The man behind the brands reveals how he intends to grow worldwide.
Other brands might be sleeping but Marco Bicego is certainly not. In the face of what could be a crushing financial crisis for Eurozone countries, the Italian designer is continuing to invest in building his brand worldwide and the UK is at the top of his priority, he tells Rachael Taylor.
On the very same day that Professional Jeweller meets with Italian jewellery designer Marco Bicego in the top-floor bar in London’s Harvey Nichols, where he has just a few months previously opened one of his two UK concessions, another Italian businessman is having a less pleasant time.
While we are enjoying a relaxing afternoon in London talking about the expansion of the Marco Bicego brand into the UK, across the Channel former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is having a more fraught time as he loses his grip over Italy and faces some tough questions at a Eurozone crisis meeting in Brussels. The two events seem worlds, and miles, apart but the link is in fact less tenuous than it might at first appear.
The Italian jewellery business has long been a world leader in the global industry, both in terms of domestic demand and export to other countries across the world. And as the Eurozone financial crisis deepens, the outlook for the Italian jewellery industry looks more difficult; domestic demand for jewellery is likely to fall, investment is sure to be harder to come by and confidence will be shaken.
But every cloud has a silver lining, or perhaps a gold lining in this case. As the Euro remains weak there has perhaps never been a financially better time for retailers outside the Eurozone to trade with wholesalers within it. Good news for Italian jewellery brands like Marco Bicego, particularly when this is the crux of his current business plan.
“Due to this extraordinary financial situation, the interests rates have of course increased and Marco Bicego was lightly effected but luckily enough we have a healthy company and our relationships with the banks are great,” says Bicego. “The [Italian] economy slowed down significantly but our international profile was able to compensate the loss, or the not gain, of the Italian market.”
Marco Bicego is celebrating 11 years in business this year. Last year it marked its decade anniversary with a lavish party at its even more lavish new headquarters, a sprawling 6,000sqm estate in the Italian town of Trissino near Vicenza that has everything a jewellery company could require, including areas dedicated to prototyping and production and even a fully functioning spa. But while the brand is hugely successful in its home country, it is just starting to build its reputation internationally.
To date Marco Bicego has had most success in the US, where earlier this year it was named the fourth best-selling jewellery brand in the country by consultancy United Brands, pipped only by Roberto Coin, David Yurman and Kwiat.
The US is now the brand’s number one market, eclipsing Italy which has been shunted into second place. In the US it has presence in leading department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Nieman Marcus, Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. It has also enjoyed much success in private sales, with Bicego himself flying round the States in private jets delivering his limited-edition and one-off collections of gold and gem-set jewellery to well-off ladies.
But the success in the US has made Bicego hungry for more, and he is now focusing his attentions on the UK market, which he believes could hold huge potential for the brand.
“The UK is very similar to the Americas,” he explains. “The concept is the same. We get a lot of collectors, with some women buying up to 20 or 30 pieces of our jewellery.”
Marco Bicego is now sold in 35 independent retail stockists in the UK, but this year the brand has moved its UK strategy forward in a new direction with the opening of two concessions. Both of the concessions the brand has opened have been located within Harvey Nichols stores with the London counter opening in June and the Birmingham counter opening in October. “The UK is a primary market for me. I’m investing a lot of energy and money in the UK. It could be a great market for us.”
With the European financial climate in the state that it is, investment might not be at the top of many Italian jewellery companies’ priority lists but Bicego believes that a difficult time in the market should be used to gain an advantage over more cautious competitors, not to stand still.
“These are very strange and complicated years,” he admits with a sigh. “But for me it is a time to do better, to push more, to be very aggressive. Every year for every brand is very challenging, so we need to have energy to invest in growth as only the best companies can survive. People are sleeping but I’m not sleeping, and we have a lot of opportunities to take more market share.”
Bicego’s strategy to push forward and grab more market share is to accelerate investment in expansion and never to standstill. “I want to up the concessions, shoot new campaigns, up the boutiques,” he says with machine-gun-fire delivery. You get the impression that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his list of active goals for the business.
It is a cliché to say that Italians are passionate, but if there is one overriding emotion that shines through when you meet with Bicego it is his passion: his passion for life, his passion for his family, his passion for jewellery. After all, it was passion that led to the creation of his brand, not a desire to make a living from jewellery. When he founded Marco Bicego in 2000, Bicego was already making a very comfortable living in the jewellery industry working with his father at the family jewellery business but he wanted more.
“I am a second-generation jeweller and as a child I was familiar with gold,” explains Bicego. “My father established his company in 1958 and it was more about product, some branded, but mostly unbranded wholesale. I worked with him but in 1999 I decided that this was not my future. The jewellery business was my future, but I do this not for money but because I believe and I believed in building a brand.”
Needless to say, Bicego’s split from a successful family business was seen by his father at the time as arrogant and naive, and it caused friction between father and son.
“We were two different personalities and ages. It was a hard time and we had a lot of discussions. When I decided to move everything to branded the business was going well so my friends and my father asked ‘what are you doing – business is good, why do you want to change it?’.”
But Bicego’s mind was set: branding was the way forward and he wanted to move with the times. It was a move that paid off. Now you can see his father proudly posing with his son and grandson on the Marco Bicego website, showing off three generations of Bicego men.
Family is very important to Bicego and while he is an astute businessman, he is passionate about protecting his home life with his wife and three children. “I love this job but I love to have a life and a family and play soccer and tennis,” he says.
Lifestyle is an integral part of the Marco Bicego brand and Bicego is keen to share his love of the Italian style of living with the world. All of the brand’s jewellery is made in Italy, something that Bicego will fiercely protect, claiming that production of his products with never happen outside of his home country. Although this is less to do with Italian lifestyle but more to do with quality control. “I read an article about Gucci and they say everything is made in Italy because it is the best, and it is the same for me.”
Bicego believes that this is a key selling point for retailers to pass on to customers. All his jewellery is handmade in gold and with prices continually on the rise, its jewellery is a luxury purchase and so the quality of the pieces and the work that goes into the designs needs to be explained. “It is like a bottle of expensive wine; you need to know the history, you have to be involved in the story,” he enthuses.
As mentioned before, Bicego has a real passion di vita. And wine – good wine, that is – is another of his great passions, along with food. When talking with jewellery designers and questioning them about brand extensions the answers are often the same: scarves, candles, cufflinks, small leather goods, perhaps. Bicego’s answer is strikingly different.
“The dream is always the same. I want to open a shop plus a restaurant in London to bring the Italian lifestyle to the UK. It would be simple but healthy food, served with a great bottle of wine and nice bread – stylish dining. When I get enough money I’ll do it for sure. It will be a new way to see Marco Bicego.”
Bicego even goes so far as to reveal that he has a dream of opening a Marco Bicego winery and resort. Rather than as a separate business division, he sees this as an extension of the jewellery brand into a lifestyle brand that would be bigger than simply adding a few fashion accessories and clothing to his offer, but really morphing into a brand that focuses on lifestyle and Bicego’s vision of how to live the perfect life.
His enthusiasm is infectious and his vision of how life should be lived seems pretty close to idyllic. This relaxed but stylish approach to business is a quality that he hopes shines through in his brand’s jewellery collections.
“I still love to design. I want to see what the customer wants and needs. All my jewellery is very recognisable and should be something to wear every day and every night. It is not jewellery to put in the safe, use it. It has to be part of you and you have to be comfortable.”
Relaxed he might be, comfortable he might be, but as he stated at the beginning of our interview, he is not sleeping. As well as plans to grow the business by a significant margin in the UK, he also has plans to open stores in the Far East and in Italy, despite the troubles there, or perhaps even in spite of them.
After all, as the man himself says, life is about challenge and constant evolution if you want to be a market leader. And Bicego does. He wants to be a worldwide leader.
This article was taken from the December issue of Professional Jeweller. Read this article and others in full online by clicking here.