FEATURE: How F Hinds remains steady during turbulent times

In its latest accounts filed on Companies House, national jewellery retailer F.Hinds reported a small increase in sales from £60.05 million to £61.44 million for the year ended March 26 2017.

Talking to Professional Jeweller editor Stacey Hailes at the end of 2017, the company’s director reveals the steady increase in sales continued throughout the rest of the year.

Here, Andrew Hinds reflects on the last 12 months — a year where the family-owned jeweller focused on future-proofing the business. This included improving the store environment, and updating systems to help the company run more efficiently.

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Professional Jeweller: How was business for F.Hinds throughout last year?
Andrew Hinds: We actually found it quite resilient. We had a sort of tougher year through to the middle of 2016, again not terrible but struggling to beat the prior year each week, sometimes managing it, sometimes not, but since the middle of last year we have been steadily a little bit up since, and it has been pretty consistently. There has been no sort of clear rhyme or reason. It hasn’t been any particular product areas or parts of the country, it hasn’t been a particular type of store, it’s just been a little bit on the right side quite consistently. It’s not been huge amounts so we are not getting over excited, but up is up really and it is all you can ask for.

PJ: Has business been stronger in store or online?
AH: It’s been overall across the board, more up online than in store, but we’ve been up in store as well because we look at the store figures like-for-like because the online ones can distort that because they fluctuate more, and obviously online has been growing more, and if you put the online figures in all the time it can be too easy to flatter yourself, so we keep the online separate, so our like-for-likes have been in store.

PJ: What have you been doing online and in store to help boost jewellery sales?
AH: Online we put the website onto a new platform early last year/ the end of 2016, so that is better integrated with all our other systems and that has definitely helped. You obviously get a bit of a period when you first launch these things where all the search engines have to pick up on it again, but that happened pretty quickly and since then we have made steady progress online. In store it has just been more of the same really. We tend not to go overboard on promotions because they can murder your margins, so it tends to be just offering reasonable good value all the time through the year, and occasional promotions in the middle of that, but nothing completely crazy. So far so good. But you never know, it can all change in a week. For instance we had a couple of weeks in October which were a bit more of a challenge, and then it seems to have come back again ok and they were the first two for quite a while but the British Retail Consortium said October 2017 was a tough month for retail in general.

PJ: What would you say was the company’s biggest achievement of 2017?
AH: It was quieter for us really. We didn’t open any shops in 2017, we had a bit of a splurge the year before because we just do it when the right opportunities come along, but we have just been working internally on systems, the website and IT and all the rest of it. We relocated one store in Birmingham, so we have a nice new store there now which is good, and we’ve been working our way round and catching up and updating a few others. So we’ve done touch ups really. A couple have had quite big refits, where customers have walked in and walked back out again to check the sign because they have been coming into the shop for years but now it looks completely different.

PJ: How would you describe the F.Hinds customer experience?
AH: Obviously being in the mass market we have a steady kind of flow. It is not that we are only seeing two customers a day and are selling them a really expensive watch or diamond ring, we rely on having a steady flow of customers. We just try to train our staff as well as we can, and provide the customers with the very best service we can, but obviously with a bit of focus that we do make sure we get a sale out of them. We just try to tailor every sale to the individual customer. So just working on staff training really, and that’s what we have done for as long as I can remember.

PJ: What type of staff training do you do?
AH: We do in-store training and National Association of Jewellers training. We’ve got staff going through the JET scheme, and then obviously the apprenticeship levy is coming in so we are trying to work out how to fit that best into the business, because that seems to mean spending a lot of money on a few member of staff, whereas at the moment we spend a certain amount of money on pretty much all of our staff. So it’s trying to work out how to fit that into the system. But we have a full internal training system, so there is weekly training, AdHoc training, and things we send out, and the NAJ courses as well.

PJ: Does training your staff help keep them engaged?
AH: We certainly find people who have been in other types of retail who come to us say this is a lot more interesting.

Andrew Hinds - World Diamond Mark - Trade Press

F Hinds has become the first World Diamond Mark accredited jeweller in the UK.

PJ: Congratulations on becoming the first World Diamond Mark accredited jeweller, could you tell me about the process of getting this stamp of approval?
AH: I initially spotted that they were accrediting somebody in Europe, and thought, ‘what is this all about?’ and got in contact with them, and actually, they looked at what we were doing straight away and were very happy that we qualified. And there was sort of two reasons for doing it really. One was to have the accreditation, which essentially they want to make sure that the people they credit are selling natural diamonds, you can sell synthetics but you have to make it very clear and keep it very separate, and they want to make sure that you are training in both a professional and ethical way, so we had to demonstrate to them what we do in those areas and the ethical was largely covered by our membership with the Responsible Jewellery Council. We were able to show them that we have been independently audited and gone through those processes, and what they do is very similar to that so that effectively ticked the box on that side of things as far as they were concerned, and then they looked at our training schemes and we have diamond advisors, and we put people through special courses on that, so they were very happy with that and they were delighted to say we were the right sort of business for it because obviously we are long-standing and lots of continuity — they sort of feel there is a trust factor with customers in there as well. It’s a principle that we’ve got our name above the door and we want to be proud of every customer that is going out with a ring in a box with our name inside the lid. And the other reason that attracted us to them, which is something I would encourage the trade to have a look at, is they are looking to see if they can actually get some money to do something. They started a bit in the States with their Real is Rare campaign, but the more support that they get from the UK industry, the more likely they are to be able to support us in terms of advertising diamonds and persuading people that actually a nice thing to buy would be diamonds and not another mobile phone when your last one is only eighteen months old. A diamond is then yours forever, whereas a phone you are going to end up chucking in the bin and spending another £800 on another one. It would be nice if more people could support the World Diamond Mark, because I think that will hopefully show them the UK wants to promote diamonds to customers and they might help us to do that. I believe they are happy to accredit anybody who can meet their standards, and we would like there to be lots more.

PJ: In terms of the ethics surrounding diamonds, is that something you have noticed customers enquiring about?
AH: Consumers very little. It comes and goes occasionally when there is some publicity about it, but I think as an industry where there are questions to be answered we try much harder to answer those. For instance, if you look at some of the consumer electronics including phones, and the number of sort of rare metals and things like that coming out of international countries, there seems to be very little in terms of people asking questions about the supply train. I think the jewellery trade works hard to do the right thing, but customer wise we get very little questions — but that is not a reason to not try to do the best you can. If you thought the only reason you are doing this is because customers are asking, then that’s a pretty cynical view point really.

PJ: Do you get many consumers questioning the trust-worthiness of certificates?
AH: There is a bit of that, at the top end I think people do research if they are going to spend a lot of money on a diamond and they would have worked out there is only one or two certificates they are willing to buy. Lower down I think the difficulty is understanding the difference between different certificates, and actually two diamonds of SI or below with the same certificate can actually look quite different, and getting that across to customers is really complicated. They don’t have a lot of time to learn about it, and then trying to explain what everything means – in terms of getting a nice diamond at the right price – is more of a challenge really. At least with the World Diamond Mark they can do their research on this.

PJ: What are your thoughts on selling synthetic diamonds in your jewellery stores?
AH: I don’t see them as a huge thing for customers at the moment because at the moment if anything comes in it is relatively expensive, and over time as production increases they will get cheaper, and I would feel nervous selling a synthetic diamond to one of our customers today – telling them it was a great investment for the future – because we see them getting cheaper in years to come.

PJ: What are your plans for 2018?
AH: It could go either way. We are not ruling out opening shops, if the right shops come up on the right terms and locations, but if they don’t come along we will keep working on other stuff.

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