The Olympic stings for London jewellers

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Unless you were an official partner the Games failed to meet the hype.

By Craig Heatly

This was to be the summer of all summers for London retailers, but with a town centre deader than the moment’s silence before the starting gun, this was one Olympic dream that didn’t come true, unless you happened to be an official partner of the london 2012 Olympics. Craig Heatly reports.

This was to be the summer of all summers for London retailers, but with a town centre deader than the moment’s silence before the starting gun, this was one Olympic dream that didn’t come true, unless you happened to be an official partner of the london 2012 olympics. Craig Heatly reports.

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Every summer tourists flock to the UK’s capital city to soak up the unique British culture, and while they do so, most take a trip to the wealth of stores London has to offer. With a bonanza of tourists promised to fly into London for the 2012 London Olympic Games, retailers were justly excited about the prospect of inflated sales.

In total 7.7 million tickets were sold for the various events over the two weeks, but the additional number of visitors to the city did not translate into additional sales for the city’s jewellers with many reporting a devastating two weeks of sales. As the high streets were stripped of footfall over the Olympic fortnight it seems that the dream of Games retail and the reality did not quite match up.

Ian Middleton of retail jeweller Argenteus, which has a store in London’s Covent Garden, says turnover at the shop plummeted 30% year on year in the two weeks that the Olympics were in town, with sales down as much as 50% on some particularly dour days, all due to a lack of footfall.

“We had a couple of peaks above last year, most notably last Friday, but in general these were far outweighed by the negative like for likes,” says Middleton. “The general response from the store staff and other store owners I spoke to was that local regulars had stayed away and to some extent so had the tourists. Those that were around weren’t really looking to spend.” 

Thor and Wistle, an independent jewellery boutique close to East London’s tourist hot spot Brick Lane, tells a similar tale. While not positioned in central London, the retail store is a short journey from the Olympic Village and co-owner and jewellery designer Rachel Entwistle had hoped that the Olympics would boost its takings but instead found that not only did tourists not turn up to spend, locals stayed away too.

“The exodus of Londoners that usually happens in August for summer holidays has been amplified and more people decided to vacation at this time due to concerns about traffic and transport,” she explains. “We did expect our footfall to increase from an influx of people who came for the Olympics but we have found that most tourists did not make their way to Shoreditch, choosing instead to remain near the Olympics site or travel into central London.”

London jeweller EC One, which has stores in the city’s Clerkenwell and Notting Hill, also suffered dramatically during the Games. The shops are not positioned in tourist traps but the jeweller has a strong local fan base that it says was depleted by the Olympics.

“Our local residents and workers stayed away for the best part of the Olympics as there were fears regarding traffic and getting about in the capital,” says EC One co-founder Jos Skeates. “This proved to be unfounded, mostly because the government had done such a good job at scaring locals away. We haven’t had such a quiet two weeks since the 7/7 bombings.”

But not all retailers reported doom and gloom through the Olympics, it would seem that the official partners of the London Games did enjoy a boost in trading.

Links of London was the official jewellery partner of the London 2012 Olympics and its chief executive David Riddiford says that its stores performed well over the two weeks. “All of our retail locations have been busy with our Westfield Stratford, Covent Garden, Sloane Square and St Pancras sores exceptionally so,” reveals Riddiford. “Our airport terminal stores have been extremely successful during the Games.”

John Lewis, which was the official department store of the Games, also scored an uplift in sales that many retailers in the city had chased but failed to grasp onto. Footfall at John Lewis in Stratford registered a 28.6% uplift to hit 1.5 million people.

Reports filing in from retailers as the Games closed, as Professional Jeweller went to press, suggest that the closing of the sporting activities kickstarted a last-minute and much needed boost, but for many this will do little to dampen the disappointment from missing a once-in-a-lifetime trick.

So what more could have been done to improve business for jewellery retailers during the Olympics? While the high-paying sponsors seemed to have lucked out, those with less stratospheric marketing budgets were left behind.

Middleton believes that one idea would have been to allow retailers outside of official partnerships embrace the Games within their PR much more easily. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, or LOCOG as it is more commonly known, was famously zealous during the Olympics in cracking down on branding, prompting the use of the phrase brand police.

“I think many of us would have felt much more accommodating and accepting of the impact of the Olympics on the business had we been allowed to take part in the event in some way,” says Middleton. “Placing what amounted to a complete embargo on any mention of the games, any reference or in some cases the removal of signage and references due to restrictions, was only ever going to make retailers and businesses feel sidelined, ignored and abused.”

Middleton explains that for jewellery retailers, the restrictions wrought by the LOGOC brand police were even harsher than other sectors due to the nature of goods on sale. “As jewellers we had to navigate the restrictions on mentions of gold and silver, and even rings, which was particularly challenging.”

Argenteus even had to cancel an Olympics-themed event to celebrate the passing of the Olympic torch after it was sent a two-page letter dictating what they could do in relation to such an event, which Middleton says was pretty much nothing; any reference to the Olympics unless officially affiliated was not allowed.

Much like the Games themselves, it would seem that you win some, you lose some. And for London jewellery retailers outside of the official partners it would seem that not many even crossed the finishing line this Olympics, let alone took home a gold.

This article was taken from the August 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To see a digital version of the issue click here.

 

 

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