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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Find out how the new boss at Hamilton & Inches plans to transform the business

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Hamilton & Inches is an independent jewellery retailer stepped in history, but recent announcements from the company reveal it has no plans to stay stuck in the past.

With a new chief executive officer at the helm, Hamilton & Inches has set its sights on ambitious growth – namely to double turnover to £20m over the next five years – as it looks to keep its title as a destination luxury jeweller for generations to come.

New boss, Victoria Houghton, has taken over from Stephen Paterson, who stepped down after 40 years as chief executive officer, and will lead the company into a new era, whilst holding onto the heritage that sets Hamilton & Inches apart.

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Houghton has an impressive track record as a retail and business leader, which includes initiating negotiations to take on the country-wide franchise for Next in Romania and firmly establishing it with four profitable stores in Bucharest. She also held the role of fashion and accessories buyer at Next plc, River Island and M&S, and completed a stint overseas in Bangkok, Thailand, working in product development, mainly in silver jewellery. The new Hamilton & Inches CEO says this is where her love of gemology started.

Last year Houghton joined the Edinburgh-based independent jeweller’s board, where she learnt about all areas of the company, and now she is ready to use her business, creative buying, and strategic management expertise to ensure it has a sparkling future. Here, PJ editor, Stacey Hailes, finds out more…

You’ve have an amazing career working with respectable national chains, what’s it been like moving to an independent jewellery retail business?
I feel that it is not hugely different, in that I have been working with different retailers across different platforms – Burberry, Next, Marks & Spencer – so they’ve all proved really excellent grounding, and then I’ve got the experience of the buying, sourcing, product development, cost negotiation, and the whole sort of retail set up and management, so the whole 360 experience. And for the past 12 years I set up and managed a Next franchise in Bucharest, Romania, where they’ve got four stores. So although that’s part of a very large company, it is managed completely independently. So therefore, I don’t see the move to an independent retail business that different. I think the biggest difference is the different amount of suppliers because obviously I’m used to working with one brand, whereas this is dealing with a wide selection of suppliers, but it is great, it is really exciting and there is quite a diverse mix.

Has anything about the jewellery industry taken you by surprise so far?
I wouldn’t say by surprise at all. I think the industry is fast changing and fast growing, and the retail landscape is changing quickly. The jewellery industry has changed a lot in the last three to five years, and there’s a great opportunity for Hamilton & Inches to grow its local and global client base over the next five years. I’m really in awe of the skill and the craft found in the industry. It is such a privilege to work with Hamilton & Inches — we have our showroom on the ground floor level and our workshop above us, which is a very unique experience, and it is a real opportunity to actually see the craftsman working day-to-day.

You were on the Hamilton & Inches board for a year before being appointed chief exec, could you tell us a bit more about your role on the board and how this prepared you for taking the reins?
Well it was a great opportunity to get an insight into the business. So I had an opportunity to analyse and spend time in every department, which gave me a really good grounding within the business. So therefore I built up a foundation and I can now build on the legacy of the business, and then be able to input improved systems, marketing and PR, and invest in the staff, and really give Hamilton & Inches an excellent future.

Houghton spent a year on the retailer’s board getting to know all areas of the business.

Hamilton & Inches has ambitious plans for the next five years, could you go into a bit more detail about the firm’s five-year strategy?
There’s quite a few things that I am working on, but there’s a few priorities too. I am going to introduce a more contemporary feel to the brand. So whilst preserving the rich heritage of Hamilton & Inches, there’s an opportunity to make the brand more current and appeal to a wider demographic. We are going to be investing in the existing team that we have on board, but also appointing new craftsman and sales staff within the business. We are also looking to develop a new fine jewellery collection and introduce Scottish gold, which we share the exclusivity for. We also want to further develop the bespoke design service that we can offer within the Edinburgh workshop. We already have our own Hamilton & Inches watch offering but we are looking to develop that further too, and we are also looking to strengthen our partnerships with Patek Philippe and Rolex, which are very key to the business. Lastly, we’ve just put in planning permission to develop and refurbish and renovate the showroom on George Street. We have an amazing showroom, which is beautiful and really awe-inspiring for customers, we have had people say it is the best showroom, but it does need further investment. So we have just put in planning for that and we will be implementing a much more experiential retail experience — so something much more welcoming to the customer, which I feel is very important. And then alongside our robust sales plans, we are investing in the marketing and PR, which will all complement the five year growth strategy.

What’s the first steps you will be taking to achieve this in the next six months?
The first things I have been looking at is the growth strategy for the next five years — so to work out which are the areas to focus on and which are the priorities to tackle first, and then alongside that develop a sales, marketing, and a PR strategy to complement that. I understand that you can’t just do one thing independent from the other. It is about a whole 360 programme. The renovations, as I just mentioned, that’s been a real priority – so putting in for planning permissions – and then looking to rejuvenate the new product collections over the next 12 months. So Scottish gold and bridal jewellery, and we are looking to review the silver collection. There’s lots of things to get stuck into.

What’s the vision for the look and feel of the store?
Right now you cannot see out of the store from within, which means people cannot see into the store from outside. We are aware that makes us a little bit intimidating and unapproachable, and we recognise that in today’s luxury world, we need to be accessible. The way we are addressing that is by going to a curved glass frontage that will allow everybody to see into this beautiful store space. We are also looking at repositioning the brand and our typography that takes us back to an earlier design from the 1980s. Everything about the changes is designed to make us more accessible to a wider demographic. In terms of the way we lay out the store, the front will be much more of a jewellery space, which will include a big launch later this year for Scottish gold jewellery. That jewellery area will lead into our crystal and silver, and then from there into the watch area where we have Patek Philippe and Rolex areas and we will also present our own Hamilton & Inches watch brand that we launched last year.

The new boss plans to add a contemporary touch to the historic store.

In your opinion, what type of experience is today’s luxury jewellery shopper looking for and how can Hamilton & Inches deliver this?
Buying a piece of jewellery or a watch often becomes quite an emotional purchase. You don’t tend to wear it as a fashion item — it is something you might be wearing for the next 10-30 years; something you see as a future heirloom that you would pass on to your children, so I think it is very important to make it a truly enjoyable and memorable experience. To enhance that we are introducing two private viewing rooms within the showroom, so if people do want a bespoke piece made, or a little bit more privacy, we will be able to offer that service. We also want to make the showroom more approachable and inclusive. So although it is high-end products, we want to make people feel welcome and not intimidated to walk around the store. We will achieve this by introducing a more contemporary feel and hosting smaller events in-store. We want to create more of a Hamilton & Inches family so people feel we are an approachable store that they feel a connection with.

How do you think H&I can attract the next generation?
We want to appeal to a more wider demographic. We are very grateful and don’t want to alienate the current customers, but we do know that Generation Z and the millennials are going to represent 55% of global spending by 2025, so it is important to make sure that we do appeal to those customers too. With this in mind we have acknowledged that we need to update and invest in our website and along with that ensure it is mobile friendly. Everybody uses their phones these days, so it is important to be mobile friendly. We also understand that we need to be strong on our social media and we recognise the importance of promoting sustainability and explaining where our gemstones come from. People want to buy into the heritage of Patek Philippe and Rolex, and that’s a strength we have too. People appreciate tradition and heritage, and I feel that is going to be more appealing for the newer generations coming through, so we need to draw on that, but make sure it appealing in a current way.

Do you think any drastic changes need to be made to achieve the goal of £20m turnover in five years?
No, I really don’t see it as a huge revolution, I see it as a much needed evolution of the Hamilton & Inches brand, which I think it really exciting. I think repositioning the brand is a real key focus. And the fact that we have the Royal Warrant, we have the in-store workshop and craftsman, I think it is all really, really important, we just need to grow that and build on the amazing foundation we have.

How has business been for H&I so far this year?
We are doing really, really well. I am pleased to say we are actually up 37% on sales across the whole business this year. I think what’s key is to ensure there is a clear blue water between us and the high street. We don’t see ourselves as a high street store, we want to become a luxury destination in Edinburgh and wider Scotland.

That’s fantastic to hear you are up in a year many have found challenging so far.
I think it is really encouraging because it means the small steps and changes that have already been implemented this year are starting to show that they are working.

What do you think the main challenges will be for Hamilton & Inches going forward?
I think it will be attracting and retaining the footfall within the store. Customs of shopping do change and they are changing, so we need to keep giving people a reason to come in store, and that is what we are trying to address with the new shop-fit. We don’t know what is going to happen with Brexit, or other uncertainties, but it is basically making sure people enjoy their shopping experience with us. We also have excellent aftercare services, so we have watch technicians, valuation service, and a repairs team all within the same building, so I think it gives endorsement to the brand, to know if you buy your jewellery or watch from us, you can also come back to use for the repairs. That in itself is also creating customer loyalty, and a reason to buy from us, rather than buying from someone else, or dare I say it, online.

What would you like to have achieved by the end of your first year as chief executive officer at Hamilton & Inches?
Well I hope we continue on the positive trend of sales and in line with that the increase in profit. I hope to be able to look back and see that as an achievement within the first year, and I hope to see progression on the new store frontage and the new store refurbishment, but it is very much down to the planning permission. I am also looking forward to the launch of a new collection, as we are already seeing improved sales within the jewellery sector where we have adapted pieces or introduced new pieces of jewellery. And then I also want to see growth of the more global and regional demographic of customer. The priority is to grow the regional customer first, and we are already seeing an increase in the local, regional customer, buying our watches, which is really great, and then along with that Edinburgh is the second most visited tourist city outside of London, so there is still more opportunity on that side of the business.

GET TO KNOW: Hamilton & Inches new chief executive officer

Tags : edinburghHamilton & InchesIndependent JewellerVictoria Houghton
Stacey Hailes

The author Stacey Hailes

Editor, Professional Jeweller

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