Q&A: Willie Hamilton talks results and suppliers

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The group’s chief executive talks sales, Forevermark and bridal.

Professional Jeweller: The CMJ has reported strong results this weekend, with Group sales of £113 million. How do you feel?
Willie Hamilton: I feel everything is going to the plan that we predicted but there is a dominance of fashion brands and dominance of Pandora [in our sales], and nobody can keep the pace of that. As I said in my presentation at the Networking Meeting on Sunday, there are a lot of cynics out there who say ‘oh [Pandora] is going to die tomorrow’. It’s not; they’ve got a business structure that is so well-oiled that it’s not going to go away. What I’m particularly pleased about, however, is that it’s not just the fashion sector that’s [doing well]. And that’s why I’ve been talking about bridal a lot; you can see people starting to tickle away at it. There is the story of the CMJ member who is part of a running club and has been for 15 to 20 years. About three of her running club ladies got engaged but none of them had come to her for their ring. One evening she looked at all three rings and thought ‘I stock those styles’. So she went back to her staff about it and said ‘look, we’ve just lost these sales’, and then she looked at her stock and she realised she didn’t have anything like it at all, and that she had completely neglected what she thought she had in stock. So I think there are a lot of retailers now starting to look at the stock levels they have, who are starting to push bridal, which is particularly encouraging. And of course there are all the new members we’re bringing in, which is helping immensely, and also helps to drive up spend. Overall, I’m delighted.

PJ: Tell us about Forevermark. Is the brand now an official CMJ supplier?
WH: Yes, Forevermark is an official supplier. It took a bit of negotiating but I want the industry to stop and look and go ‘We need to be in this’. The message I’ve said to CMJ retailers is have a look, see if it is something you want to invest in – as it’s a big lump of money – and ask yourself, ‘If I don’t get it but the guy across the road does, how annoyed would I be?’ The negotiations weren’t necessarily tough with Forevermark, it’s more trying to get De Beers Group and their supply partners to understand that the UK market is completely different to anywhere else in the world. A company can’t just arrive in the UK jewellery world and go ‘It’s part of De Beers Group, you will definitely want it’. The UK retailer has a business to run, they’re thinking ‘Where will I get this cash flow from [for Forevermark]? I have a window full of diamond jewellery and so maybe in three months, six months, a year’. But the UK is not like America or other markets where Forevermark was fighting potential stockists off with a stick. That doesn’t happen in the UK – it’s happened time and time again with brands, they arrive in the UK and think everyone will want them but you have to give the UK retailer a good reason to come and see you and to spend money. The figures Forevermark have rolled out are phenomenal and they’ve done well elsewhere, but it’s also a new line and brand name in the UK and that takes time to build.

PJ: So this weekend’s trade event has your highest number of exhibitors to date – 140 – and a number of new suppliers…
WH: We have plugged some holes in our offer with some new suppliers. We have struck a deal with a car agency Synter Affinity, for example, which marks one of the areas we want to expand in to beyond product. Any good buying group in the country, they are offering services such as this and it makes economic sense for retailers and agents to take part, as the more people who are in the scheme the better the results. We are also plugging the gaps with Kiroco, which is showcasing wearable tech, and I’ve prompted retailers to go and take a look at what it’s all about. The company is here, go and take a quick look. It’s education, if anything. But of course we can’t have too many new suppliers because one, we can’t fit them all in, and secondly we’ve got to be respectful to the suppliers we’ve got. But wherever we see a niche or an area that’s not fulfilled then yes, we’re going to bring something in. But it’s good to see the footfall this year. We have one retailer who has bought 14 members of staff, and some people will have shut their shop to come up, which sounds archaic but it’s the must-attend show for our members. Some study the guide in advance and plan who will cover which section of the show – who will see their regular suppliers, who’s scouting new products or suppliers, and then feed back to their directors about what they have seen. It’s a really constructive way of doing business and allows retailers to do the bulk of their buying twice a year around the CMJ events.
 

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