British jewellery designer Alex Monroe asks key questions about the future as he writes about the impact Britain’s decision to leave the European Union might have on business…
We were all rather shocked on the morning of Friday June 24 when the result of the EU referendum was announced. I am a passionate supporter of the European Union, and I campaigned hard on the run up to the vote. I teamed up with Alan Johnson and we made a short film and produced leaflets. I considered myself very well informed, brushing up on the history, structure and function of the EU.
I have always been keenly aware of the benefits I’ve enjoyed because of the EU. I take the kids to visit the graves of my two great uncles who died in the First World War, and the stories my father told me about the horrors of the Second stay fresh. I’m well aware that mine is the first generation in history to have enjoyed peace, mutual co-operation and free trade with my European neighbours. A wonderful privilege and one I am eternally grateful for.
My business, Alex Monroe Ltd., has thrived given the opportunities offered by a free market. We’ve gone from strength to strength selling right across the EU, and reaching further afield by participating in Europe’s great trade fairs. About a quarter of my workforce are European.
But, like many, I misjudged the mood of the nation and found myself woefully unprepared for an ‘out’ vote. Gold prices soared, the pound plummeted. We braced ourselves for the aftershock.
Of course there were some immediate effects. Suppliers were quick to put their prices up to track the increasing cost of metals, and the drop in the pound increased the cost of imports. Retailers who had been a little cautious on the run up to the vote remained so. There was a feeling that everyone was holding their breath waiting to see what would happen next.
However, the retail side of our business has blossomed! On the website export sales leapt with customers taking advantage of the weak pound and here in the UK we got the sense that people were tired of the uncertainty and needed cheering up.
Our shop was busier than ever, Goldcrest (our 18ct and wedding offering) sales grew, and the website achieved levels we were used to only at Christmas! People still need birthday presents and couples still want to get married.
Wholesale has recovered nicely too. Export is up and growing, both EU and non EU, and our UK retailers are selling out and reordering. We’re lucky that our brand is still highly sought after so once again, meeting demand is still our biggest problem.
The vote caught us in the middle of some exciting investments. Next year is our 30th anniversary. We’re near completing a £2 million build in the heart of London; four stories of ultra-modern state-of-the-art workshops and design studios to accommodate increased production. We’re also expanding successfully into the USA and we’re putting resources into continued growth in China.
At this point my job is to work with our board and our wonderful chief operating officer Emma Burgin to plan how we take things forward over the next five years following the Brexit vote. Our success over the last 30 years has been partly due to our ability to make brave, innovative and surprising decisions; to invest and commit to hand-making in the UK. To build award winning buildings in London to showcase our work. To build a truly global brand based on British design and quality. Our early investments into an innovative online offering. Unexpected collaborations with global brands like Nike. Textile designs for Liberty…
But we’re struggling to know what a post Brexit Britain will look like. Will the much anticipated recession happen? Will gold prices continue to rise?
Many experts think so. If interest rates continue at this level or even fall, gold is likely to do well and the pound may continue to drop. If advantageous trade deals are negotiated exports could remain strong, but we’re not very well set up for tough negotiations and a strong back of the queue message came out of the recent G20 summit in China.
So how do we plan ahead with all this uncertainty? Should our next big investment be in retail within the UK? Or how about opening an office and shop in New York? We’re getting a lot of interest from China, should we invest there? The brand is so well recognized should we be branching out into homeware or fragrances? How about a new manufacturing facility out of town with a visitors centre and restaurant? Or do we just hunker down and wait?
As far as I can see, the future is not for the feint hearted. We’ll do something. It’ll be big and bold and fun. Times of change always offer exciting opportunities, and after all… people are always going to need a nice bit of jewellery!