Jewellery Girls Q&A: Sophie Fulford, Winsor Bishop

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The Norwich jeweller on developing business and spontaneous spending.

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. Winsor Bishop director Sophie Fulford discusses the challenges of retail, restructuring the business and her personal successes.

Professional Jeweller: What has been your biggest achievement to date as a retailer?
Sophie Fulford: I think that’s a hard question to answer as a retailer. There have been lots of great moments (fortunately) but I think probably getting the banks to lend to us whilst the country was on the crest of recession back in early 2010. We presented an aggressive business plan to expand our company to ensure we could deliver a phenomenal presence on the high street, continue to satisfy our brands with their increasing demands for more luxurious space, and ultimately protect our business against recession by doing these things. Simultaneously, we opened our first Pandora concept store which at the time, was the largest in the UK. So to have the banks believe strongly enough in us, and have confidence that we, as retailers, were going to deliver was a great thing.

PJ: What kind of challenges did you faced during your career in the jewellery industry?
SF: Lots! Daily! The ultimate one though was making a very hard decision to completely restructure our business. I inherited the team 10 years ago and the business has tripled both in turnover and employee numbers since then. Last year I found myself facing the reality that the personnel structure wasn’t strong enough to handle the development of our business and that we didn’t have the right people in the right place. This had happened as a result of organic growth over time and some placements being made that were not correct. We had incredible talent being hidden because of the structure and morale was low. Rather than patching up holes I decided the best thing overall for the business was to start with a clean slate. After six months of planning last year, with very good HR and legal advice, we put the entire sales force ‘at risk’ and essentially closed that structure down. We offered a completely new structure, with new roles, new job descriptions, new pay scales and we offered every role to everybody who wanted to apply for them – regardless of their experience. We then interviewed, and made the placements based on those interviews for what is now the most dynamic structure we have seen. We’re four months into the new structure and the effect on the business has been incredible. Morale is better than ever before, there is strong management in place and, from a financial perspective, we are reporting the best results we have seen to date. It was very hard for everybody to go through, and we made some redundancies and said some goodbyes but I believe it was absolutely necessary in order to protect the business’ future, and to offer development for those that are within our team.

PJ: There has been recent growth in the number of women MDs running retail stores – what are your thoughts on this?

SF: Girls like diamonds – simple. No, seriously, if you looked at statistics of male vs. female MDs across all trades and industries, you’d see a growth in the female category. Women don’t stay at home any longer and also the cost of living is so high that the majority of households rely on double income meaning there is much more competition for the boys.

PJ: Where do you see the jewellery industry going in the next few years?

SF: I believe there will be continual growth in the jewellery industry as buyers will become much more spontaneous with their spending as we come out of recession. There will be a feeling of light relief for everybody when the cloud has passed.

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PJ: Who do you consider inspiring female figures in the UK jewellery or luxury goods industries?
SF: Beverley Aspinall isn’t with Fortnum & Mason any longer, however before she resigned as their chief executive I heard her speak at a conference and thought she was one of the most honest, down to earth and inspiring women I had seen. She was heading up a globally recognised brand, marching it into expansion and running a family with young children at the same time. She had simple advice for all of us, which I’ve followed to this day, and it’s worked for me. I’m a mother and my job is busy but I feel very blessed that I’m able to enjoy both roles to the maximum.

To read the Jewellery Girls Rule issue in full online, click here

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