INTERVIEW: Nick Callegari on Thomas Sabo’s future

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In January, Thomas Sabo offered a glimpse into its business strategy by appointing its first wholesale director for the UK and Ireland, Nick Callegari. Professional Jeweller sat down with Callegari at the brand’s London flagship store to find out about his five-year plan.

It’s official. Wholesale is the number one priority of Thomas Sabo in 2015. Or at least it is for the brand’s new director of wholesale for the UK and Ireland, Nick Callegari.

Professional Jeweller arranged to meet Callegari at Thomas Sabo’s London flagship store on South Molton Street — a masterclass in branding and the heart of Thomas Sabo’s retail prowess in the UK. With the bitterly cold weather outside, stepping into the brightly lit flagship offers a sense of escapism; with the Charm Club neatly separated from the brand’s sterling silver collections and it’s new, flagship-only fine jewellery ranges.

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For Callegari, his job is to help bring this ‘sense of Sabo’ to the brand’s wholesale partners, while growing the number of accounts across the country. He’s taken on the role without a direct predecessor, which highlights just how important wholesale has become within the Thomas Sabo mind-set.

Callegari held the position of head of sales at Tag Heuer in 2011, before moving to Portfolio of Fine Diamonds and finally Aurum Holdings in 2013. After nine months as head of retail at Watches of Switzerland he accepted the role at Thomas Sabo, something which appealed to him from both a wholesale and retail perspective. He comments: “Wholesale is really where I’m driven from and I get a great amount of satisfaction from working with partners. We’ve got a great set of very valued partners within the brand, and I think it was a case of coming on-board with that while taking the brand, which is already very well established as far as its history is concerned, to the next level.”

Callegari explains that the “vision” was laid down by UK managing director Jon Crossick and Mr Thomas Sabo himself, who was “very clear about wanting to elevate the brand in the affordable luxury sector and becoming a brand leader [in that area]”. It is perhaps a surprise to many that Thomas Sabo didn’t have a wholesale director in place before January 2014, but according to Callegari the brand had a “solid base in the UK sector from both a wholesale and retail point of view” which didn’t require any immediate personnel changes. However, this sense has shifted in 2015, with Callegari hinting that Crossick will tackle the overall strategy while he looks after wholesale and James Cook continues in his role as head of retail.

Callegari continues: “I think given where the brand is at this moment in time it makes perfect sense [to hire a director of wholesale]. Certainly, from talking to Mr Sabo, wholesale has always been a focus of the business and what we’re quite determined to show is that wholesale is really key to our strategy. I think by appointing a director of wholesale it reinforces the message that we’re not just focusing on our own stores. Instead, we want to balance the two together and really drivethe two in synergy.”

Professional Jeweller caught Callegari just three weeks into his role and just days after the brand’s New Year round of ‘Collection Days’. Instead of doing trade events, the brand favours these roadshow days in London, Manchester and Dublin, inviting wholesale partners to come and meet the team (roughly 80% of existing partners attend) and see the new collections. Callegari muses: “The Collection Days are a great opportunity to meet a lot of valued partners and to see what Thomas Sabo means within those [retail] environments. It’s not an appointment conveyer belt situation, it is much more personal and hopefully it shows our commitment in terms of wholesale being vital to the business as we move forward.”

He continues: “The message we presented during those Collection Days is that, yes, we have a retail strategy and it is very key to us. But what we want to do is create that halo effect, taking elements of what you see in the South Molton Street flagship in terms of design, furniture and feel, and implement that where we can within the wholesale accounts.”

Charm Club continues to be a cornerstone of the Thomas Sabo brand, but Callegari and the team are confident that the brand’s sterling silver product lines and watches will continue to gather momentum in 2015. He explains: “Typically a 16 to 24-year-old customer will come in and buy some of our Charm Club, but her mum might want to purchase a piece of our sterling silver jewellery and her dad might want to buy some Rebel at Heart cufflinks.”

Add to this the new fine jewellery ranges and it is clear that Thomas Sabo has one-stop-shop plans, with the aim of catching a customer at the very start of his or her jewellery journey. With this in mind, Callegari has outlined his aims in a five-year plan — something which was alluded to but not explicitly explained to Professional Jeweller. Within the multi-brand environment, Callegari wants what arguably all brands want; great sell-out and high footfall. But he doesn’t expect the brand’s retailers to do all the work, and he hopes Thomas Sabo will help to create traffic by attracting loyal customers to partners’ stores.

He remarks: “Clearly part of my remit is to build a strategy. I’m very clear that wholesale is key to driving that strategy, and what I need to do over the next few months is visit as many of our wholesale partners as possible to really begin to understand what is needed for the business.” Having stepped into the role with an open mind, Callegari doesn’t yet know whether this new strategy will require a store-by-store bespoke product mix or “whether it is about enhancing the presence of Thomas Sabo by offering a larger breadth” of stock.

Geographically, Callegari doesn’t appear to be worried about the spread of Thomas Sabo across the UK and Ireland. However he is determined to grow the brand’s presence in areas with “higher populations” where “just to have one Thomas Sabo partner – whether wholesale or retail – actually isn’t enough”.

He adds: “We’ve got to look at individual areas, area-by-area, and ask ourselves are we in the best partner? Can we expand? And what does that look like? I want to find partners we can grow with.” When asked if he expects any existing accounts to fall by the wayside, Callegari is confident that, once the brand message and strategy is explained to partners, they will want to go on the Thomas Sabo journey. Over the next three months he will be visiting partners to find out what else the brand can offer and what more can be done to elevate the brand in that particular establishment.

“Typically, if we look at the business we’ve had, we’ve had more success in the North, so I think there is an opportunity immediately to look [at business] from a Southern point of view. The balance doesn’t feel that far off to be honest, but it is a case of making sure that the gaps are filled.”

With a keen eye on multi-branded environments, Callegari explains that Thomas Sabo will be assessing its point of sale material as part of its overall strategy. This will be supported by the two visual merchandisers in Callegari’s Battersea-based team, well as four area managers who help to maintain long-term partnerships. A renewed focus on training will also be introduced, with Callegari considering an “ambassador approach” commonly used in the watch industry.

Understandably, almost everything Callegari introduces over the coming months will be to encourage greater sellout. “There’s no greater message than sitting down with people at a Collection Day who are saying they’ve had great sell-out of the product, they want to reinvest in it, and they want more space for it,” he says. Opportunities for growth, especially among small multiples have “already presented themselves” for the brand, but Callegari is only interested in developments if they fit with the brand’s long-term strategy.

He remarks: “This is not about a knee-jerk reaction for short term benefits. This is about a five-year plan that we want to execute in the right way, so that we can enjoy another 30 years of business.” So what, in Callegari’s opinion, makes Thomas Sabo the best bet for retailers across the country? His immediate answer focuses on the heritage of the brand and the designorientated collections, something which should instil confidence in retailers and draw the right kind of ooohhs and aaahhs from their customers. “I think more importantly from a Thomas Sabo point-of-view is the brand being a profit driver for a retail business,” he adds. “We are a global player established in over 75 countries and we have a great record in terms of delivery and availability of stock, which I think is second to none.”

Callegari admits that the easier option would be to “open 50 or 60 doors overnight,” but he knows this wouldn’t fit in with the brand’s five-year plan. In terms of reaching the multiples, Thomas Sabo is currently stocked by Beaverbrooks and Fraser Hart, but Callegari appears to approach the issue of partnering with more with caution. He explains: “If the right opportunity presents itself, if the locations are right for us and the [retailer] is going to present and support the brand in the right way, then of course we will look at those options, but it won’t just be a case of doing it for the sake of it.”

In a transient and sometimes fickle retail environment, Callegari is focused on finding stability and promoting it; both within Thomas Sabo and its retail partners. A one-year deal isn’t on the cards, but a long-term partnership most certainly is. He adds: “One thing that shone for me when talking to our partners over the past couple of weeks is that need for consistency. There will always be others than come and go, but with a 30-year history, I think it’s safe to say we’re not just here for the short term.”

So, what makes a good wholesale director? According to Callegari it’s being able to offer a consistent and clear message to both his team and retail partners. He concludes: “I think if there is that clarity in the message and how you’re going to drive it forward then people are going to embrace the journey with you. That is what I intend to do as far as my role is concerned.”

This feature originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Professional Jeweller. Read it here. 

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