INTERVIEW: Paul Owen, Fraser Hart retail director

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On improving the retail chain’s internal structure and communication.

Fraser Hart retail director Paul Owen joined the team in August 2013, shaking up the internal processes at one of the UK’s biggest high street jewellery chains. He tells Kathryn Bishop about improving internal structure, plans for new stores and why you are only as good as the staff you employ.

Wooden fencing, mobile phones and the latest fridge-freezer might not appear the ideal products to cut your teeth on when entering the jewellery industry, but for Fraser Hart retail director Paul Owen, they have been valuable assets in shaping his working methods.

He was headhunted for the newly-created retail director role at Fraser Hart in August 2013, after years working for industry leaders in other sectors, including Carphone Warehouse, B&Q, Barratts shoes and Allsports. Owen has taken to this new role with gusto, spending the first six weeks following his appointment getting to know the regional managers and store managers across Fraser Hart’s estate of 39 shops, working on various shop floors across the country to find out what makes Fraser Hart staff tick. His mission? To improve the retail chain’s internal structure, its approach to each working day and to consolidate its internal communication so each member of staff, no matter their position, knows their thoughts and views on the business are listened to as it pushes forward in the retail realm.

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For Owen, joining the company has been an exciting step. “Fraser Hart has a great culture and a really open and honest approach in the way it works, and I think that was a real attraction for me,” he says. He works closely as part of a senior executive leadership team, made up of himself and Noel Coyle, chief executive officer of Fraser Hart’s parent company the Anthony Nicholas Group, and its chief financial officer Mark Naughton-Rumbo. Owen says one of Coyle’s first comments was to make sure that, despite being a UK-wide multiple retailer, Fraser Hart remained closer to an independent retailer in its approach to business and selling. “But what we needed was to get better at the day-to-day, with a clear alignment across sections of the business and an improved strategy,” he recalls.

PERCEPTIONS VERSUS REALITY
This clear alignment strategy consists of focusing on four key areas, which Owen dubs the ‘big rocks’ of Fraser Hart; namely the customers, its employees, the shops’ operational standards and its products. Owen works with the visual merchandising team, the property team and the marketing, aftersales and customer service teams, meaning that anything to do with those four ‘big rocks’ is within his remit.

Heading on to the shop floor, Owen hoped to discover whether the company’s perception of who its customers are and how its staff operate were the same as the reality.

“It is fascinating,” he says of his time working with staff and shop managers. “What they do every day, how they set the store up, what the customers are asking for, which brands do well, what we do well or perhaps not so well. I asked lots of questions, did lots of listening, and at the end of those 90 days I was able to state what our priorities are and where we had opportunities to develop.”

Reporting back to Coyle, Owen was able to tell the board that Fraser Hart needed to get better at nurturing internal talent and promoting succession planning between managers and staff. Owen, together with Coyle and Naughton-Rumbo, hosted the first Fraser Hart Leaders Conference in February of this year, inviting senior staff members and managers to a day of discussions about how they could improve internal operations.

“We recognised that we need better alignment across the retail, buying, merchandising and finance teams,” Owen states. “We took a lot of feedback at our conference and one area we know we have to improve on is mass communication.” Indeed, the conference provided each guest with an iPad to use on the day, through which they could share their views and frustrations, providing instant feedback to the leadership team.

He adds: “At the start of the day there were a lot of frustrations aired and feedback about past events [within the company], but by the end of the day we were all thinking ‘what a great future we’ve got ahead of us’. It felt really positive.”

As a result of the Leaders Conference, Fraser Hart is working to improve its internal communication. It has launched an operations newsletter, and the company has also taken time to answer every question raised at its conference, providing replies to all branch managers along with a video from the conference so they can brief their teams on what will be happening next at the company. “We have also made a commitment that all branch managers will get to talk to the senior executive leadership team regularly, so we can discuss how they are progressing and what we can do to help them achieve their goals. We have created a number of working groups with our branch managers to sort out key priorities for the stores; from how they are set up each day to the processes and procedures and store standards.”

DEVELOPING THE FRASER HART BRAND
Owen also recognises that the web is a huge opportunity for Fraser Hart, in particular when it comes to raising brand awareness for the Fraser Hart name, not just the watch and jewellery brands it sells. Akin to the efforts being made by Argento in Ireland and the UK – as reported in Professional Jeweller’s May issue – it is becoming more prevalent for retailers to push their own brand names . “We do a lot of marketing events with Rolex, Breitling and other brands to name but a few, but we want to encourage our mangers to grow their own market as we believe there is an opportunity to get the Fraser Hart brand out there, as opposed to just the brand [names] we sell,” says Owen. “We will work hard internally and with experts in that area to see how we can get better at that.”

There are also plans for Fraser Hart to expand, with the opening of a number of new greenfield sites over the next four years. “We are looking to grow the business to 60 stores within the next four years, and will continue to invest in refits to make sure our current estate is fit for purpose and right for the customers,” Owen explains. “But we really believe that part of our growth strategy is greenfield sites and we will continue to look at every opportunity out there, understanding where we want to be in terms of customer profile and demographics and to get the best deals available. Ultimately it’s about the return on our investment.”

Fraser Hart’s plans to recognise suitable new sites and retail opportunities will also involve working with an external agent. “This profiling will help us to understand in detail who our customers are, where our best fit is [in terms of sites] and which stores are the best fit for our brands. We need the right brands in the right locations at the right prices.”

SELECTING SUPER BRANDS
Indeed, the retailer has found that certain brands are performing better in certain stores, and this will impact not only on how it buys, but also stock movement. Owen is working closely with the buying teams to create a strategy that will aid its approach to new products and its work with brands.

“We will continue to work with leading watch and jewellery brands but we will also look to acquire new agencies and key brands when opportunities come about,” he adds. Of note is Fraser Hart’s approach to niche watch and jewellery brands. It is recognised for snapping up trendsetting products such as German watches from NOMOS Glashütte and jewellery brands Missoma, Rebecca and Marco Bicego. For Owen, Fraser Hart’s product selection aims to strike a balance between leading brands, diamond jewellery and more unusual brands. “It helps to create a point of difference between us and other retailers, meaning we are representing jewellery and watches at every level. It’s about having a mix of leading names and unusual pieces that complement one another,” he says.

Of note has been the boom in Michael Kors and not just from a watch viewpoint. Owen claims the brand’s jewellery collections have shown encouraging sales, with 21 doors holding the range. Equally, interchangeable coin jewellery brand Mi Moneda has been performing well.

However, it is Fraser Hart’s bridal collections that have really sparkled in recent months. “We have had a massive focus on our diamond strategy, essentially re-launching it by creating a more defined range with competitive pricing. We have also developed our own range, Brilliant Fire. In addition, we have redefined and launched our new displays and standards.” Owen says. The company also prides itself on not having to resort to discounting, claiming to have stuck to “what we believe in”, namely quality products that are well-priced, commercial and good for customers. “We know we are streets ahead on the quality of product,” Owen adds.

Fraser Harts’ merchandising and retail teams have also come together to work on its bridal ranges and campaigns. As a result, Owen says its diamond ranges have had a “really great Q3, Q4 and Q1”. He adds: “With the stores it is about delivering great service. It’s hard to sell this product – you have to be so skilled. The retail teams have done an amazing job in the last few quarters. They have really got behind everything we have launched.”

Looking ahead, Owen believes that Fraser Hart can do even better from a growth perspective and a service point of view. It has launched its own Training Academies, focused on everything from HR to leadership development and sales techniques, the latter being an area set to undergo a company-wide update. “We will be working with shop teams and external experts to assess our selling skills. We have had a selling model in place for about 12 years, which is fundamentally right, but we can improve it, get better at it and can help the teams get better,” he says. “[Retail] is so much about service now and we are committed to delivering an experience on the High Street.”

While Owen’s arrival has bought with it a period of review, change and restructure at Fraser Hart, the business strives to retain an open door policy when it comes to speaking with Owen, Coyle or other members of the senior executive team. As Owen concludes, it is also about having an open mind: “The staff have a really good approach to change. They embrace it, they support it and they get on with it.”

Fraser Hart’s Competency Framework
Under the eye of Paul Owen, Fraser Hart has recently launched its Competency Framework, provided to each branch manager to help them assess staff behaviours in store. The framework has been designed to develop Fraser Hart’s retail teams, succession planning and support and promote talent internally. The Competency Framework will be launched for staff at all levels along the retail chain, focusing on behaviours beyond the hard measures of sales and service in store. According to Paul Owen, it will allow managers to recognise positivity and development among staff, to use in appraisals and to push them forward for promotions and bonus schemes, with three distinct levels to work towards in each framework. Owen says the framework should boost sales and bring positivity to the shop floor, owing to its transparency and consistency.

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

 

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