The retailers opening up their on-site workshops to customers.
A savvy sales associate might be able to tempt customers into making a purchase, but nothing convinces them of the value of a piece like seeing it made in real-time by a team of master craftsmen. In a sneak peek from Professional Jeweller’s new BenchPro magazine, Sarah Louise Jordan investigates the emerging trend for glass-walled and visible workshops on retailer’s premises, and how they are educating and inspiring customers.
A piece of jewellery might look stunning staged, spot-lit and showcased in a retail store, but it didn’t always look that way, which is why retailers offering their customers a glimpse into the workshop might seem counter-intuitive at first glance.
But for retailers such as Ogden of Harrogate, EC One and Bentley & Skinner, giving customers a behind-the-scenes look at their master craftsmen and goldsmiths at work is a unique selling point for cash-conscious customers.
Robert Ogden, director of fifth-generation jewellers Ogden of Harrogate, decided to add a glass-wall to his in-store workshop during an extensive refurbishment earlier this year. He explains: “One thing that our customers often cite as a reason for entrusting their repairs with Ogdens is that their jewellery is staying in the building. Being able to actually witness it being worked on provides even more reassurance, in addition to an up-close insight into what goes into the work.”
Whereas Ogden’s workshop is housed within its Regency-inspired store, royal jeweller Bentley & Skinner has a street-facing window allowing customers walking down bustling Piccadilly to observe its master craftsmen at work. Bentley & Skinner sales professional Omar Vaja explains: “Today with the ever-increasing use of technology and machines we felt that it was important for the public to see that there are still true craftsmen who use traditional methods to manufacture fine jewellery.”
Making workshops more accessible is something that has come as a direct result of changing customer attitudes to the production process, according to Robert Ogden. He remarks: “There seems to be a limitless fascination among our customers with the often elemental processes of creating beautiful jewellery – they really appreciate a look behind-the-scenes to witness the artisanal skill of the goldsmiths and to discuss their work with them.”
Director of London jewellers EC One and master goldsmith, Jos Skeates, agrees: “We moved our workshop upstairs early last year. Our customers used to have a viewing platform giving them a birds-eye view, but now the workshop is level allowing for a more intimate experience with our goldsmiths and the making process. Customers are always curious to know what we are working on.”
Although glass-walled workshops might serve to satisfy customers’ cravings to see the inner-workings of a jewellers, it is undoubtedly a new experience for the craftsmen and women who are used to private workshops. Skeates adds that, although a deliberate decision, moving his workshop so it has a more advantageous customer viewpoint “took a bit of getting used to, but it has helped to get our customers involved and aid their understanding of the skill, precision and dedication that goes in to making each piece we produce”.
He continues: “There are three to four goldsmiths at the bench during the week. They may be engrossed in their work and then they will turn around and find a customer equally captivated watching them. Making our workshop accessible allows our customers to be involved throughout the production process, we can nip in and out during the discussion to make quick alterations and really tailor the designs. It is a combination of our customers’ curiosity and desire for quality and craftsmanship that drives them to ask questions about what we are making whether it is re-sizing a ring or re-modelling an heirloom.”
Although Robert Ogden’s team has expressed some concern at being watched by eagle-eyed members of the public, he believes they take pride in having their hard work recognised. He remarks: “They [Ogden of Harrogate’s craftsmen and goldsmiths] have mentioned that they need to keep their focus on their work when customers emerge from the lift, as it is a completely new experience for them, but they appear to be rather pleased to have their efforts acknowledged by our clients.”
In the long term, all three companies hope greater public understanding of the manufacturing process will drive sales and increase customer loyalty. Ogden adds: “As an independent jeweller we have to consider what makes us distinct from others – we have always invested a lot of time and money into quality, and this is the most visible and tangible way to demonstrate this commitment to our customers.”
Vaja of Bentley & Skinner agrees: “Our clients really value the skills of the jeweller’s in-store. They get a sense of satisfaction knowing that an item of jewellery they’ve purchased is unique, handmade and in some cases designed to their exact specifications. Customers also understand the process of making something from start to finish and can appreciate the amount of time it takes to make a piece from a bit of precious metal.”
He concludes: “We have the skill and the confidence to show our craftsmen at work. Before anyone attempts this, they must feel confident to work in the public eye and be proud of their skills.”