Beaverbrooks chairman Mark Adlestone talks to Professional Jeweller about charitable giving, the benefits of being a family-run business, and being awarded an OBE…
As a business, it appears there are two significant things that Beaverbrooks can do extremely well: sell jewellery and raise impressive amounts for charitable organisations.
With 67 stores nationwide and a 900-strong workforce, Beaverbrooks steps outside the ‘normal’ realms of bake sales and office fund-raisers to offer 20% of its post-tax profits to charity annually. Elsewhere, it encourages employees to take 16 hours of paid leave annually to work with local charities — resulting in the retailer paying for 1,800 working days each year for local organisations.
Adlestone is also a fan of Workplace Giving — a government sponsored scheme that allows staff to contribute money to charity through their salaries. With 34% of Beaverbrooks staff signed up, the company is one of the top corporate proponents of the scheme — highlighting the way a charitable business DNA can motivate staff on the shop floor and in their private lives.
Speaking to Professional Jeweller, Adlestone is proud of his workforce (having made it onto The Sunday Times’ 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the past 12 years running), just as he’s proud of his business’ ethical credentials. In July the company was recertified by the Responsible Jewellery Council, with Adlestone noting: “The strength of the RJC process has really tightened-up. I know our most recent re-accreditation was quite a significant process, so even getting involved with the RJC is a big commitment time wise and personnel wise. Going right back to the Kimberley Process of 2003 — we’ve been involved all the way through.”
While proud of being certified, Adlestone is not convinced that ethical and Fairtrade factors are at the forefront of consumer consciousness. He explains: “We have a limited range of Fairtrade gold wedding bands, but our experience is that the consumer is not particularly pushing for that. Our sales have been modest I would say of Fairtrade products. I think when the consumer is looking to make a choice, they choose a retailer they trust and this whole issue of trust then comes back to the issue of accreditation with the RJC.”
For Adlestone, the concepts of Fairtrade, ethics, responsibility and CSR are “not just about provenance” but about how the company treats its people, how it engages with the consumer and how it engages with suppliers and wholesalers throughout the supply chain. He adds: “I think the customer is concerned, but they elect us as the retailer to do that due diligence for them. They come to us because they trust Beaverbrooks has done the research to make sure that what they are buying is ethically sourced and sustainable.”
Returning to the company’s charitable endeavours, Adlestone remains convinced that Beaverbrooks’ family-owned status is a key ingredient in its success. He says: “The fact that the business is owned by family makes a huge different because we are autonomous, we are not responsible or answerable to anyone else, we can set our own agenda and we can set a long-term agenda.”
Adlestone says the company has a “very accepting and democratic approach” to supporting charities, but this is all dependent upon the engagement of his employees. He goes on to suggest that instilling a sense of understanding of the company’s ethical stance and pride in his employees is a way of encouraging them to excel, both in terms of customer service and their own personal contributions to good causes. He adds: “Because our employees are engaged more and give more, we benefit more. It is a virtuous circle I believe and I think it is all connected.”
Despite being a family business, Adlestone took the step in 2013 to appoint Anna Blackburn – a non-family member – as chief executive officer. The reason for this, Adlestone admits, is rooted in the understanding that family connection can only go so far when it comes to filling senior posts. He says: “In my case I’m a grandson of one of the three brothers who started the business. I’m lucky through the family connection, I like to think I merited that [his position], but the reality is I got it because of my family. I think the family succession will continue but not necessarily chief executive level, so the options are wide open.”
Returning to the shop floor, Adlestone remarks that brands are continuing to show steady growth in Beaverbrooks stores around the country. As a result, Beaverbrooks have put extra emphasis on their own-brand products in recent month — necessarily upping their game to keep up with the ever evolving fashion brands. Adlestone says: “Prior to fashion brands coming in it was all our own products, so we’ve had to work harder now to make our own products still valid, still play a part.”
Beaverbrooks has seen consistent growth since August 2013 — the time Adlestone highlights as a turning point for the company. “From the financial crisis, probably of October 2008, it was tough. We did okay, we certainly kept our heads above water, but we didn’t see the growth. Although we maintained our turnover, we saw a shift in the profit margins through selling jewellery brands, compared to our own jewellery. That shift did affect us, but now we are really back in a very good position.”
In the coming months, Adlestone and the team will attempt to address a lack of representation in central London, creating a new network of locations to support sites in Westfield London, Lakeside and Bluewater among others. Looking further ahead, Adlestone is already thinking about Beaverbrooks’ 100th anniversary in 2019. “We want to be able to say we’ve got this experience, this wisdom, this knowledge, but at the same time we are still very relevant. The consumer looks at the fact we’ve been around a long time and they like it, but ultimately if we are not selling the right product and we do not appeal to them we are completely irrelevant.”
This January, Adlestone will also accept his OBE for services to business and charity in the North of England — another accolade to go along with family member Andrew Brown’s MBE in 2008. And all of these merits are hardly surprising considering Beaverbrooks will have donated £10 million to charity between 2000 and the end of 2015.
Adlestone continues: “I think if you were to ask me to choose three defining features [of Beaverbrooks] I would say; employee engagement, customer experience and, number three would be our ethical slant and the fact that we are a family business. They have always been connected.”