INTERVIEW: Hayley Quinn on Swarovski's UK growth

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The brand's UK managing director talks product and retail expansion.

There is a sunny confidence to Swarovski UK managing director Hayley Quinn, who is pleased with the business’ progress to date in 2014. With Christmas around the corner, Kathryn Bishop heads to the brand’s HQ to talk self purchasing, social media campaigns and the battle of the super brands.

It’s a hot July day in West London but stepping into the cool of the Swarovski UK head office, you’d be forgiven for thinking the crystal chandelier glistening overhead was carved from ice.

This fresh, calm space transports you into the world of Swarovski’s business dealings. Here, behind-the-scenes, sits a mock-up shop showing how current ranges are merchandised in-store, while coffee table books of the Austrian company’s history are stylishly piled for visitors to peruse.

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Stepping out from behind her desk – above which hangs a photograph exclaiming ‘Yes to all’— is Swarovski UK managing director Hayley Quinn — who has been at the helm of the UK arm for six years. We’re here to talk about the business’ operations in 2014 and its presence in the ever-more competitive world of branded jewellery.

It has been a busy year to-date for Swarovski in the UK. Not only has it become the trial market for several of Swarovski’s new initiatives, including its Cadenzza designer jewellery stores and a swathe of Lola and Grace retail openings, but the UK has also offered the main Swarovski jewellery brand a chance to branch deeper into its target audience through new projects and campaigns.

Musing over the past nine months, Quinn says: “I suppose we’re exactly where we want to be, which is reassuring. I’m proud of where [the business] has got to, however I don’t think we should pretend it’s been easy; it’s been very aggressive and everybody has had to be at the top of their game.”

She recalls Valentine’s Day earlier this year, describing it as the most “aggressive” she has ever seen in her time with Swarovski, as the lead jewellery brands operating in the UK went head-to-head to win spend. “I’m really pleased to have hit our expectations in terms of performance versus budget,” Quinn adds. “We’ve traded almost completely prime, [as we] made a decision last year to stop discounting.” This decision to hold out on marking down products earlier on in the season has proven effective and Quinn says she is quietly confident about the remainder of the year — something she returns to later in our conversation.

SOMETHING FOR ME, TOO
Presently, in Swarovski’s owned and operated stores, franchises and concessions, some interesting changes are afoot. Quinn says the brand has become synonymous with gifting throughout the year, with sales peaks close to Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and other key gifting times.

However, following some market research carried out by the brand in 2013, it became apparent that the self-purchasing arm of the jewellery market was becoming more prevalent. “That’s an area for us that we probably haven’t capitalised on, so we’ve tried to tackle that specifically this summer and it’s paid off,” Quinn divulges. “We’ve seen a marked uplift in self-purchasing behaviour in May and June pre-sale, and you call tell from the product that it’s the summer holiday mentality of ‘I’ve bought a new dress, so I’ll get a few bits for my holiday’. It is a slight step change this year and certainly a vein we’ll continue in during autumn-winter.”

So how did the brand discover that self-purchasing was an untapped growth area? “The research looked at gifters and self-purchasers and it became quite apparent that within the UK jewellery [market] – so not just Swarovski but all jewellery brands – about 22% are self purchasers and another 22% are gift purchasers, so it’s a fairly even mix,” Quinn says. “It was quite obvious to us that we were appealing to the gifters but we were missing out on the self purchasers.”

As a result, Swarovski UK has placed a heavy focus on above-the-line advertising, its social media outreach and PR. “We have been trying to make [the brand] more noticeable to the self-purchasing consumer in a bid to say ‘Do you know what? We have something for you too’,” Quinn states. “And while it’s not been another Valentine’s Day in terms of sales, there is a trend in that direction and we have some very exciting activities planned based around really affordable, self-purchasing product [this autumn].”

MULTIFACETED MARKETING
Another development at Swarovski UK HQ is the tighter focus of its marketing activities in the digital sphere. While this focus won’t place the brand before a new target market — its main customer base is women aged 20 to 45 — it instead offers a chance to infiltrate into sub-audiences within that age range.

“We have got more sophisticated at addressing where the holes are [in our marketing],” Quinn says. “It is about brand awareness — have customers got the right perception of us? Are we in their consideration set for purchases? Can we inspire them to buy?”

Indeed, Quinn concedes that many still regard Swarovski as a brand only producing crystal figurines. As a result, there has been a drive to specifically raise awareness of Swarovski as a jewellery brand. “And make sure we’re in the consideration set of the more fashionable, more modern and trend-driven consumer,” Quinn asserts.

As a global brand, Swarovski’s campaign message and imagery is consistent across the world, but the methods by which these messages are delivered vary from place-to-place.

“We did a large amount of work with an agency at the end of last year, who we asked to look in great detail at the performance of our entire marketing spend,” Quinn reveals. “It took about three months to pull all the sales data but they came back with really good analytics on what we can expect from what we spend where. Our gut instinct wasn’t that far adrift from what they recommended.”

From detailed conversations with the agency, Quinn and her team realised that there was one platform the brand had not yet utilised: television. It was clear that this was the next logical step for Swarovski in the UK, and it plans to unveil its first-ever TV campaign ahead of Christmas. “It’s the right time to do it,” Quinn states. “It will be different for us because we’re competing with the big boys [such as] Sainsbury’s and John Lewis, but if you can be a small chink in their armour it’s worth a lot.”

In a Professional Jeweller interview about the brand’s plans for the year ahead in January this year, Quinn said that social media was set to become a large part of Swarovski’s outreach. Returning to this subject matter seven months on, Quinn says the brand has won some success utilising social media to boost awareness.

“Social media has become an integral part of our media campaign – we’ve had a global Facebook page for three to four years but we launched a local [UK] page last year and a local Twitter page, and we’ve had a 19,000% increase in our Twitter reach in that time, obtaining 31,485 new followers using a mixture of organic and paid-for tweets,” she states. “We started from a low base, but for a brand with a reasonably good awareness and recognition, social media is allowing us to explain to the consumer what they should know us for, not necessarily what their grandparent knew us for, and that’s where we’re seeing a turn.”

When the brand launched its UK-focused Facebook page, it transferred existing UK-based Swarovski Facebook fans over to the page and, since then, the UK page has won a 408% increase in fans. “Something Swarovski has done very well is having specific brand handwriting and guidelines while allowing the local market to adapt it, so it’s relevant to the UK,” Quinn adds. “What we’re talking about is the same globally but how we’re talking about it has to be relevant to the people in our market, even how things are phrased or presented. Everyone is talking ‘glocal’ – think global, act local and I’m really proud of how Swarovski implements that.”

Part of this global outreach is having a ‘face’ of the Swarovski brand. In recent years, this has evolved from Bond Girl Berenice Marlohe, who appeared in Skyfall, to Miranda Kerr, who fronted its global campaign in 2013 and returns again for AW14. What does Quinn think of having a global face, and would a local face be more appealing to a UK audience? “The answer is, when you’re a global brand that’s passionate about how that brand is represented, having a local face is completely wrong — it would not be right for Swarovski, [plus] finding one is a challenge,” Quinn asserts.

“Miranda Kerr, for us, is very glamorous, sexy, known for her sense of style but she’s also a working mum and a businesswoman with a life that almost exactly typifies the Swarovski customer. She’s not just a face, she really represents everything we want our consumers to think of about our brand.”

Quinn adds that, in her personal view Miranda Kerr is a perfect fit for the brand, with research indicating she has been well received by Swarovski’s UK consumers.

RAISING RETAIL
The subject of UK consumers brings the conversation around to retail stores, with Quinn discussing the business’ plans for the coming years. Swarovski has identified about 40 further opportunities for owned and occupied or franchise stores in the UK, but Quinn asserts there are no “preconceived ideas of which it has to be,” and that openings will be based on the prospects available.

“There is considerable opportunity in the market still from a wholesale point of view,” Quinn states. “So we’re actively pursuing opportunities in that area.” She reveals that over that past five years, Swarovski has opened more franchise stores than owned and occupied premises and believes this pattern will continue over the next two to three years. At present, about 75% of its franchise stores are operated by people already in the jewellery business, with Swarovski both approaching jewellery businesses in areas local to where it sees new opportunities, and receiving queries from interested parties outside of the industry. Recommendations are also a regular conduit to sourcing new franchise partners. “The jewellery industry is close and having those referrals [between retailers] counts for a lot in our business. I think it’s a sound way to do business, and we do the same in reverse,” Quinn says.

She also notes the benefits of working with The Company of Master Jewellers, describing the buying group as “so valuable” in helping the brand and its partners.

Looking ahead, Swarovski will open more shop-in-shop and multibrand spaces, focusing on steady, consistent growth over sudden mushrooming.

PROOF IS IN THE PRODUCT
It is in the Swarovski mission statement that the brand provides desirable, affordable and on-trend jewellery for today’s woman but as Quinn points out, what is considered affordable, on-trend and desirable changes from person-to-person.

“Everyone has a different view on what that needs to be,” she says. “With our guest designers such as Shourouk we’ve been phenomenally successful; Stephen Webster’s [Skyfall collection] was lovely, and now we have Viktor & Rolf for AW14, which is quite different but beautiful. If you’re the kind of woman that buys into the idea of statement jewellery, then these pieces are for you.”

From a product development point of view, Quinn says Swarovski is “working just as hard to refine the more everyday pieces”, in-line with the current trend for stacking rings, bracelets and layered necklaces. “It’s about having diversity in the collection and the breadth that the consumer wants; otherwise you’re only answering to one sector of the market.”

Looking ahead to SS15, there will be a number of “quite interesting pieces” in upcoming collections, says Quinn, who notes that the brand’s designs are increasingly impressive. “Even in the six years I’ve been here I’ve seen an enormous shift in [our] design and we’re only part way through the journey of where the brand wants to be,” she explains.

It appears Swarovski is very clear on where it is heading and is currently going through a journey of exciting collaboration and growth as it dips into new, digital realms. “That’s the great thing,” Quinn smiles. “We’re constantly evolving, constantly staying one step ahead. And that’s exciting.”

This Interview was taken from the September 2014 issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the magazine in full online, click here.
 

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