SPECIAL REPORT: Independent jewellers in Newcastle have the tools to work through high street challenges

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One does not have to spend long in Newcastle to see that it’s much more than a night-life centred city. The rapidly growing shopping centre, which seamlessly switches from quintessentially modern outlets to up-market, historic stores without missing a beat, boasts an impressively vast array of retail opportunities.

Newcastle’s coal mining history helped define the region as an affluent area and the city has since gone on to build and maintain a reputation for hosting a handful of family-owned and historic jewellers.

Over the years, despite having become one of the fastest growing cities in the UK, the urban region has managed to maintain much of its historic flare, and can therefore offer consumers an experience which mixes the old with the new.

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Rox looks to offer consumers a luxury champagne experience

Rox looks to offer consumers a luxury champagne experience

Shoppers looking for Pandora, Swarovski and Beaverbrooks, as well as a high street offering of Topshop, H&M, New Look, Primark and Boots, need look no further than Northumberland Street, the Eldon Shopping Centre, and the famed Metro Centre.

Round the corner of the well-trodden Northumberland Street is one of the city’s most historic stretches, Blackett Street, which can be found a stone’s throw away from the Grey’s Monument and hosts three of Newcastle’s most acclaimed jewellers.

Blackett Street is home to 240-year-old Reid and Son’s, which recently became part of the Mappin & Webb 14-strong retail empire, ROX, which offers luxury treatment on the corner of Northumberland Street, and Berry’s, which faces Newcastle’s renowned monument. All of these jewellers sit within 100 meters of each other on a regally designed Georgian and Edwardian street that bolsters a menagerie of other upscale retail outlets.

“There’s no point in selling the same things as anyone else because all you’re doing is getting into a price war”

Just a hop, skip and a jump away is Grey Street, which is home to Davidsons the Jewellers, one of the city’s longest running family-owned jewellers with almost 120 years under its belt.

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Garry Williamson brings exclusive jewellery to Jesmond

Last but not least on Professional Jeweller’s tour of Newcastle was a trip across the city centre to Jesmond, an up-market shopping destination nestled among a well-to-do residential suburb that houses luxury jewellery and commission specialist Williamson Brown.

Looking at the diverse variety of shopping precincts it’s clear to see that Newcastle is a place where multiples and independents can stand side by side on the high street, despite the presence of healthy competition.

Opportunities in the north east
What is it that makes Newcastle an enticing place for jewellers? For many of the city’s entrepreneurs the secret lies in the region’s high population and general lacking of retail opportunities.

While Davidsons the Jewellers muses that for people living in Northumberland, which is a heavily populated county, the second most accessible retail outlet for locals after Newcastle is almost 100 miles away in Leeds.

Shop manager at Davidsons the Jewellers, Emma McIntosh, comments: “It’s a big catchment area. There’s not really any other big shopping centres.

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Berry’s has graced the streets of Newcastle for 125 years

“There’s the Metro centre and there’s Newcastle, then to the north there’s Edinburgh and to the south there’s Leeds, there’s not much in between us and Leeds. We’re a main city that people would travel to, and Northumberland is a big and wealthy county.”

With such a broad net and little local competition, there’s enough room for independents to cash in.
It’s not just Davidsons that is relishing the monopoly that Newcastle has in the North East. Both Berry’s and Rox identified this factor as one of the city’s greatest attributes.

Joint manager at Rox Jewellers, Kyron Keogh, shares: “One of the biggest opportunities is the great catchment of people, Tyne & Wear has a population of more than 800,000. Spend in the city is ranked in the top 20 retail centres in the UK so there’s huge scope for us.”

“The Metro Centre is direct competition for us, pulling trade outside the city centre”

The population of the region is not just plentiful, it is also hugely diverse with a plethora of different customer identities. Berry’s managing director, Simon Walton, comments: “The city offers such a diverse cross section of clientele, whether it is someone who has been saving up to buy their first piece of jewellery or watch, to customers who want to spoil themselves or a loved one. With many affluent areas in close proximity and the unique offering that we have, the opportunities are endless.”

With such a broad spectrum of clients residing in Newcastle, Williamson Brown set up shop with the mission of carving out a place as a luxury jewellery destination for the region’s most affluent shoppers.

Jason West is the showroom manager at the newly acquired Mappin & Web store

Jason West is the showroom manager at the newly acquired Mappin & Web store

The jeweller, which is based in Jesmond, a residential suburb 20 minutes from the city centre, is, by nature, unable to benefit from passing footfall so the goal to become a retail destination was an important one.

In order to stand out from its competitors, the boutique, which stocks brands such as Marco Bicego, Lucy Quartermaine and Kasun London, point-blank refuses to sell anything that you can get anywhere else in the city.

With a monopoly of high end brands it’s no coincidence that after just 21 years of business the jeweller has reached its target.

Boutique owner, Garry Williamson, told Professional Jeweller: “In Jesmond you don’t get passing trade so people come here specifically for a ring or they want something made, they want an engagement ring or they want Marco Bicego pieces, it’s more of a destination shop.

“The students will drink in bars until they’re silly in the head, but they haven’t got the money to spend on jewellery”

“We will gain from having jewellery that no one else sells because there’s no point in selling the same things as anyone else because all you’re doing is getting into a price war. You need to have a uniqueness that someone else hasn’t got and customers will buy it.”

While the sheer scale of the north eastern city allows many independents to run with the likes of the big multiples, many of the most well-known jewellers are rooted in Newcastle’s Edwardian history and reap the rewards that come with standing the test of time. This is very much the case for the city’s oldest jeweller Reid and Sons.

Reid and Sons, which first opened its doors to customers in 1778 and is the oldest operating jeweller in Newcastle that is still the business it opened as, has weathered political upheaval, financial crisis, national unrest and continues to look to the future to keep its company moving forward. Most recently, the store, which is housed in a listed building and garbs regal décor, gold trims and plush furnishings, became part of Mappin & Webb’s UK operations.

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Despite its recent change in direction and a new lick of paint, the jeweller has found that gracing Blackett Street for almost 240 years has allowed the brand to rack up a loyal following.

Showroom manager, Jason West, shares with us: “We do very much thrive on the history and heritage that we have got, it’s unrivalled in Newcastle, a new jewellers could spring up across the street and it’s going to take time to get established and build up trust whereas we have clients where we are their family’s jeweller.”

But West is not the only one that finds that the city’s loyal nature allows independents to thrive. Just 60 seconds away Davidsons the Jewellers is finding the local pride is a key factor in its success. In fact, the independent jeweller has been able to boast success thanks to born-and-bred northerners who remain loyal to Newcastle retailers even when they have moved away.

McIntosh told Professional Jeweller that true Geordies remain faithful customers, even when they’ve moved away from the city. She explains: “I think people who are from Newcastle tend to be quite loyal and want to shop in Newcastle. They’re like the football fans, they’re very loyal to the city.”

McIntosh adds: “We have a lot of returning customers, people who live down south who are from Newcastle, come up here and want to buy from us because we’re part of the city.”

Trials and tribulations
Unfortunately, it’s not all plain sailing. From the Metro Centre to the university effect, Newcastle contends with its fair share of hitches.

The growing party-town is home to two universities, Newcastle University and Northumbria University; which collectively make up 28,000 of the city’s population of almost 300,000.

Despite what retailers might hope, the bumper student population fails to translate to a sales boost. In fact, for independents it poses an added challenge.

Trend savvy students in Newcastle are much more likely to make a well-recognised, branded jewellery purchase in order to impress social media followers, says McIntosh.

Davidsons, which boasts its own on-site workshop and strives to offer consumers less-common pieces that use a rainbow of natural stones, is finding that students are less willing to take a punt on its selection of non-cult brands.

Davidsons the Jewellers has become a destination store

Davidsons the Jewellers has become a destination store

McIntosh explains: “We have got two universities in the city so we have a lot of students, they are so brand conscious. They want to put on Instagram pictures of them with Chanel jewellery and it’s the fact that they want that name.”

It’s not just student’s tastes that are throwing up challenges for jewellers, it’s their spending. Luxury jewellery retailer Williamson Brown, which is surrounded by privately-let student accommodation, finds that students are seldom able to splash the cash in his store.

Williamson reveals: “There’s masses of students, they will drink in bars until they’re silly in the head, but they haven’t got the money to spend on jewellery. But we can get spill over of their parents coming up to see them graduate and they might come in and buy them a reward present for graduating.”

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Though students may not be able to part with as much money for jewellery, Rox’s Keogh is also seeing shoppers diverted off the high street towards the retail beacon that is the famed Metro Centre as well as the city’s Premiership football team.

“The Metro Centre is direct competition for us, pulling trade outside the city centre. Football matches also bring the city centre to a halt so that’s something we have to keep in mind,” shares Keogh.

The looming presence that is the Metro Centre doesn’t just lure customers off the high street, it snaps up their cash with its multiple jewellery offerings.

Walton adds: “The Metro Centre on the outskirts of the city centre which is home to a large Goldsmith store and other multiples, this along with the Northern Goldsmiths in the centre which is a situated in a particularly iconic building, and the fact that Northern Goldsmiths was founded in Newcastle presents us with stiff competition.”

While no retailer trading on the British High Street can escape challenges, it’s clear independent jewellers in Newcastle have the tools they need to thrive — notably knowledge, friendliness and individuality.

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