside of Europe, having recently started trading in South Africa and America, where 60 accounts were opened in just three months. After four years on the market, Engelsrufer has 3,000 customers worldwide and the number only looks set to increase.
Martini admits, however, that the UK market has been a different kettle of fish, with slower growth than he had hoped for. As a result, the brand has changed its distribution partner after two years in favour of its Irish distributor, IBB Dublin, which has opened 70 doors in Ireland and hopes to open 85 by October 2015.
In the UK, IBB Dublin has tasked its new UK sales manager Justin Simons to lead the team in opening 60 new accounts – on top of the 26 it already has – by the end of 2015. The new IBB and Engelsrufer partnership will commence officially at International Jewellery London later this month, and it is clear that Martini is feeling confident about the future.
Helping to boost this confidence is his genuine belief in the power of ‘brand Engelsrufer’ and the spiritual and emotional story the brand is telling. Martini notes that “story is the most important thing for the brand,” adding: “We know if you can get product with a story, with passion, with something behind it then it will be good and it can sell very well.”
Martini believes that he has found his “evergreen” product, in other words a design that transcends trends and will have secure longevity in the jewellery market place. However, like Pandora’s charms and beads, Engelsrufer’s ‘Angel Whisperer’ pendants can be adapted to suit seasonal fashions; from colour schemes to an injection of rose gold or mixed metals to suit the marketplace. “From our experience with our retail stores, we know that design is what people want with this [type of] meaning. So, we give our product meaning. Every company takes some angels and puts them in collections, but that doesn’t make them an ‘angels brand’. We are the first angels brand,” he says.
Marketing this link with angels is something that Martini has worked on, having founded Herzengel or ‘Heart Angel’ for children, and Erzengel or ‘Archangel’ for men. This trio of angel-themed brands capitalise on the long-standing love of talismans, amulets and charms, as well as satisfying the current trajectory toward personalised and spiritual jewellery in the European market. Also in his portfolio, Martini has Save Brave – a men’s jewellery brand with a distinctly urban edge specialising in dog tags, chains and leather wristwear – and Nahu with its stainless steel chains for women, commercial Swallow collection and quirky Chinese zodiac range.
Martini makes building a brand sound easy, but it is clear that a lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to mould Engelsrufer. Following the success of its sound balls more collections have been introduced, including Where the Angels Fly, Indian Summer, Bright Like a Diamond and The 7 Chakras — all of them offer a clear and precise talismanic approach. Highlights include the Dreamcatcher pendants with added yellow or rose gold plated feather charms and the Heartwing range with earrings, pendant charms and sound ball lockets. For Martini, this type of product expansion is essential to ensure the brand doesn’t lose its steam once consumers have had their fill of sound balls. He explains: “My experience in the market shows me that if you always concentrate on product and the successful product then you forget to produce new ideas. After the [initial] ‘wave’, which could be five years, seven years or just one year, you fall down like a stone in the water and this is the problem.”
What is clear from our conversation is that Martini is attempting to build a brand – as much a lifestyle brand as a jewellery brand – rather than a “product-brand” that focuses all its attention on designs. He refers to Thomas Sabo and Pandora, for example, as “product- brands”, noting that his aim has been to “double-up” Engelsrufer in the area of branding rather than product to avoid this trap.
He continues: “My way has been to use product to develop a brand. We travel around the world and find new products everywhere, like Fatima’s Hand [motif across pendants and earrings]. We have to take products and give them a meaning and a nice fashion look. In the next three, four, five years we want to be a very successful jewellery brand with many ideas to surprise people.”
Martini is also proud of how his company steered away from factoryfinished product that simply bears his brand’s name, giving him the freedom to design and set prices in his own way. Across his brand portfolio Martini aims to keep prices below £100, noting that the difference between £99 and £129 can make or break a sale. Of course, Engelsrufer does have higher priced items, but Martini argues that this is still accessible and in-line with “normal people” who either want to treat themselves or their loved ones without breaking the bank.
Combining his experience as a retailer (Martini Schmuckzeit now has four stores) and as a brand developer and supplier, Martini has a lot of say about the world of branded jewellery and watches. He argues that now is a tricky time to be a brand, especially as customers appear to get bored and seek out the new every six to 10 months. He also argues that fashion watches have become homogenised alongside a jewellery market that is full of copies and product claimed from overseas factories.
However, his biggest concern lies in the growth of online sales platforms such as Amazon and their impact on traditional bricks-and-mortar retail businesses. As a result, Martini refuses to sell Engelsrufer through this type of customer worldwide with the aim of avoiding flooding the market with his product.
He explains: “Retailers have the power to make brands, whereas [companies like] Amazon cannot make me into a brand. After working with retailers many companies go to [ecommerce companies] because they make a lot of money, but then you lose the way and forget where you are from. Ecommerce takes more and more from the retailer, and this is causing big problems in Germany. If you want to be licensed to sell Engelsrufer by ecommerce you have to have a store — this is our rule”
Overall, Engelsrufer is a brand that stands out from the crowd with its designs. Whether you’re a fan of its sound ball pendants or not, there’s certainly something to be said for the story that is packaged with each purchase. And for the sales assistant on the shop floor there’s an almost ready-made conversation waiting to take place; from jangling each pendant by the intrigued customer’s ear to the tale of beckoning their guardian angel forth. It is tempting to say the least.
This feature originally appeared in the September issue of Professional Jeweller. Read it here.