With 118 stores nationwide, F.Hinds has a prevalent presence on high streets up and down the country.
Having recently opened a new store, and set to open another this year, Andrew Hinds talks to Professional Jeweller about digital strategy, demographics, and why the company isn’t yet done with bricks and mortar.
PJ: You are the sixth generation to lead F.Hinds. How did the company begin?
AH: We were originally a family of clockmakers in Lincolnshire. One of my ancestors moved down to London, so we weren’t in retail at that time, we were in the trade. And his father and his father’s uncle were both clockmakers. His best customer was in Paddington, just near Edgeware Road and Harrow Road, and he died. That’s when we moved into the shop, 160 years ago this year, and that’s where we started retail. We’ve got pictures of the original shop, and all sorts of bits and pieces. We’ve got quite a few bits of heritage stuff.
PJ: Where are your strongest stores?
AH: It varies over time. Now, if anything, rents have settled and are even going down. Historically it has been a case of, if your store does really well in a new centre, then the rent goes up and all of a sudden it doesn’t look so great. There isn’t a clear pattern in whether the big stores do really well against the small or medium ones. It varies a bit from year to year and location to location. There’s no geographic split where we do really well in one part of the country and struggle elsewhere.
PJ: What brands do you offer?
AH: We have our own lines, and mass market brands like DKNY and Fiorelli and things like that. In terms of performance, those are the stronger ones, but it’s not my buying area. I buy the diamonds.
PJ: Are you involved in the selection of the stones?
AH: All the certificated stones we sell, I buy all of those. We source them from all over. We’ve got suppliers coming from outside the UK. The biggest single location for us is Mumbai, India. We buy locally as well from people, and from other places too. It’s a case of going where the goods are.
PJ: What is F.Hinds standing on responsible sourcing?
AH: We were the 21st company in the world to be certified by the Responsible Jewellery Company, so we’ve always been quite early on that sort of thing. It’s something that we don’t really do because customers are demanding it, it’s something we do because we feel it’s the right thing to do. I wouldn’t say it necessarily brings commercial benefits. But we feel as a family and as a business it’s something we should be doing. We get some questions from customers, and some feedback on the subject, but for 99% of our customers it’s a non-issue. It’s a very small minority that are actively interested.
PJ: How has your year been so far?
AH: I would say not easy at the moment. It’s not terrible out there, but it’s certainly not been an easy year.
PJ: What in particular has been difficult?
AH: It’s a little bit across the board. It hasn’t been easy getting the money in the till – the money’s out there – it has been coming in more or less. But it has been a bit of a slog really.
PJ: And is this a wider retail issue with consumer spending?
AH: It does seem to be, yes. When you read all the retail press and the BRC figures, and footfall figures from shopping centres and things like that. There’s possibly some reassurance in that it seems to be across the board rather than it being specific to our sector or company.
PJ: Has there been anything that has been a surprise success?
AH: People seem to be sticking to the classics. Gold sales have been coming back slowly having taken a huge hit over the last decade. It’s almost like it bottomed out in 2014, and it’s now making progress in the right direction.
PJ: What are your thoughts as to what might have caused that?
AH: Greater affordability of gold has certainly helped a bit although it has been bouncing around a bit in the last 12 months and has been a bit volatile, certainly compared to where it peaked, there was more affordability. And I think possibility a slight trend back towards yellow a little bit, means people have to buy gold rather than one of the white metals.
PJ: What type of gold items are people buying?
AH: I would say the heavier chains have come back more, because their prices are affordable, but they’re still an area that’s weak compared to where they should be. It’s probably still the lighter weight things with more fashion in that perform better overall.
PJ: You’ve mentioned fashion. Is that a big sales area for you?
AH: Yes, for us the biggest part is still our own range which has become more and more important over time. The biggest brand by a margin is still our brand, so if that’s performing well then we’re doing well overall. I would say in gold that’s been coming back albeit in a slow way but at least in the right way.
PJ: And how about rose gold?
AH: No, everyone was talking about it a year ago, and we put a few bits in and it’s showing some promise. I would say it’s not coming through as quickly as we thought it might but I would say there’s some interest.
PJ: What’s your customer age range?
AH: We’re a very broad spread. I suppose the closest to us in terms of an equivalent is probably H.Samuels in terms of appeal, so we’re very much in the mass market. We’re taking a very broad cross of the population. I’d say if anything we’re probably slightly over-represented in older shoppers compared to younger ones, but I’d say we do have people coming in from teenagers through to people who are retired. It’s a very broad spread because the range of product we’ve got covers that as well. There’s a bit of traditional giftware that appeals to older customers, and then there’s the more affordable jewellery that appeals to youngsters.
PJ: Is it difficult marketing in-store given your broad demographic?
AH: Yes, it’s a constant challenge trying to do something that appeals to some without turning others off, and that applies across the company as a whole. It also applies to different shopping destinations. You get different needs from people in a traditional market town than you get from an out of town shopping centre.
PJ: How do you manage that?
AH: As best we can. You have to have some uniformity over the company, and some consistency, and also obviously online is a major tool, as people go on there looking before they come into the shop. It’s one of the channels that make part of the buying decision. It’s a case of coming up with promotions in individual product areas that we think are best tailored to the customers for those product areas.
PJ: You mentioned online. Can customers purchase from the website?
AH: Yes, next year will be our twentieth year actually. I think we were one of the first. We probably haven’t thrown as much money in it as some people, but it has always been a small and growing but profitable area for us.
PJ: How does your online marketing work? Do you use social media?
AH: Yes, Twitter, Facebook, other bits and pieces as well. We have a certain amount of analysis, but it’s sometimes difficult with things like Twitter with the breadth of followers. It’s not necessarily an individual, but could be a shop or organisation following and re-tweeting. We have a member of the team who does our analysis and tailors who’s being sent things.
PJ: Would you ever open a sub-store to focus on a certain demographic?
AH: You mean like a Goldsmiths boutique? We’ve got no plans at the moment. We’ve looked at different things. What we do more probably is tweak our offer in different stores. We can’t rule anything out. There’s all sorts of different possibilities. I think making sure our core offer is right is the most important thing for the business. There are still lots of places we don’t have shops in.
PJ: In terms of the future, do you have any developments in the pipeline?
AH: At the moment we’re opening two stores this year. We’ve opened one already and the other is in the pipeline. The last few years we’ve actually opened up quite a few stores, because there have been the opportunities out there. I guess that might slow a little now, but over the last few years there’ve been quite a few opportunities. We’ll have opened eight stores in three years. We’re not giving up on bricks and mortar retail!