INTERVIEW: David Riddiford

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Find out what Trollbeads’ new UK CEO has in mind for the brand.

With an enviable background in retail and a stint as Links of London MD, David Riddiford was headhunted for the role of Trollbeads UK chief executive. He tells Kathryn Bishop about the brand’s new leadership and plans to reaffirm Trollbeads’ position in the UK.

David Riddiford is no stranger to jewellery and luxury goods, having spent time as Links of London managing director and working as a deputy managing director at Asprey and Garrard in the 1990s.

Being familiar with the challenges and triumphs of our industry, this summer Riddiford was headhunted for a brand new role – that of Trollbeads UK chief executive, a timely hiring amidst a period of reshuffle and refocus at the bead charm company.

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“There have been some major changes for Trollbeads in Denmark, where they have employed a new CEO, a new marketing director and a new international sales director,” Riddiford explains. “So there is a definite commitment towards the whole business on an international level.”

This commitment is something that UK-based Trollbeads retailers have been monitoring carefully in 2013. It has been a year of changes for the brand, from the £21.9 million paid to it by Pandora for rights relating to a charm bead designs by Trollbeads’ founder Lise Aagaard, penned during her time spent designing for Pandora, to the recent acquisition of a majority sharehold in Trollbeads’ UK distributor Fable Trading.

Following this acquisition, Trollbeads has established Trollbeads UK Ltd, and has taken over the distribution of the brand from Fable Trading. As such, Fable Trading directors Sarah and Richard Moorfoot have concluded working with Trollbeads to instead focus on the UK distribution of silver brands Buddha to Buddha and Quoins.

In a bid to quell concerns raised by these changes, Riddiford has already visited a number of retailers. “The feedback I have had is that they are anxious to make sure there is a commitment to Trollbeads in the UK, especially from the Danish side of the organisation” he states. “The UK one of the most important markets in the world for Trollbeads, and I think it has far greater potential that is being realised [at the moment].”

He describes the Fable Trading era as very successful for Trollbeads and says it is important that the newly established company builds on the foundations established by the Moorfoots. “We will continue to develop Trollbeads in the UK, but we’ll be working in a slightly different way, as we’re no longer a customer of Trollbeads, but a direct colleague of the Denmark HQ,” he says.

The brand’s UK headquarters is set to remain in Bristol where Fable Trading established its base, and will maintain all 12 members of head office staff and four UK-wide agents. Trollbeads former sales director Richard Hill has opted to move with the Moorfoots, meaning Trollbeads will announce a new UK sales director in early January 2014.

IN THE FAMILY
Riddiford was headhunted for the role with Trollbeads and believes that his background in department stores – he has worked for Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford and Arnotts, and is a non-executive director at Jarrolds in Norwich – teamed his wholesale jewellery expertise, helped him to seal the role.

He travelled to Denmark to meet Trollbeads managing director Jan Stig Andersen and the Aagaard family that founded the bead brand back in 1976, and says he was impressed with the company’s ethos, as well as its commitment to social projects. These include working with communities in Tibet and initiatives such as the annual People’s Bead competition, where Trollbeads invites fans of the brand to design a bead around a theme, with the winning design then put into production.

“At this stage in my career it is really nice to be with a company that has warmth and humanity,” he says. “I fell in love with the company, if you like.”

Riddiford believes that, still being a company with family ties, Trollbeads has very different priorities compared to the businesses he has worked with under private equity ownership. The result, he believes, is a company that strives to be in touch with its working partners, to better understand their needs. Through the establishment of Trollbeads UK, Riddiford says the company will better placed to understand and react to what is selling on our shores.

This sense of care has rubbed off on Riddiford, and he has already visited a number of multiple and independent retailers selling the brand. “I’ve already been to see Beaverbrooks and met with Mark Adlestone, while many of the other retailers I already have a relationship with from my time at Links of London, such as Steffans,” he explains. “I find that the profile of the retail accounts is often similar to that of Links, though the brand positioning is very different.”

AUDIENCE EVOLUTION
Trollbeads is a brand known for its seasonal and often secretive collection launches, with a stream of new bead designs released each year, toasting Mother’s Day, Easter, Christmas, as well as summer and winter collections and special editions, such as its charitable bead to support victims of the Japanese tsunami or the collection made in partnership with a Malawian artisan.

“Trollbeads has addicts who are fascinated by the beads; they have conventions and organise trips to visit retailers, so there is an opportunity now to create and promote more of that heart of the business, which is really important to us,” states Riddiford. “But it is also really important that we introduce new people to the brand and this is where X by Trollbeads will help to broaden the Trollbeads customer base in terms of retailers and the end consumer.”

The X by Trollbeads range, unveiled in September, is a new composable bracelet concept featuring silver, bronze, solid gold and black rubber links that can be connected to form personalised bracelet designs, thanks to an innovative X-shaped bevelled edge that allows the links to connect by meeting the two X-shapes and twisting them together. The range launched with 70 styles of link, including a design inspired by 1980s videogames, and heart, guitar and zodiac-themed links.

It is hoped that the range, along with its lower price points, will bring some edge to Trollbeads’ offers and, as Riddiford states, will position it to a new, potentially unisex customer.

Next up, the brand will launch new 2014 product at the Jewellery & Watch Show at Spring Fair, with new releases from the mainline bead collection and the X by Trollbeads range. This will consist of a spring range and some Valentine’s Day collections, but with the expected mystery to keep the launches exciting and fresh for retailers and fans.

The collections are typically launched ready to go into shops straightaway, something Riddiford says can be tricky, as larger multiples tend to allocate their spend several months before products hit the shop floor. Thus, in 2014 he hopes to work more closely on ensuing retailers are fully prepared for Trollbeads launches, and Trollbeads prepared to assist its retailers as best as possible with orders in advance.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Riddiford’s first official day in the role of Trollbeads UK chief executive is not until February, but he was drafted in early to help facilitate with the handover of the distribution from Fable Trading to Trollbeads UK Ltd. This has meant several days in the Bristol office already, getting to know the staff and the working functions of the business, with Riddiford himself relocating from Northamptonshire to Somerset.

He is keen to put his all into the business and says that being able to work with members of staff that have been working with Trollbeads since the brand launched in the UK is not only beneficial, but goes to show the loyalty that the staff have towards the brand, much like its fans. “It is a small but beautiful team, and for me it was important to keep everyone on from Fable Trading during the transition to Trollbeads UK,” Riddiford says. “Like the retailers and consumers, the team love the brand, so it is important for them to see there is a real commitment to building and developing the brand in the UK, and that we plan strong growth for Trollbeads in the next few years.”

Riddiford has made the calculations, weighing up Pandora sales versus Trollbeads sales in a number of global markets. He says there are similarities in some countries, but in the UK it is clear that Trollbeads has room to grow, but travelling at its own pace and finding its niche, rather than following in Pandora’s shadow. So, what comes next?

While Trollbeads operates two standalone stores in its native Denmark, it operates globally as a wholesale brand. But there could soon be plans in place for a wider UK retail presence for Trollbeads, beginning with the development of a concession model as the company plots growth with departments stores beyond its current set up with House of Fraser, Harrods and John Lewis.

“I would hope over the next one to three years we will develop a standalone retail presence, but it really helps to develop the brand profile with concessions first, from a marketing and brand profile point of view,” Riddiford says. “It also means a direct relationship with customers, which means we can react quickly to what they are purchasing.”

The desire to listen to and understand what Trollbeads customers want – whether the wholesale retail customers or the end consumer – is the first step in the brand undergoing a quasi-renaissance in the UK.

And while Riddiford is clear that he does not want to emulate the moves that Pandora has made both here and internationally, Trollbeads’ new product lines and its changing UK operations show that there is a determination to be as effective as possible in developing the brand’s story and message, to win both new fans and reclaim its stake in the UK jewellery market.

How Harvey Nichols and Harrods have shaped Riddiford’s view of the bead market
“I’ve spent most of my life working in department stores,” says Trollbeads UK chief executive David Riddiford. “I remember when I worked for Harvey Nichols and we had Harrods down the road, which was 50 times the size. There was no way that Harvey Nicks could compete by doing the same thing as Harrods, so we had to create a point of difference, which at the time was being the first to market with new brands, being innovative with our buying, and having a humorous point of view with things like the shop windows. It’s the same with Trollbeads and Pandora. I have only been with the brand short while, but for me it is really important to create a strong point of difference for the brand rather than going head to head with Pandora and other silver brands.”

This interview was taken from the December issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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