The retail MD on driving herself forward and why chivalry is not dead.
As part of our Jewellery Girls Rule issue for July, Professional Jeweller heard from 21 females leading their sector of the UK jewellery industry about the challenges of today’s business, making their mark and their inspirations. Today we hear from Green + Benz managing director Helen Dimmick.
Professional Jeweller: Tell us about the last few years and your business achievements
Helen Dimmick: When I first took over as MD of Green + Benz the company’s customer rating was 43%. It is now at 94.6%. I use an online review centre as a temperature check or sorts. It is an independent feedback mechanism and while we direct people to the site it’s completely honest feedback from the customer. I wanted Green + Benz to be exposed warts and all, as for me the real heart and importance of retail is creating an experience. Everything I have set out to do is personified and has been confirmed by the credible feedback we now get. At the beginning if I received critical feedback I took it on board and what customers have seen since is a difference in the retailer experience.
PJ: Have you faced any challenges as a woman leading a jewellery business?
HD: I’m not one of these people that defines myself by my gender but in the past it has been an issue. I have seen male counterparts promoted ahead of me and couldn’t see why, so for me I had to offer more than them which is why I took my FGA and DGA. Being the type of personality I am I wanted to be the very best hence I won the Anderson Award medal, the highest worldwide mark for the fellowship of the GIA. It is about being that much more credible, not just against males but against anybody else. I also think that a grounding in terms of experience is important if you have the audacity to want to sell or to talk about jewellery. I did apprenticeships at auction houses, really learning about jewellery, then I went on to get experience in retail, management and at corporations. I love learning but there isn’t that one course out there that you can do and learn everything about retail and industry, so I’ve done it all myself to give myself the solid platform and authority to do what I do.
PJ: Have you noticed a rise in women MDs running businesses in the UK jewellery industry?
HD: I was thinking about women in business recently and the only reason I can think there has been a rise in women MDs is because of the economic situation. I hate generalisations but if you are going to generalise I’d say women are good at adapting, they are very good at thinking of creative solutions and [the economic situation] is a massive challenge. I think it requires creation, innovation and sensitivity to run a business and again if you are going to generalise they are qualities that women exhibit. We all live in a post-Thatcher era, we all see strong powerful women making a difference but women no longer need to overcompensate and I personally don’t want to be defined by my gender but as a professional. Nowadays retail is seen a career, it didn’t used to be, but today it takes women with a strong background to really shine in it. I think there is a move to bring integrity back to the retail industry; we have got people like Jason Holt driving retail forward not just a part time job but a career for all.
PJ: Where do you see the jewellery industry heading in the year ahead?
HD: I believe it will be ever more of a challenge as the boundaries between retail and suppliers are broken down. It will be survival of the fittest for all, with more focus on the customer and the experience with fewer, better things, and while brand is still king it will be the strongest brands that survive. There is a drive to push things forward for us all, so it’ll be about working together more and towards the same goal with consumers. I have to say I love the way that many of the male suppliers in our industry have been such gentlemen to me and others. There is a new era of chivalry. Lee Ruben from Gemex and Andrew Sollitt and the team Domino are such gentlemen in how they conduct themselves. It’s tricky because as a woman you can want it both ways, someone to hold the door open for you before you shout in boardroom. But today there is a new respect and understanding of women as businesspersons, and that’s where I really see the industry going, too, in that it has an overall better understanding of business.
PJ: Wwomen in the jewellery industry that have inspired you
HD: My mentor was Barbara Kovacs, the MD of Tiffany in London. She has always been my mentor and is a fabulous lady, very strong but had but with heart as well, which I loved. She was the person who inspired and helped me and was the first to introduce me to auction Frances Noble at Bonhams, who I took over from when she was pregnant. She gave me her very first step on the ladder in the jewellery industry and remains a friend to this day. At the moment someone who continues to blow me away is Judith Lockwood. She is simply brilliant at what she does but has such integrity and really cares and makes a difference. She has success no matter what she does, combines material success through the business with consideration, compassion and integrity. You can see by the loyalty of her staff, she attracts great people. Just recently I have done some judging with Vanessa Burkitt of Catherine Jones and have been blown away by how much detail and research that she does. Finally I have to mention Judith Hart who has been doing this for a long time, keeps her head down and has real authority.
To read the Jewellery Girls Rule issue, dedicated to women in the jewellery industry, in full online, click here.