Hot 100 2013: Michele Whittam & Harry Hemstock

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How technology has helped Fourth Avenue move into new retail realms.

When in September 2012, father and daughter team Harry Hemstock and Michele Whittam opened their fourth retail premises, Fourth Avenue at the Jewellery Lounge in Norwich, they boldly went where no UK jewellery retailer had gone before.

Using software-laden iPads instead of a payment counter, it is probably the UK’s first jewellery retailer to go till free, offering a genuinely futuristic model of retail.

The initial inspiration, though, was a pragmatic one that plenty of us would recognise. Michelle says: “We know what it’s like with Pandora, particularly at Christmas, with the customers all in one queue. I wanted to avoid that and I’d spoken with [software provider] Pursuit the year before about using iPads so I knew it was possible.”

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She makes it sound like such a simple move, but in doing so it has created a new business model that dispenses with the idea of a counter as being the focal point.

Instead it transforms the ambience of the store, eroding the divide between staff and customers. “It’s been brilliant,” says Michele. “It’s just convenient for the customer and if we’re busy you can just take a customer to a sofa and sit and chat, and they can try different bits and then buy, all without having to get up until they leave.”

The iPads are loaded with brand catalogues to aid sales, and staff use them to access Facebook and Twitter – all in the cause of store marketing, of course.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it seems pretty clear that Michele and Harry will have to prepare for a lot of flattery. They are relaxed about it. As Michele says: “It’s a nicer experience. It’s the way forward isn’t it? I can’t complain about other people doing it.”

The new tech sits well with the mood of Fourth Avenue, a clean-lined black fascia shop that houses the affordable luxury of modern silver brands like Pandora, Thomas Sabo, ChloBo and Swarovski.

Easy, modern, accessible and clean, yet with space for staff to add quality service: this is what retail will look like for jewellery sales at least in the branded area for years to come. How very enterprising.

Michele Williams and Harry Hemstock of Fourth Avenue Jewellery were selected as an IJL Retail Star in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2013 in association with The Company of Master Jewellers. To read a digital version of the book in full online, click here.
 

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