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EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Jo Stroud explains decision to transition Fabulous to online-only business

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Anna Burkett, Sinade Prosser, Pallavi Prasad and Jo Stroud

Earlier this week Jo Stroud, owner and founder of both Fabulous and Mantra Jewellery, announced via her LinkedIn page that the last of the Fabulous jewellery stores would be closing its doors.

Mantra is Stroud’s jewellery brand, while Fabulous stocked her jewellery and other brands. Due to changes in retail accelerated by the pandemic, Stroud revealed that she would begin operating both businesses entirely online.

Here PJ speaks to the owner and founder to find out more about what went into that decision and where Fabulous is heading in the near future.

Even if it is for the best it must have been a difficult decision to close this chapter on Fabulous and shut the final brick-and-mortar store after 16 years. How did you know it was time?

Footfall on the high street and in shopping centres has been declining for many years, with the growth and convenience of online shopping.

The shutdowns during this last 18 months have simply exacerbated what was happening already. I feel that many people have simply found a new way to shop, and see no need to go back to visiting physical shops with the same frequency as they used to.

Since re-opening in April, we have simply not seen the level of business return to anywhere close to pre-pandemic levels.

Some weeks we have still been trading at 50% below 2019 levels, so closing the store was not a difficult decision to make as we are a business first and foremost, and a business has to make money. For me, it’s simply a new chapter in our Fabulous story.

And can you talk a bit about the changes to the high street and customer behaviour you referenced in your LinkedIn post?

I think the frequency of visiting is the main change. A few years ago, we would see our good customers every month or two. They would be in town for other things, maybe, and would pop in to say hi and take a look around.

That was changing even before the pandemic, with people coming to our events, such as our garden party or our Christmas launch, but just not visiting the store so often.

I would say that going out shopping for the day used to be a hobby for many people, women in particular, myself included – but that simply isn’t the case any more. We tend to see people coming in for a specific reason, but that relaxed, browsing type of shopping is a thing of the past. I don’t see that coming back, to be honest.

Can you give me a brief timeline of when the other shops closed? And what was the maximum number of shops you had at one time?

Over the 16 years, we went from having one shop in Leamington Spa, to adding a second in Solihull; a third in Milton Keynes, and a fourth in Bath. We also opened a Pandora Franchise Store in Bath, in 2012.

“We are very lucky that there will be no redundancies within the team”

Working with the big brands has always been exciting, but you have very little control as a retailer, as there are so many requirements in terms of furniture, stock-holding, and promotions.

The big change for us was when we launched our own brand of jewellery – Mantra Jewellery – in 2016 with its own website. We don’t wholesale Mantra – it is a direct-to-consumer model – and has given us much more control over our own destiny.

Are you able to offer your in-store staff the chance to transition into roles at your office? Or are you reducing your workforce?

We are very lucky that there will be no redundancies within the team. Some of our part-time staff were already about to head to university, and our deputy manager will simply transition over to the online team.

The management team – Anna, Sinade, Pallavi and myself – already work between Fabulous and Mantra, so there is no change there.

Fabulous is becoming a solely e-commerce retailer now. Are there any other outward changes expected as part of this shift?

I guess the main thing will be a change in our own priorities, as Mantra will become a bigger part of our business and a bigger focus for us.

We are still based in Leamington with the same team, so the only real change is that we won’t have the shop.

But many of our customers already shop with us online anyway, so we will still see their names popping up on our screens. And we may well continue to do pop-up events, which is a lovely way to see our favourite customers.

Jo Stroud

Are your costs as a business significantly reduced now, allowing for a greater profit margin?

Of course, the rent, service charge and business rates will go away, which makes a big difference. And also, the need to staff a store seven days a week is very different to an office.

How did your brand partners react to the news?

We have been delighted by how many of our brands are still keen to work with us, as an online-only business. Our plan is to simplify our website and slim down our online offering, working with those brands which sit happily alongside Mantra.

We will focus for the next couple of months on an orderly closing down sale, as the store doesn’t close until early October – and then we will re-launch the online business with a new focus.

What challenges do you foresee in the transition to being an online-only business?

I think the pandemic has helped with the transition as we have already had nearly eight months of the last 18 as an online-only business when we’ve had to close the store.

That has helped get us ready for the change, to be honest, so I don’t think it will be such a jolt.

I know the team will miss chatting to our lovely customers face-to-face, but many phoned us up during the lockdowns and we hand-delivered many orders to local Leamington customers, so I can see that continuing.

Do you have any ideas as to how you’d like to grow the business in the future, now that you only have online to focus on?

With our own-brand, Mantra, we are looking at new segments that we aren’t yet in, such as men’s jewellery and children’s jewellery. We are increasing our investment in social media advertising as we have found it to be hugely successful for us and it is one of the most effective ways of growing our awareness and customer base.

With Fabulous, our core focus will remain jewellery with meaning. This is what we have specialised in for 16 years, and what we will continue to champion. For me, jewellery which is purely decorative certainly has a place in life, but it is jewellery with a meaning that excites me the most.

Read more below on the closure of the final Fabulous site:

‘The high street has changed’ claims jeweller closing last store after 16 years

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