From packing orders to launching his own silver jeweller brand.
Phil Barnes started his jewellery career as an intern at Gecko but today runs his own silver jewellery brand – Muru – with his partner Marie. The contemporary collections are a growing hit among UK retailers, with Phil names a Business Big Shot in the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2012, in association with The Company of Master Jewellers.
Professional Jeweller: Tell us about the past 12 months – how are things at Muru HQ?
Phil Barnes: It has been a hectic year with many highlights and so much has changed in that time. Firstly, we have changed our product range to be much more fashion focused. There is a tendency in a recession to sit back and go with what you know but we are doing the opposite and becoming more adventurous and directional. Customers have embraced the changes and sales have jumped massively as a result. Secondly, the increase in stockists has been very pleasing. We are now up to around 90 accounts and looking to break 120 by the end of the year. On a personal level, becoming a father this year has been a fantastic highlight. It really changes your perspective on things and gives you greater clarity for the business going forward – once you get over the tiredness of course. I also find it extremely exciting when I am out and about in London and I see someone wearing a piece of our jewellery. If the fashionistas of Soho and Hoxton are wearing Muru – then we must be doing something right.
PJ: Have you hit any challenges along the way as you’ve developed the brand?
PB: The last year has been extremely tough for retail – which has a knock on effect for us. Metal prices have been a great challenge and we did end up taking a hit on margins for the best part of a year. Our customers love the weight and tactility of our designs so we resisted the temptation to make things lighter – we just had to sit out the price fluctuations. The economy has also been a massive challenge, dipping in and out of recession but we have never panicked. We have always had the ethos that we should do what we do well and experiment with something new.
PJ: Your collections feature cute motifs such as silver cupcake pendants, hummingbirds and anchors. Do you design them yourself?
PB: All our pieces are designed in-house but I share the design with my partner Marie – who is far more creative than me. We tend to draw inspiration from all kinds of areas such as travel, fashion and the arts – so wherever we go, we always carry a sketch-book with us.
PJ: How has Muru’s offer evolved over the past year?
PB: The collection itself has changed considerably. We have launched our new Talisman collection, which is much more fashion focused and each piece has it’s own individual symbolism. This has really helped customers to relate to our designs and is a great selling tool for stockists. We have also introduced lots of new gold vermeil designs. This has made us much more relevant to the fashion press and we also work closely with stylists to attract celebrity wearers. We have put a lot of time and effort into branding – with new packaging and retail displays for stockists. We like to think that we now offer the complete retail package.
PJ: Tell us about your journey into the jewellery industry?
PB: My route into the industry was pretty unconventional. I studied environmental science at university and then did a masters degree in business management. I knew a bit about silver, gold and gems from my studies so I decided to look at careers in jewellery. I got an interview for a graduate training scheme at Gecko and just about managed to convince them that my training was relevant. I started picking and packing orders and within a couple of years I was marketing manager. The rest is history.
PJ: What kind of approach do you take to your daily working routine?
PB: I have a pretty relaxed approach to work. My baby month old daughter is often around at the office – so she helps to keep things fun and chaotic. I love the way that no two days are the same and that by being a small company we can introduce new things really quickly – I have great creative freedom. I also spend a lot of time on the road, traveling around the country visiting retailers. I really enjoy this part of the job as you get valuable feedback direct from the shop floor. It is great when you see the collection beautifully displayed or meet a stockist who knows the names of all of your designs. You instantly feel like one of the family.
PJ: How do you manage your work-life balance and how do you relax off the job?
PB: I am really lucky that I enjoy my work and that most of the time it doesn’t feel like real work, so work and life tend to merge into one. Having worked in Soho for a few years, I can now never refuse an evening out in town or a meal out in leafy North London. I also play a lot of tennis and I’m a keen football fan, so if it’s not jewellery that I’m thinking about, it’s usually sport.
PJ: What are your plans for Muru next year?
PB: Next year is all about increasing the exposure of the Muru brand. We don’t have lavish advertising budgets but will be boxing clever to get Muru seen in all the right places. Last year we helped raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, which is an extremely worthwhile cause and helped raise the profile of the Muru brand at the same time. We will also be moving into overseas markets by exhibiting at key international trade shows. We have a strong-selling brand that is becoming increasing known and popular – all we have to do now is tell more people about it.