IN DEPTH: The changing face of buying

Professional Jeweller looks into the changing nature of buying for the UK jewellery industry.

With a plethora of home-grown shows, international trade events and contemporary showrooms vying for the attention of buyers, it is hardly surprising that the profession is now played out on a competitive, global scale. Here, Sarah Louise Jordan takes a snapshot of how buyers are shopping in 2015, speaking to event organisers, showroom owners and brands to find out what’s influencing and impacting them.

The polarisation of the jewellery industry isn’t just happening at a design level, according to Julian Exposito- Bader, who believes buyers – and the brands themselves – are now firmly in two camps.

“Lots of retailers buy jewellery brands from the fashion side of jewellery, for example, brands that show at London Fashion Week, Premiere Classe or Tranoi, or those sponsored by celebrities. Other buyers just go after the ‘jewellery industry brands’, like those that show at Jewellery & Watch Birmingham and International Jewellery London,” he muses.

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“There isn’t much crossover between these areas, so you wouldn’t find a lot of industry brands on Net-a-Porter, for example. This has polarised the industry and there aren’t a lot of websites or bricks-and-mortar retailers who merge the two.”

Once a buyer decides whether they are targeting jewellery or fashion industry brands, Exposito-Bader admits the next step is encouraging brands to want to work with the retailers — something that is proving increasingly difficult in a competitive market.

He comments: “When brands are ‘hot’ and start trending, you can see retailers who are hungry to stock that brand. But when they get to this point, many brands restrict their distribution, forbidding retailers from buying their products.”

He continues: “Each brand has a different reason for doing this, but a few years ago a shop was able to buy pretty much anything. Now when you go to a trade show a brand will say ‘what other brands do you have on your site?’, and if you don’t have the right adjacencies they don’t want to work with you.”

As Exposito-Bader adds, it’s no longer the prerogative of the retailer to pick the brands it wants to stock; the brand is the one in control. “In general, I think this is because sales of jewellery have grown so much and there are so many more businesses entering the market,” he remarks as way of explanation.

Also facing the challenges of buying in 2015 head-on is Beaverbrooks the Jeweller’s head of buying and merchandising, Adelle Thompson, who admits keeping abreast of the latest trends and fashions, while managing the expectations of customers, is difficult. “We have noticed that the spikes in trends are much more pronounced than ever before, driven by the way customers use the internet and social media to research, shop and share their feedback,” she explains.

“It is more important than ever to be ahead of the game in terms of understanding our own market and trends as well as in retail in general.”

BUYING IN THE UK

“We have a very methodical buying process, which starts from our annual strategy, analysing sales and setting budgets. We then create looks, set objectives and go explore,” explains Winsor Bishop group operations director Jessica Whitfield.

The Norwich-based retailer currently sends teams to Jewellery & Watch Birmingham and Houlden Group buying events, plus the Hong Kong International Diamond, Gem & Pearl show and JCK Las Vegas for an international outlook.

As Whitfield explains: “Trade shows are all so different and it is invaluable to get out there to see and experience what each show has to offer.” As a result, the company buys its coloured diamonds from JCK and uses UK shows to explore brands and styles that might add to their in-store repertoire.

Similarly, Laings of Glasgow director Wendy Laing has seen the benefits of combining UK shows with a smattering of international visits, including Baselworld and JCK.

She reveals: “Recently Laings buyers have attended Luxury and JCK Las Vegas, and these are shows we will definitely consider each year. We are always looking for new inspiration, new designers, and different jewellery that is not likely to be found in other stores around the UK.”

She continues: “Before any trade fair we will look at our company’s stock offering and identify any gaps we have. Next we look at forthcoming trends and what new designs are appearing on the market. We will then prioritise any new suppliers or designers to see if they can fulfil these areas.” In recent months, the company has moved away from bulk buying at trade fairs, to a “core range and replenishment approach” — something that requires the right supplier or manufacturer that can also hold the required stock, effectively becoming a wholesaler.

Laing adds: “This could be UK based or international as long as stock is available at a quick turnaround. We often find that it is the shows abroad like Luxury that can offer us this point of difference.”

With this business focus in the front of UK buyers’ minds, it is up to the trade event organisers to supply an environment rich with buying opportunities. In 2014, the Goldsmiths’ Fair was revamped and refreshed, with crisper marketing materials and a fresh outlook. As a result, the show secured a 9% boost in visitors (to 10,000 overall) and 3% uplift in sales overall.

The Goldsmiths’ Company head of marketing and communication, David Mills, comments: “Many commercial gallerists, retail buyers, talent scouts, curators, journalists and other opinion-formers attend. No other retail event brings together so many of the UK’s finest designer-makers of contemporary jewellery, so Goldsmiths’ Fair is a unique feast for the eyes.”

Similarly, International Jewellery London (IJL) event director SamWilloughby is gearing-up for the 60th anniversary of the trade event, which will have a special diamond theme to celebrate its latest milestone.

“One of the things we’ve seen in the past five or six years is that a trade event needs to be an experience. Coming to a show is about meeting customers, finding new products and doing business but it is also about having a nice time.”

To achieve this, Willoughby and her team focus on the look, feel and style of the show, drawing buyers from independent jewellers, multiples, galleries, museums, online retailers and department stores for their efforts. To encourage domestic and international buyers to attend the show, Willoughby actively supports the IJL Diamond Club— a specialist incentive and support scheme that will enter its eighth year in 2015.

Discussing Diamond Club, which offers key guests a personalised one-onone experience, Willoughby explains: “We talk to buyers about the show and what they might be looking for before they arrive. It is purely for retailers and only for the senior buyer or owner from major stores throughout the UK. This year we expanded internationally and attracted buyers from Italy, Russia, the Middle East, Korea and Denmark.”

She continues: “Being able to see the British talent that is on offer at IJL is a real draw to international buyers.”

SHOWROOMS WITH SOUL

UK trade shows are doing everything they can to attract the right kind of buyers for their exhibitors, but what about the showrooms that offer a curated, edited selection of fine and fashion jewellery in an environment far-removed from the bustle of trade event?

As Exposito-Bader explains: “My favourite showrooms are Valery Demure, Touba, Rainbowwave, Tomorrow and Thread Not Bare — whenever I go to these places I would always be happy to buy everything.”

Thread Not Bare is a high-end fashion agency for women’s accessories, established two years ago by managing director Anna Cohen. With clients like Noritamy on the books, Cohen aims to find the best international talents and offer them an “all encompassing package to grow in the industry in the right way”.

Additionally, Cohen offers her clients a one-stop-shop of services, including PR and sample management for consumer magazine shoots. “We take designers to Europe, different fashion weeks and trade shows to help place them internationally in locations that fit their brand, and their intentions for identity and growth within the industry,” she explains.

As a showroom, Thread Not Bare welcomes buyers from a range of dot com and bricks-and-mortar retailers, as Cohen notes: “Every buyer sells to a different end consumer, and although this sounds very obvious, we put lots of care and attention into meeting those different needs and requirements and building good relationships with buyers.”

Whereas Thread Not Bare is at the start of its journey, showroom Rainbowwave has added to its London headquarters with a New York office and temporary show spaces in Paris. The company’s head of jewellery, Fong Ee, comments: “Rainbowwave prides itself on curating the very best jewellery offer possible. Every season we welcome buyers from the very best stores inter- nationally, so the showroom is a great platform for any brand that wants to build its business with expert guidance.”

She continues: “We believe in brand building, so with our team’s wealth of experience and connectivity we are able to provide clients with a complete offer across all aspects of their business from wholesale, communications and retail.”

Understandably, these sorts of locations are a dream for busy buyers like Exposito-Bader and they’ve also proved popular with trade shows looking for a fresh perspective. For example, Rainbowwave has showcased its clients at Couture Las Vegas for the last three years, with Ee adding: “The show is the most exclusive and intimate destination for the luxury jewellery market and caters to an elite community of renowned heritage brands, emerging design talent, the finest retailers and award-winning media from around the globe.”

Similarly, Touba London, which runs ‘The Showroom Next Door’, appeals to buyers with a visually creative display of brands, including Husam El Odeh and Alice Cicolini. Showroom manager Trevor Griffith remarks: “We take visual merchandising seriously, so that buyers can visualise the collections easily in their own stores.”

He agrees with Exposito-Bader, about the polarised nature of the jewellery industry, adding: “Either you opt for fun, inexpensive jewellery or the more highend variety. To avoid confusing our clients we are focusing on the latter.”

BRITS ABROAD

“As a buying team at Beaverbrooks, we attend as many of the key industry trade shows as possible, for example Baselworld, IJL and Vicenza,” explains the company’s head of buying Adelle Thompson. “They are important for meeting with our key partners and suppliers, as well as keeping up to date with the latest trends within the industry.”

It’s hard to find any serious jewellery buyer who hasn’t been mesmerised by the size and scale of Swiss trade juggernaut, Baselworld. Managing director Sylvie Ritter explains: “Baselworld is undisputedly the most important marketplace and trendsetting event for the world’s watch and jewellery industries.”

With 150,000 yearly visitors and a reputation for big, bold and money-isno- object stands, Ritter describes Basel as an “imitable media magnet, drawing over 4000 media representatives of the world’s most prestigious press from over 70 countries”.

UK buyers regularly head to Inhorgenta Munich too, which boasts a programme of events, a dedicated technology hall, and a roster of packaging and shop-fitting exhibitors.

Product manager Renate Wittgenstein muses on the changing nature of trade shows: “Requirements and expectations have changed in recent years. The information and contact function of the trade show has become more and more important. We have consistently worked on accommodating this development. For example, through our matchmaking service that brings together customers and exhibitors [ahead of the show’s start date].”

Brands are also noticing the benefits of meeting new faces at international trade shows despite the obvious expense. Buckley Jewellery appeared at JCK Las Vegas for the first time in 2014, with sales and marketing director Neil Thompson explaining: “The USA and South America has developed into a growing area for our business so exhibiting at a major event in the region was important in order to nurture growth, meet new clients and widen our marketing networks.”

Charm bracelet concept brand Endless Jewelry experienced similar success at JCK in 2014, securing 230 new retail partners and signing $10.2m worth of orders in the space of 15 weeks.

Endless Jewelry founder Jesper Nielsen explains: “I think everybody involved with the fair will agree it was a smashing success. We ended up breaking all sales records at the fair. We had fun and did a ton of business; that’s what it is all about and I can ensure you, we’re going back.”

In contrast, Yoko London chief executive officer Michael Hakimian has turned away from JCK after a five-year stint to focus on Couture, arguing: “We found that the Couture Show is a better fit for our brand, in terms of buyers, appetite for our product and the success we had at the show.”

He continues: “The trade show circuit is a bit of an international merrygo- round, where you can see many buyers. Baselworld is definitely the most important show of the year for us. The quality and quantity of buyers attending the show is unparalleled and they come from all corners of the world.”

CHANGING FACE OF BUYING

“I know the buying industry is different to how it was eight to 10 years ago,” explains Thread Not Bare’s Anna Cohen. “I think it is very challenging for new brands at the moment, especially in the UK. Many UK buyers are safe, so the more directional the brand the less likely a buyer is to take a risk unless the performance history is already proven. However, some buyers are not afraid to take a chance and present what we feel the consumer is crying out for, a strong variety in the luxury market with brands that push the boundaries.”

Equally, Beaverbooks’ Thompson agrees, arguing the jewellery industry has changed and the role of a buyer has been forced to evolve with it. She remarks: “In the past year in particular, the role has become more competitive, which comes from customer needs and expectations. Technology has also changed the world of buying, as we are now fortunate enough to spot a trend, buy the product and have it live on our website so quickly.”

She continues: “The way people shop has changed; consumers expect a truly multichannel shopping experience, with an almost instant response time, which means that we need to continually improve and develop our offering.”

WHAT MAKES A TOP BUYER?

Surprisingly, despite the challenges, the fast-paced consumer market and the polarisation of jewellery trends, Exposito- Bader is very clear on the question, ‘What makes a good buyer?’ “The most important skill for a buyer is to treat everyone like you want to be treated. It is important to deliver on your promises, but understanding people is the key skill for a buyer. Being able to connect to someone on a personal level and establish an honest relationship is the most important thing — the rest comes with time and experience.”

This article originally appeared in the January issue of Professional Jeweller. To read more click here.

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