INTERVIEW: Jon Crossick on progress at Thomas Sabo

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The brand's UK MD talks retail expansion and Christmas campaigns.

Business is evolving at Thomas Sabo as the brand embarks on a UK-wide retail expansion plan, develops fresh product lines and launches new marketing initiatives. Professional Jeweller sits down with the brand’s UK managing director Jon Crossick, discussing recent developments and the future of branded jewellery retail.

It has been 18 months since Jon Crossick took over the role of UK managing director of jewellery brand Thomas Sabo and – in his own words – it has been a fast-moving and exciting debut into the world of jewellery.

Stepping from the world of luxury luggage into the shoes of the brand’s former UK managing director Harald Winzer, who was promoted to Thomas Sabo European chief executive, Crossick says he was presented with a solid base to work from and UK-wide growth opportunities ready to court.

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“The past 18 months have been about making sure we push all aspects of the brand, so that it wasn’t just about our Charm Club and the sterling silver collections, but also the training, marketing and presentation of Thomas Sabo,” Crossick explains.

With a new silver collection launching as Crossick joined, he notes that much of the brand’s work this past year-and-a-half has been focused on evening out the balance between its product sectors. As a result, development and promotion between the brand’s Charm Club, silver jewellery and men’s and women’s watch collections is now far better balanced. “Charms are still a nice part of the business, but for me it’s all about having these different facets of the business and in our stores it creates a great spine,” he says.

Beyond the product, however, the name of this German’s brand game has been expansion. In the past year, the brand has opened several new UK standalone stores, in particular in the south of England and around the M25, where Crossick feels there is still room for wider Thomas Sabo retail representation.

Most recently, the brand opened a large, two-storey fronted shop in the West Quay mall in Southampton, a key southern city that was previously void of a prominent Thomas Sabo offer.

“Southampton was a major shopping centre that we weren’t in yet but we knew from customer data that we had a following there,” Crossick explains. “It’s also a gateway to the south because it’s not our strongest area.” He adds that an opening in Bromley was the brand ‘really looking at the South East [of London] and the M25’, which was contrasted by an opening in one of the brand’s strongest UK cities – Manchester.

Snapping up a space in the Arndale Centre in Manchester, a new Thomas Sabo store sits alongside leading high street fashion retailers, operating on a ground floor space where footfall is arguably at its highest.

Then, in August this year, came the news of plans to open a flagship Thomas Sabo store in London. The space, taking over the former Kurt Geiger flagship on the pedestrianised South Molton Street, will position Thomas Sabo alongside the likes of Links of London, Annoushka and Monica Vinader, as well as independent fashion store Browns and fashion labels Comptoir des Cotonniers, Ted Baker and Sandro.

“We were looking for a flagship for a while before [I joined Thomas Sabo] and always knew we wanted a London flagship to really showcase the brand,” Crossick says. “While London is an amazing city, there aren’t that many streets where you can place a flagship – there aren’t 101 choices – so when the building came up, I went there with Mr Sabo and we knew we were going to take it; it is a great building and fits well with the other flagships we’ve opened so far in Switzerland, Vienna and Germany.”

Crossick says that as the South Molton Street area becomes a jewellery destination, it is an added bonus for the brand, dubbing the store – one of the biggest on the street – an “anchor site”.

Of course, with standalone openings comes the delicate balancing act of supporting local wholesale partners without taking business away from them. When asked whether the brand is still planning to open wholesale accounts amidst its own-brand store openings, Crossick states its current wholesale business it at “a nice peak”, but with potential still untapped in certain areas of the UK. “Without a doubt, we’ve not reached potential in all locations and we always take into account our wholesale partners when we look at retail opportunities,” Crossick explains. “We aim to fill the gap or look at where we see real extra potential, or we’ll leave areas to wholesale if we think [our partners] are doing the right job. With somewhere like Southampton as an example, we have a few wholesalers in the region but not in that city, so it becomes the halo, it’s much more visible and means customers might buy some products from the Thomas Sabo store and others pieces at a jewellers in a town nearby.”

At present, Crossick says, the split between retail and wholesale operations is nicely balanced, more or less matching its position 12 months ago.

Naturally, all Thomas Sabo stores and wholesale partners need good product and over the past 18 months, as Crossick notes, greater attention has been paid to equalling out the brand’s product offer and, with that, reaching out to core types of consumer.

For its Charm Club range, its target market is 16 to 24-year-old women, while its silver jewellery collections are tailored more towards 24 to 45-year-olds. Crossick notes, however, that his wholesale partners regularly report Thomas Sabo’s customer age range as reaching much further.

The brand launched its own bead line in 2013 – Karma Beads – with stone-set, openwork and gold vermeil silver beads, designed to be worn on bracelets or as pendants. The move was an intriguing one for a brand that had not only carved its niche with an ever-evolving array of silver charms and burgeoning silver jewellery collections, but was also pitting its bead collections alongside some major, established players in the UK.

“[Beads] is a bonafide category itself, whether people think the sector is peaking or not,” Crossick asserts. “There are big players but for us it’s a question of ‘if Thomas Sabo did beads, what would they look like?’”

The result is a collection of beads that are intricate, detailed and give buyers a chance to personalise their designs by mixing and matching women’s beads with pieces evoking a more masculine edge. Different colours of pavé-set stones and different gold plated elements add further options. The brand has also recently introduced a range of smaller spike and tree of life-style pendants, which can be strung on Karma Bead bracelets in the style of more traditional charm bracelets.

“We’ve been really happy with how Karma Beads have done; competing to a point, but it’s about bringing together a collection form Thomas Sabo that works across the board,” Crossick says. “From a multibrand retailer point-of-view, the Karma range adds something [new] and in the past four to eight weeks we’ve seen a real step change in how it’s doing — I think its consciousness of the brand and people coming back. It’s building nicely.”

Next up, Crossick reveals colour will be a key feature in all Thomas Sabo collections, with jewel tones and vibrant hues set to weave through upcoming lines. As a brand that tends to forego UK trade shows, Thomas Sabo instead favours its own Collection Days, where it invites wholesale partners down to discover new lines, learn about the inspirations and be ready to sell the new collections when they land in stores. With its Collection Days done and dusted for 2014, will Thomas Sabo unveil any special Christmas 2014 product drops?

“You never know with Mr Sabo,” Crossick smiles. “If he comes up with an idea, what he decides goes, but the main thing as announced at the Collection Days is that we’re going into TV advertising for the first time.”

This new and exciting medium for the brand will see Thomas Sabo advertisements running on TV channels nationwide throughout November and December, showcasing products from its Charm Club, Karma Bead and sterling silver ranges.

“There will be two different adverts, running to coincide with the new store openings and the flagship opening [at the end of October],” Crossick explains. “There will be a lot of social media around it too, meaning all the other marketing activity will come together at that moment in time, and we will work harder again with our wholesale partners to focus on co-op advertising in their regions to best support them.”

Aside from the jewellery itself, the other main draw of the campaign will be Georgia May Jagger, who has been the face of Thomas Sabo for the past year. As the daughter of Jerry Hall and Mick Jagger, she is described as a “great face” for the brand by Crossick, who adds that she has been well received by Thomas Sabo customers both here in the UK and overseas. “She fits really nicely with Thomas Sabo and whenever she has done an event for us, she’s been fantastic; looking at the photoshoots and videos [with Georgia], it seems to come very easy to her, she’s a real campaign girl.”

Back to the here and now, however, is the question of what lies ahead for jewellery brands at present in the UK. There have been numerous reports of late that unbranded jewellery is once again on the radar of retailers who have had their fill of brands. Contrastingly, at the higher end of the spectrum, luxury jewellery designers are winning interest from larger luxury groups, being snapped up and turned into global brands to compete with mid-level fine jewellery names that have been in existence for decades.

Crossick mulls this point for a moment, before stating: “I think in a way [branded jewellery] is the only way to go. Brands that keep investing in marketing and product and keep developing will grow stronger and stronger; it’s all about marketing but also making sure the product stands up.”

Crossick references how dominant branded jewellery has become in the UK jewellery market, but says it is down to the retailers to truly support the brand where it is needed most — on the shop floor. There, the benefits that will follow are theirs to reap. “I believe there are some jewellery retailers who absolutely get it and are doing a fantastic job and others that haven’t got it,” he explains, on the point of what it means to sell branded jewellery. “What I’m hearing now is that multibrand jewellers have long-term customers who are getting married and want to buy their bridal jewellery from them; they have got the customer in early and so the customer wants to stay with them.”

Looking ahead, Crossick confirms there is still more to come from Thomas Sabo in the UK, and with this much more in terms of its retail outreach. “There are so many places that aren’t served well enough by branded jewellery,” he states. “It’s brands that drive business to jewellery stores — you need the power of brands.”

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

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