CITYSCAPE REPORT: Inside Chichester, the tiny Sussex city packing a knockout jewellery punch

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Don’t judge a book by its cover or a place by its size because the charming city of Chichester is proving it’s all about location, location, location. Editor Stacey Hailes meets the local independent jewellers offering a diverse range of products and service in the affluent area.

Chichester may be small, but it’s home to a fine selection of independent jewellery retailers, many of which have been awarded Hot 100 accolades in the last couple of years.

Located in West Sussex, in South East England, Chichester is a bustling city with lots to offer locals and visitors.

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With a strong mixture of independent retailers and high street chains, Chichester is a destination area for consumers looking to shop on a traditional high street rather than in a local shopping centre.

Divided into North, East, South, and West, the high street has four very distinct areas. When approaching from the station, shoppers are welcomed to the city’s South Street — home to independent jewellery retailers Cred Jewellery, Ebony Jewellers, Timothy Roe Fine Jewellery and Smith and Ralier. Although quieter than some of the other roads, this location is perfect for capturing visitors arriving from the railway station, and being the home of four strong jewellery stores it has become a destination for consumers looking for something different.

Once you reach the Chichester Cross, an elaborate perpendicular market cross in the centre of the city of Chichester, consumers can head along West Street to visit the well-known Cathedral, however for jewellery the only place to shop here is House of Fraser, which completed a major refurbishment before the festive shopping season last year. The revamp saw the department store increase its floor space and introduce new premium brands to the Chichester location.

Going the other way from the market cross, along East Street, consumers will find high street chains such as Next, Phase Eight, New Look and the Body Shop, and on the jewellery front Ernest Jones, Swarovski and Pandora reside here, alongside independent jewellery retailers RL Austen and Amoeba, which is at the very end of the street.

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RL Austen relocated two and a half years ago from North Street to East Street, and is one of the oldest retailers in the city. Ernest Jones can be found opposite this thriving independent, while Gold Arts takes the spot next door/ on the corner with a small window and entrance on East Street and a main window front facing out onto North Street.

Also on North Street independent jewellery retailer Pressleys resides inside the Butter Market, and takes up two spaces opposite each other — one side stocking the store’s fine jewellery and fashion brands, and the other dedicated to bridal and diamonds. Lowery Jewellers and H Samuel can also be found on North Street.

Choosing Chichester

Talking to independent jewellery retailers, one of Chichester’s greatest strengths as a place to do business in is that it is a very affluent city.

“There is a real hub of wealth,” explains Cred Jewellery owner Alan Frampton. “It is the centre for solicitors and accountants, you’ve got the theatre, you’ve got some very high profile places and that’s why there are about 13 jewellers in Chichester.”

In West Wittering affluent celebrities own houses which cost between £3-6 million. The city also hosts multiple private schools, big businesses with thousands of employees and a strong farming community.

“The great thing about Chichester is there are lot of wealthy people around,” adds store manager at Pressleys, Gemma Clive. “It is buzzing really because lots of people come to the market. That’s not just a summer thing, but they have a local market here on Fridays and it is always really busy. And of course at the theatre there are always loads of productions going on there and things going on at the cathedral, so it’s a real draw. Although it’s not massive, it’s quite a bustling little city.”

Most of the jewellers Professional Jeweller visited spoke proudly of all the city had to offer. From activities taking place on the high street itself, to popular events such as Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival, which attracts many visitors to the centre.

 

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“Chichester is an ancient city going back to Roman times and is the only city in West Sussex,” explains RL Austen owner, Mandy Sargeant. “Dominated by the market cross in the centre of all four streets, North, East, South and West, it brings visitors from far afield not only for the splendour of the town and cathedral but other destinations such as the Chichester Festival Theatre and Goodwood House. We are also fortunate to have a town centre management that works hard on organising events throughout the year to attract visitors.”

“As a jewellers it is an ideal place,” adds Gold Arts store manager, Mark Weeks. “It’s a very easy and comfortable place to shop really because it is all flat, unlike Brighton.

“Chichester has great railway connections, very easily connected to the M27, and it is just off the M4 corridor, so it is very easy to get to. It is a beautiful city to walk around in. Always a heavy footfall. It is one of the advantages of not being a shopping mall, it is nice to walk around on a nice summers day.”

Not having a main indoor shopping centre is also a big pull for jewellers in the area as customers enjoy an experience that feels unique to the city.

“I think shopping centres make places start to lose their identities quite a bit,” says Timothy Roe Fine Jewellery director, Dan Roe. “A lot of people come here. It is a nice town. There is no big shopping centre and there is a few good independents left as well.”

Although Chichester is a city, it feels more like a friendly market town,” adds Sargeant. “Chichester is very vibrant and an individual city by means of a great assortment of independent shops, that can provide customers with different merchandise from that of an indoor shopping centre.

She continues: “I have asked customers, in the winter when the weather hasn’t been good, would they be attracted to an indoor shopping centre, but they all say they prefer Chichester even in the rain to an indoor shopping centre that looks the same whichever town you are in.”

 

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Competition in Chichester

While being located in a city which has a great  selection of independent stores, and thus attracting consumers looking to shop somewhere different, is definitely a strength for the jewellers in Chichester, it also provides one of the biggest challenges.

In such a small space Chichester hosts more jewellers than some of the larger cities Professional Jeweller has visited, and while some of them have distinct differences, to the untrained consumer eye many of them have similar window fronts and will be in direct competition with a jewellery retailer only a stone’s throw away.

However, that being said, while there is some cross over and this might concern some retailers, the jewellers of Chichester all seem very confident in the products and services which make them unique.

Cred Jewellery for example is championing Fairtrade gold jewellery, and therefore has become a destination boutique for consumers on the hunt for an engagement ring or fashion design crafted in this sustainable metal.

On top of that, the team offers consumers a service which is second to none. Cred’s staff will often spend a long time with bridal consumers, telling them the Fairtrade story, and showing them all the different styles available. It’s not about up-selling, or rushing, it’s about valuing each person who walks through the door. The jewellery retailer is also no stranger to going the extra mile to keep customers happy.

“Customer service is so important,” shares Frampton. “We had a customer who was going away on Saturday morning and their ring failed the first casting. To cut a long story short, I drove to Birmingham [to the manufacturing facility] and I took that ring to the customer on Friday afternoon and that’s not the first time I’ve done something like that this year.

He continues: “We will not fail. We will deliver. It’s about looking after people, and we find now we are getting quite a lot of people coming to us because of the customer service.”

Offering such a distinct product and being top of the Google searches for Fairtrade jewellery means Cred doesnot need to concern itself with moving closer to the centre of the high street. For this independent jeweller, it would not be worth the money, because people will travel from all over the country to visit and a lot of business is done online.

“Customers prefer Chichester even in the rain to an indoor shopping centre that looks the same whichever town you are in.”

Frampton explains: “For us, I don’t want to move into town. If I was to move this shop into town the rent would go up by a figure of three, between here and the middle, about 100 yards. So I would have to do another half a million pound turnover just to pay the landlord. But I don’t have to. We are basically here as an internet fulfilment. We treat this as a purchase order office.”

“The high street at the moment I would say is hard work,” he adds. “Fortunately consumers know us, they come to us and find us. So May has got off to a good start, I’m quite happy so far and we are going to be alright. On South Street [where Cred is located] there are about five jewellers so it is quite intense, but I think it is a great place to be.”

A five minute walk away from Cred Jewellery is Timothy Roe Fine Jewellery, an independent retail which was founded in 1996. The owner Timothy Roe was originally a partner at Ebony Jewellers (also on South Street), but he opened his own place as he wanted to sell more modern jewellery.

The interior of Timothy Roe is unlike any store our editor Stacey Hailes has ever been to. At the back of the shop the jeweller has a long bar, with stalls for consumers to take up a seat and be served on. From the bar you can see the team working in the workshop, and you are never too far away from the member of staff serving you.

Director Dan Roe says this concept comes with its pros and cons — depending on the type of customer. While it offers a community feel which some may (our editor included) enjoy, it also doesn’t provide much privacy.

Roe explains: “That is one thing that we find hard with the counter, you’ve got someone looking at an eight or nine thousand pound ring or pair of studs, and then the person next to them is maybe looking at a silver locket and looking over their shoulder and commenting on the other persons pieces. Some people like the community feel, other people prefer their space.”

To combat this concern the retailer plans to transform one of the offices upstairs to a luxury space where consumers can shop in more privacy and celebrate occasions with a glass of bubbly.

This will work especially well for the store’s bespoke side of the business, which accounts for almost half of sales.

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“I don’t think we sing about it another — our pieces are made in Britain, it is like Hatton Garden under one roof,” says Roe. “It’s hard with marketing because sometimes people are not so worried or interested in that, they are just looking for a nice big diamond at the end, whereas other people will take a genuine interest in it and will come to us because of that. We do everything here apart from hallmarking.”

He adds: “Other jewellers may have a guy on the bench doing some stuff, but it is not full scale manufacturing and creation like we do.”

This also lends itself to a unique customer experience, where consumers are invited to come in at every stage of the manufacturing process and check they are happy.

“In terms of having something bespoke made we have got to be pretty high up,” continues Roe. “Whereas some places you might get a bespoke piece and get a picture, but then you won’t see the product until the end, we give an opportunity to try it and check sizes before the stones are set.”

Elsewhere, Pressleys, RL Austen and Gold Arts are all located very close together, and between them the jewellers sell a wide variety of high fashion brands, fine jewellery and watches.

At Pressleys, the jewellery retailer prides itself on providing an exceptional service and offering consumers a strong range of luxury fine and fashion jewellery products.

“Jonathan is very forward thinking about the business, so he is not afraid to show unusual brands and new designers,” explains the store manager. “Our ethos is about bringing a brilliant service and providing something that is exciting, that people want to see.”

Pressleys puts a strong emphasis on the customer experience not just being in store, but being a relationship which should be nurtured outside the retail environment as well. For instance, the team recently took 16 clients on a trip to Germany to visit Hans D Krieger, and it wouldn’t be unusual for a client to be treated to dinner and the theatre on a special birthday.

“What we are aiming to do here is build quite unique relationships with our clients, so when they do have that time in their lives where they are wanting to buy something special, there is only one place that they want to come to,” Clive shares. “That is why we are as successful as we are.”

Being inside Butter Market the store aims to keep windows fresh and exciting in order to attract consumers passing by, with manager Clive saying its location can be a struggle if people don’t know Pressleys is there, but on the plus side it keeps the jeweller exclusive. Best sellers for Pressleys in Chichester include fine jewellery brands Marco Bicego and Messika, and luxury fashion brands Astley Clarke and Shaun Leane to name but a few.

For Gold Arts, a family jewellers with stores around the South Coast, Tag Heuer is its number one selling product. Being the only Tag agent in the city, many customers come to view the brand’s watches, with manager Mark Weeks commenting that the watch side of the business is very strong, followed by the second hand market. Gold Arts Chichester also stocks fashion brands such as Links of London and Clogau, and has a dedicated workshop for repairs and commissions.

When asked about the store’s USP, Weeks responds: “Regular customer service. We have a big, loyal clientele [many of which work for Rolls Royce], and we have sold to maybe two or three generations of people. That’s probably our best thing, coupled with new technology. We pride ourselves on re-modelling and workshop innovation.”

He continues: “The challenge is to remain competitive, obviously there are a lot of jewellers in the town so we have to offer something that perhaps people don’t so much. I would say our vintage watch department is second to none in Chichester. We have a very good collection of all the brands. And probably that window on the left [near the store entrance] is our most successful because it is the antique and old gold pieces. So that side of things would certainly be our strong point.”

The Chichester Gold Arts store is one of the company’s largest and it has been in the city in its prime location since the early 80s.

Next door RL Austen offers consumers fine and fashion jewellery, striking colour gemstone pieces, and it houses a strong watch department.

“With the company having been established in Chichester since 1794 there are many of our customers that have visited us for many years and their parents and relatives before them,” explains owner Mandy Sargeant. “In our present position we are attracting many younger clients but we are very fortunate that the customers that do come through our door are very genuine and nice people of all ages.”

Best sellers for RL Austen include coloured gemstones, mainly in rings and pendants, silver jewellery, and high-end watches.

“Branded goods are not really asked for mainly because our clientele are looking for a quality piece of jewellery that is classic in design and will not fall out of fashion in a year’s time,” adds Sargeant on the store’s best sellers.

While the picture we have painted sounds very rosy, Chichester jewellers are not free from challenges. Difficulties for retailers in the city include the market, which although it increases footfall it does block the front of some stores and the food stalls can create not-so pleasant smells which linger inside the boutiques and ruin the luxury atmosphere.

Chichester jewellers are also facing high business rates, which is a problem for many independent retailers in the UK at the moment.

That being said, upon visiting one thing that really stood out is the confidence of Chichester’s jewellers. While they are not afraid to admit that the high street is a tough place to be at the moment, or to shine a light on areas they could improve on, none of them seemed afraid of the challenges ahead as they all felt secure in what makes them unique and worth visiting.

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Q Branch Bespoke Casting

In the heart of Chichester city centre, on South Street, Timothy Roe Fine Jewellery has recently launched a brand new casting company.

Called Q Branch Bespoke Casting, named after a popular James Bond character to reflect the forward thinking nature of the company, the studio offers high quality precious metal casting to members of the UK jewellery trade.

Timothy Roe Fine Jewellery has been doing trade work on an ad hoc basis since about 2008, casting in house since 2007, and 3D printing since 2006, so launching a casting house was a perfect fit for the business.

“It is about looking at areas of the business that you can scale up,” explains Q Branch director, Dan Roe. “So casting tends to work better with a larger volume, and we never particularly liked the service we got from any of the casters within the UK. There are people out there doing really good things, but it is about being a bit more helpful and sharing information with people.”

He continues: “It is not just telling someone something hasn’t been done, it is about sharing knowledge, doing an extra cast and staying later if you need to get things done. We want to help people, give them a better service and get them understanding the processes a bit more.”

Workshops, designers, makers, retailers and manufacturers who require high quality precious metal casting can use Q Branch to cast models and waxes in all commercial precious metal alloys, with a special emphasis on platinum and palladium casting. Other services include 3D printing, 3D scanning, mould making and wax injecting.

Utilising the best quality machinery and equipment, Q Branch aims to deliver a friendly and reliable service at competitive prices.

Being from a retail background, Q Branch understands when someone calls up in need of an urgent casting, and being a smaller casting house it is equipped to go the extra mile for clients.

“It’s really about attention to detail,” Roe adds. “Being a small firm we have the time and the team to really look after our clients and offer helpful, friendly advice. When someone needs to talk to us, or they have a question, they can talk to me or the team directly. It won’t just be someone on a desk. We can also offer a quick turnaround.”

As an introductory offer Q Branch is offering free solidscape printing on items being cast in platinum up until the end of July 2017.

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One Comment;

  1. Mark said:

    We can’t speak highly enough about Q-Branch.

    Dan and the team are super helpful, patient with our sometimes demanding requests and the work produced is first class.

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