FEATURE: Michael Laing prepares business for future growth

Michael Laing

Laing the Jewellers did not get to where it is today without the confidence to move with the times and adapt to ever-changing consumer demands. This year the retailer will be undergoing two major changes and we’ve caught up with chief executive officer Michael Laing to get all the sparkling details…

For two centuries the Laing family has been at the forefront of the UK jewellery industry, offering consumers a broad selection of fine jewellery and watches, complemented with an exceptional customer service.

Over the years the core of the business has not changed. Its ethos has always been to deliver dreams — whether that’s through a bricks and mortar store, online or on social media.

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Today the business thrives under the ownership of Michael Laing, the great-great-great grandson of founder James Laing. With a background studying art, design and craftsmanship at Sir John Cass College, Michael Laing is as much a jewellery designer as he is a businessman.

As such, Laing is a man who knows how to do business even when the going gets tough — a quality that had him named as a Retail Star in Professional Jeweller’s Hot 100 2015. He always keeps his finger on the pulse and stays up-to-date with everything going on in the jewellery and retail industries, mentioning several times during his interview things he has recently read about business in the UK.

Laing is someone who is willing to make changes when needed, but he’s also prepared to take the time to make sure initiatives are right, rather than letting time dictate a given situation.

This year Laing has made two major changes. The first is that he is bringing all his retail businesses together under one name. The second is that his Hampshire store will be moving to a new location in Southampton’s city centre.

ONE NAME
In 1995, Michael Laing purchased Parkhouse & Wyatt — another historic family jewellers, which was established in Southampton in 1794.

In 2000, he then opened a second Parkhouse store in Cardiff.

Since Laing acquired the family jeweller and married the business with Laing, it’s been a marriage which has seen Parkhouse keep its name.
However, Michael Laing now believes it is the right time to unify the businesses and bring both stores together under one brand name — Laing the Jeweller.

“We’ve made the decision after many, many years to bring everything together under the Laing name,” explains owner and chief executive officer, Michael Laing. “We are all one company, it is identical everywhere, but we have been operating under different brand names.”

Laing says the decision was made in order to optimise the business for future growth and make sure the name truly reflects the company going forward. “While it was logical to keep the Parkhouse name at the time, it is far better to move forward with one name,” he says.

“When I say optimise the brand, it’s taking in consideration things like national advertising. We can’t consider this at the moment when we have two different store names.”

He continues: “To have it under one name works extremely well. Even when it comes to our in-house jewellery designs, some of which have been inspired and named after my granddaughters, these family collections do not translate as well when we have a store with a completely different name above the door.”

Laing also says in this day and age, in the 21st century, the digital world is so important, and moving forward under one name will put the businesses in a better position to take advantage of everything e-commerce has to offer a retailer.

Following a transition process, the Parkhouse website will close down, and everything will come under the Laing the Jeweller name, on the Laing website.

“That’s really where we ultimately need to optimise the business for future growth, and also to make sure the legacy continues for another 175 years.”

While the name change will be gradually phased in, with an interim period presenting the Cardiff and Hampshire stores as ‘Parkhouse by Laing’, by September the rebrand will be completed.

The first step will be to change the store spaces over and to communicate the name change to existing Parkhouse customers. This will include adding the Laing logo to the Cardiff and Hampshire stores and introducing the Laing brand interior. The second phase will be to pull together the digital side, followed by utilising the advantages of being under one brand name, such as general marketing and branding internally.

The overhaul to one name will be a significant one for the company. It will not only extend the presence of Laing the Jeweller Ltd around the UK, but it will also enhance the whole business from its social media outreach to brand recognition in and around the stores.

Parkhouse, the luxury family jewellers, has announced a store move from Above Bar, Southampton, to the new luxury corner in Westquay. The move coincides with a re-brand from Parkhouse to Laing and is a significant milestone for this leading sixth generation jewellery business. Pictured: Laing Chariman, Michael Laing OBE, (right) and his son Richard Laing, who is Director of the family business, in Southampton to officially make the announcement. Picture: Chris Balcombe/FREE for use in all media

ON THE MOVE
Also in the pipeline for 2017 is the move of Laing’s Hampshire store. Currently the business has a Parkhouse boutique located in Southampton on the high street. While this has served the company very well throughout the years, as the city has undergone major redevelopments Michael Laing is excited to move the business to a more prominent position.

He shares with Professional Jeweller: “We’ve been growing consistently and one of the things you have to ask is — how do you survive the generations?

He continues: “You survive the generations because you are relevant to your day and you accept change, and you make the right moves and don’t just hold on to everything as it was. Accept when the markets change.”

Laing knows when it is time for change, and looks at ways to be better positioned on the high street, rather than back away.
Ten years ago Laing relocated the company’s Cardiff store because of developments in the city, and a couple of years ago he opened the doors to a new £1.7 million store on Edinburgh’s prestigious George Street.

Spanned across three floors, the Edinburgh store is now the largest jewellery outlet outside of London and the move fulfilled a life-long dream for Laing.

In Hampshire, the time has also come to relocate, and Laing has secured a space inside Southampton’s leisure and shopping complex — West Quay.

Laing says: “In Hampshire there have been great moves in the city, changing the centre from what it was, and we now feel the time is right to move to an environment that is going to be more in tune with our customer based in Hampshire. So we are embarking into West Quay, which is one of the UK’s top shopping centres.”

West Quay has changed a lot over the last couple of years, almost doubling in size. The city is also spending more money over the next few years to further develop the shopping centre.

Laing is pleased with the way West Quay has been developing, and says it’s now the home of more like-minded retailers. With the move to one brand in mind, the store will close as Parkhouse on Above Bar street, and open as Laing Hampshire adjacent to John Lewis and Russell & Bromley in West Quay.

“Most of all the roads in Hampshire lead to Southampton and with the easy parking it is just going to suit our customers so much more than our current site, which has kind of been left out in the cold as the city has moved,” shares Laing. “I see that trend quite frequently. Someone once said to me, ships are safe in a harbour, but that’s not what ships are for. And actually I think business is like that.”

Parkhouse, the luxury family jewellers, has announced a store move from Above Bar, Southampton, to the new luxury corner in Westquay. The move coincides with a re-brand from Parkhouse to Laing and is a significant milestone for this leading sixth generation jewellery business. Pictured: Laing Chariman, Michael Laing OBE, (left) and his son Richard Laing, who is Director of the family business, in Southampton to officially make the announcement. They are standing infront of the WestQuay Shopping Centre. Picture: Chris Balcombe/FREE for use in all media

He continues: “I actually tried to move in Edinburgh for over a decade, but all of the units, being a Georgian city, tend to be narrow fronted, so it was right for us when we finally found a property that works. In Southampton, I’ve been looking over a period of time where would be the best place to relocate and we feel we have found it. While it is only about 200 metres away, that in city terms is huge between what’s hot and what’s not. Our store here has not been slipping, but it has not been growing as well as we have found elsewhere. Particularly in the last couple of years, it’s become pretty clear that we could do so much better for our customers if we were relocated to West Quays. So it is all about the future. The path has slowly changed, but we know that going forward and looking to the future that, that is the right place to be.”

The Hampshire store design will imitate the brand’s luxurious Edinburgh boutique and should be open by September in time for Christmas trading.

Laing adds: “I really feel this move sets up the future very strongly and is going to work extremely well.”

FUTURE PROOFING
Making changes is key to keeping a business afloat, but it’s also important to keep on nurturing your DNA and make sure the core of your company is strong enough to withstand change and growth.

For Laing this means never dropping the ball on staff training and development. He explains: “We very much focus on people developments in terms of having good training and that is very much a feature we are going to continue to improve.”

He adds: “Training at Laing is multi-faceted. We have our own academy, which we have been working on for the last few years, so a lot of people can learn online and that we find, when you can learn in the privacy of your own home, you can learn at your own speed, but it has always got to backed up with a lot of mentoring and so forth. We can’t rely on that because we find remote learning on a computer tends to disappear quite quickly if you are not putting it into practice. So you need to follow up on that and that’s what we do.”

With the industry being so customer focused, staff are extremely vital. Laing uses the example of going to your favourite restaurant and always receiving a warm welcome from the staff. He says in that situation when the staff changes you are disappointed and it transforms your whole experience of the place. The same goes for the jewellery industry.

“The higher up in luxury, where we are as an industry, the higher it goes from low prices, high volume to low volume and high price, relationship is so critical to that customer,” explains Laing. “We always say here that the customers are us. So the relationship side of it is where we have a lot of focus in our training and in our culture.”

Business for Laing has been on a roll for the last five to eight years, with the company working hard on building a strong management team and delivering the very best customer service.

These two things are key for the future, with Michael Laing commenting that moving forward will require a very robust business platform.

All in all the company has enjoyed gradual growth year on year and as it comes to the end of another financial year, this is set to continue.
Looking to the future, Laing is very positive — not just about his business, but about the jewellery industry in general.

Despite continuous change, whereby Laing says he thinks his grandfather saw less change in his entire working career than we have seen in the last five years, Laing believes retail is relentless.

He concludes: “It’s a rocky road now, I saw a report that came out a couple of days ago about the number of businesses that our growing and the number in the middle just muddling along, and the number, I think it was over 300 they were talking about, were in trouble. So the industry is going through really quite a dramatic change, but I suppose the world is.

“But, I do feel very optimistic about the future potential of the trade. And if we keep focused on delivering dreams for people, and scrutinising every moment to move away from mediocrity, then we are on the road for success, achievement and happiness.”

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