Q&A: Martin Byrne talks strategy for Links of London

Martin Byrne

As Links of London toasts its silver anniversary, Stacey Hailes puts some questions to Martin Byrne, the newly appointed head of FF Group in the UK and Ireland, about its strategy for the British brand.


Links of London is celebrating 25 years in business. How far has it come since 1990?

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Links of London has gone from a single men’s product in 1990 to multiple collections that strongly support Links of London as a British lifestyle brand. We have also expanded channels and geography from fulfilling a single corporate order in London to having a presence around the world in standalone retail, concession retail, e-commerce and wholesale with some of the most respected department stores and jewellers. Who would have imagined such expansion, plus becoming a household name, starting with a single cufflink design?


How has this milestone been used for marketing purposes?

Our celebration of 25 years has been a high point with the reaffirmation of everything that Links stands for. This includes the smart British London SW1 lifestyle portrayed in the AW15 campaign; distinctive British-influenced designs, such as the new Big Ben-inspired Timeless by Links of London collection; and the quirky creative side with the Reflections on 25 Years of Love, London, Life photographic project, which saw us commission 25 images, each with a fresh take on the key Links inspirations of love, London and life. Our presence at Baselworld in March saw our new stand and our new collections very well appreciated by the trade and press, including further additions to our Swiss-made watch portfolio with Driver Sport, Brompton 3 Hand and our new ladies’ collections Kindred Soul and Windermere.


In your opinion, what are Links’ biggest brand achievements?

Apart from expansion to some of the world’s key markets and the awareness of the brand, there are a number of other significant achievements. It has created two truly iconic jewellery collections that will forever be associated with Links of London, namely the Sweetie and the Friendship bracelets. We have also successfully gone from being known as a jewellery brand to becoming known also for high-quality watches, increasingly either Swiss made or with Swiss movements. We have also had some high-profile sporting associations over the years; we were the official jewellery partner to the London Olympic Games in 2012 and almost from the founding of Links, Links of London was and still is proud to be the official jewellery licensee to The Championships at Wimbledon.


Bringing it back to the present day, what has business been like in 2015 for Links of London?

We’ve been lucky enough to have some double-digit [growth] weeks, especially through the second half, and we are aiming to build on that as we approach the key Christmas trading period.


You joined Links in June from Theo Fennell, and before that you were MD at white label jeweller Simon Harrison. How have you put your stamp on the brand so far?

I have been deeply impressed as a newcomer by the passion for the brand internally and from our customers, as well as the possibilities for further development. We have been working hard to bring the brand to life in the stores and with our wholesale partners so that the product, marketing, team and customer experience all reflect the DNA of the brand. We have also been focusing on trading the business at the same time as engaging in longer-term planning, and understanding what our customers and business partners need from us. The vision for the brand is to be one of the leading luxury jewellery and watch brands, potentially paving the way for success in additional categories, and we are making progress in this ambition via our 25 Years campaign.


Links has a great reputation internationally, but what about at home? How is the brand performing in the UK?

We have 67 retail stores and concessions and presence in several hundred wholesale doors [in the UK]. We have continued to evolve a strong store concept realised in our latest UK standalone store at Park House in Oxford Street and with our new location in Harrods.


Do you have plans to increase the number of independent jewellers stocking the brand in the UK?

We are reviewing our distribution at the moment and are open to working with passionate quality partners across all the retail sectors.


It appears to observers as though Links has gone through a transitional period recently. How you would describe it?

The focus, highlighted in our 25 Years campaign, is all about reinforcement of long-standing brand principles. A great example of this is that we have reintroduced the iconic three links back into the Links of London logo to reinforce the inspirations and a passions behind the British lifestyle, with the three rings standing for love, London, life.


The market has changed immeasurably since Links’ debut. Is the brand still strong enough to stand up to the competition?

Links of London offers a unique proposition to consumers and is a strong player as a result.


Which brands would you say are your biggest competitors?

Of course there are some strong players out there at the luxury end of the market, but we are motivated as much by them to have the most compelling offering as by our own internal standards.


With the launch of fine jewellery exclusives, is Links repositioning itself as a luxury brand?

It is in the DNA of Links of London to offer product from higher price points down to more accessible ones and so the limited edition 25 Years Timeless collection featured in our AW15 campaign, as well as other special product to mark our 25 years are a reinforcement of what Links has always done.


As you mentioned earlier, Links has steadily been building up its watch offer. Does the growth of this side of the business effect the jewellery division?

We see the two elements as complementary and about growing the overall business to become widely known for our high-quality jewellery and watches.


Huge efforts have been made to highlight the heritage of the brand this year and reinforce its core values – is this a strategy that’s set to continue?

The reaffirmation of the principles behind Links of London and their constant refreshment will continue to set the pattern for the next 12 months.


With a quarter of a century now behind it, what will the next few years hold for Links?

We aim to reinforce our positioning as a British lifestyle brand, producing distinctive British-inspired products across different categories and to reinforce the breadth of our category offering. We will also continue expanding globally, in particular expanding our presence in China where the FF Group is strong.


This feature first appeared in the November issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. Read it here.


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