SPECIAL REPORT: How Nottingham jewellers thrive in an unforgiving retail environment

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Lying at the very centre of Britain, Nottingham has historically been a hub for crafts and craft industries. Walking up towards the main high street, it is clear to see that over time this craft heritage has translated into a modern, seemingly thriving retail environment boasting what is claimed by many to be the busiest street in Europe – Clumber Street. Although the city’s historical links to precious metals are limited to the legend of Robin Hood’s prized golden arrow, jewellers are positioned to be some of the most profiteering retailers in the local area.

In theory, thanks to Nottingham’s high footfall and award-winning transport system, including a cutting edge tram network, it ought to be a retailer’s dream. However, in the space of a few months three independent jewellers have departed from the city centre. And according to one independent, the number of outlets under the H Samuel umbrella have plummeted from eight to just two over the past couple of decades. Although the reasons for the independents’ recent relocations and closures differ, it is certainly an indication that jewellery retailers in the location are under extreme pressure. Empty units along Wheeler Street, in the Exchange Arcade and at Broadmarsh shopping centre are proof of the challenging climate.

Carolyn Codd specialises in designing bespoke jewellery and 90% of precious stock is made in its own on-site workshop

Carolyn Codd specialises in designing bespoke jewellery and 90% of precious stock is made in its own on-site workshop

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Under pressure
Retailers throughout the UK are set to come under intensifying pressure this year as business rates are revaluated, both the National Living Wage and apprenticeship levee are introduced and the post-Brexit slump in the pound plays havoc with imports and consumer confidence. But it seems businesses in Nottingham have been subject to additional, localised strains. Stuart Thexton Jewellery dissolved its city centre store last year to replace it with Emilia Ryan Jewellery in West Bridgford. It was intended to compliment the original store but a lack of customers forced Thexton to close its doors after 10 years. Founder Stuart Thexton was reported by The Nottingham Post as saying that a lack of promotion for the city centre was the root cause of the struggling footfall.

“I’m busy paddling my own canoe. I think if you start looking over your shoulder and you’re thinking about what they’re doing, then you’re not doing your own thing” 

He told the newspaper in December: “I was under pressure, there was a lack of turnover and it got to the point where the business was unsustainable. I had a fantastic and loyal customer base but over the past few years we were getting less and less new business, and regulars can only spend so much.” R.O.K Jewellery, which predominately offers fashion lines also abandoned its site on Wheeler Street recently whilst Hallam Jewellery moved all trading online following both a degree of retail pressures and personal reasons.

David Heath, who has run J. Herbert Jewellers for 27 years, is thankful that his business is still enjoying success despite a number of retailers pulling out of Wheeler Street, where the business is based. He believes that some traditional jewellers are struggling to maintain themselves due to a preference for boutique stores. Heath explains: “That’s what’s happening now. The traditional ones, once the owner retires no one wants to take it on, they want to open a boutique or a Pandora shop. That’s how R.O.K was set up – they were more of a boutique with fashion brands and I don’t think they could make it work as well as they thought they could.”

Temprell uses CAD software to make its own fine jewellery and enjoys having full control over manufacture and deadlines

Temprell uses CAD software to make its own fine jewellery and enjoys having full control over manufacture and deadlines

Heath agrees with Thexton about the state of the Exchange Arcade. He notes that although it is an attractive destination, many companies have either gone bankrupt or pulled out and that has heavily impacted on the footfall of remaining businesses. Heath adds: “Fortunately shoppers don’t avoid this street, even though we’ve lost a lot of businesses. If you can get them to pass the shop that’s a big bonus.” The jeweller expresses concern that more business closures along the street could result in a drop in sales figures should there be repercussions on footfall.

Similarly, Andrew Smith, director at Berry’s Jewellers, notes how declining numbers of retail businesses in the city’s Broadmarsh shopping centre is having an effect on his site. “What we have is a problem in the city which is the Broadmarsh centre,” says Smith, continuing: “Ever since we came here there’s been talk to knock it down and redevelop it. It’s steadily gone downhill ever since to the point where at least 50% of the businesses have gone, if not 75%. I can remember when we first came here in 2001 when it was fully let, there were masses of people. I think when they’ve sorted that out there’ll be a big lift, particularly if they can get a store in there like Selfridges or Harvey Nicholls.” On the other hand, some retailers benefit from their locations in Nottingham’s shopping centres. Goldsmith’s Victoria Centre manager Lee Brown reveals to Professional Jeweller that it receives support from the intu centre marketing team with events and advertising.

Daniel Holland decided to move away from brands and now offers designs, repairs and modifications in-store

Daniel Holland decided to move away from brands and now offers designs, repairs and modifications in-store

Online competition is another issue being attributed to the challenging high street environment in Nottingham. In line with many independent retailers, J. Herbert Jewellers’ sales are eroded by competitors’ online jewellery sales. Heath explains how more people visit the shop to view an item that they can then go and order online at a discounted price, almost using the store simply as a try-before-you-buy site. He says: “Sometimes you have to try and nip that in the bud and offer discounts. The internet and rates are the two biggest challenges for 2017. And as the internet is the main thing that’s taking money from the high street we’re also worried about what other shops it will take out of the high street and the effect on us.”

Despite these concerns, J. Herbert Jewellers posted £8,000 growth at the end of last year, having been £12,000 down up until the end of June. Likewise, Nottingham independent Temprell has reported record results for the second year running and Berry’s has had a record year and Christmas. Berry’s, which operates eight UK stores, recently announced an overall 7% increase in revenue to £36.2 million for its last financial year and a 24% increase in profits. Clearly then, there is profit to be had for city jewellers and Nottingham is not a sinking ship for retailers. As Professional Jeweller discovered, retailers who are able to offer consumers with something unique and who are prepared to adapt can survive and even thrive in what initially appears to be a bleak setting.

Overcoming the odds
Based in the upmarket shopping arcade, Flying Horse Walk, Cathy Stephens Jewellery is somewhat immune from some of the pressures faced by high-street stores. It regards itself as a destination business nestled in amongst similar high-end retailers such as Vivienne Westwood and Gigi Bottega. The arcade is an oasis of calm compared to the main high street and in fact, manager Jonathan Arkle believes the quiet location can be a draw for customers. Arkle comments: “I’m not sure why the others have gone over night, it took us by surprise. We’ve been around for 26 years and people still know that we’re here. If you offer something a bit different like repairs and design, a little bit of everything, you can do well here. There’s no real pressure other than the normal retail pressures.”

Daniel Holland, managing director at Carolyn Codd, believes that survival and profitability depends on the kind of business you operate. He says: “In certain locations if you’re a destination business people will find you. If you’re just an out and out retailer I think it’s a really, really difficult job.” For Holland, versatility and firm identity is key to success in Nottingham. “There’s an idea that you can be a London-style jeweller in Nottingham, but for me it’s never going to work like that. I think it’s about whether you’re a true retailer or a true maker,” Holland says.

Cathy Stephens believes yellow gold is returning and finds unique but practical designs are popular

Cathy Stephens believes yellow gold is returning and finds unique but practical designs are popular

Meanwhile, Heath of J. Herbert admits to Professional Jeweller that he has managed to stay afloat in such a challenging retail environment by finding a niche. As with any city where there is fierce competition between jewellers, finding a niche is vital. Heath has remained a traditional store selling traditional pieces such as signet rings and yellow gold items, whilst other stores have headed down the boutique route. But whilst some boutiques like R.O.K have departed, others such as Cathy Stephens have been able to trade successfully for many years. Arkle, Cathy Stephens, holds factors like a prime shopping experience and a bespoke offer as central to positive numbers. Bespoke jewellery designs in particular are a favourite with customers.

Arkle says: “The only brands we do are Hot Diamonds and Anchor & Crew, which works really well for us because no one else in Nottingham does it. We don’t do the big obvious watch brands so we don’t have to compete with anyone in the city.” He adds: “Although we get most things from small suppliers, we’re pushing more towards having our own designs and less bought in items. That keeps us different. People love that because they shop around. We find having something a little bit different works really well for us.” Further to this, Raun Temprell, director at Temprell Jewellers, is all too aware of competition from brands opening their own stores. He notes how players like Swarovski, Pandora and Thomas Sabo opening stand alone shops mean independents have to adapt and diversify. In its case, Temprell concentrates on keeping and edge by making its own pieces that not everybody can make.

Berrys nottingham

Berry’s Jewellers holds an enviable corner window unit with an impressive interior, featuring a Patek Philippe lounge upstairs

But for others, getting the right brands can be a lucrative move. Andrew Smith claims that branded jewellery does very well for Berry’s, especially the brands that other retailers in the city don’t have. The retailer has dropped its lower-end brands and reports that its average selling prices have increased every year, but so too has its volume of sales. Smith notes: “Our MD in Leeds is very aggressive in getting the new brands in, any hot brands get brought in straight away, be it jewellery, watches, diamonds.” Berry’s looks to ensure it stocks brands unique to Nottingham, but Smith admits that its greatest competition comes from larger independents in close-by areas such as Leicester, Newark, Sheffield and Birmingham. In terms of multiples, there are few cross over brands and so the retailer does not regard itself in direct competition with the likes of Goldsmiths, H Samuel and Chisholm-Hunter.

Every man for himself
Nottingham independents in general don’t tend to regard multiples as direct competitors, Professional Jeweller observed. Although they are all aware of multiples, many independents believe they are targeting a different customer in many ways. Temprell explains how avoiding popular brands which are common in multiples means that independents can offer consumers unique pieces. He comments: “We are aware of others and we do do case studies around the city, but we concentrate on what we do and do it well. A lot of people shop with multiples for watches. We don’t do a huge amount of watches.”

Holland goes even further than that and insists on focuing solely on his own business, without analysing multiples or independent competitors – and it seems to work. “It’s not being arrogant”, he says, “I’m busy paddling my own canoe. I think if you start looking over your shoulder and you’re thinking about what they’re doing, then you’re not doing your own thing.”

nottingham directory jeweller

Carolyn Codd, like all independents, has every reason to focus on its own task rather than what multiples are up to considering the challenges ahead for all jewellery retailers this year. But as an independent, Carolyn Codd enjoys the flexibility to react to changes in the retail landscape. Heath outlines that being able to make instant decisions means he holds an edge over multiples in this sense. “Sometimes the multiples will have to make a nationwide reaction which takes time,” he says, adding, “Often multiples are rigid on systems and they’ll have decided six months ago or often even longer what they’re going to stock and they’ve already put in their orders. We’re not in that situation.”

Further to this, although the National Living Wage and rates revaluations will be an obstacle for independents in Nottingham and indeed the UK, they do not have the same levels of staff and sites multiples have, who will be hit harder, relatively speaking. With the number of H Samuel stores in Nottingham dropping dramatically over a number of years, it’s evident that multiples are by no means immune to the challenges independents are facing in the city.

This year is set to be another difficult one for retailers of all kinds, but as Arkle points out, the jewellery industry, as always, has to remain positive. A lot of what retailers will do in the coming months will be dictated by the economic and political climate – often unpredictable factors out of individual retailers’ hands. Speaking to Nottingham jewellers, it seems to Professional Jeweller that independents are able to do well in a challenging high street environment as long as they make the best of what there is already, adapt and react to the climate, maintain a niche offering, whether branded or unbranded, and finally, hope that other retailers around them continue to exist and profit.

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