Jewellery Girls Q&A:Lizzie McAuley, Rebecca Church

Bakers Brothers Diamonds’ directors on heading up the family business.

As part of our Jewellery Girls Rule issue for July, Professional Jeweller heard from 21 females leading their sector of the UK jewellery industry about the challenges of today’s business, making their mark and their inspirations. Today is dedicated to Baker Brothers Diamonds directors Lizzie McAuley and Rebecca Church.

Professional Jeweller: What was your route into the jewellery industry and to becoming directors at Baker Brothers?
Lizzie McAuley: We grew up with the jewellery trade being discussed around our family dinner table and being taken around jewellery shops by our father, Kevin Coleman, wherever we were in the world on holiday, so at the know-it-all age of 18 I decided to go off to Ireland and do something completely different. After university I worked as distribution manager for clothing Hugo Boss and Gerry Weber, learning the power of branding. I then returned to England and worked for Tesco’s head office as a buyer for dairy which was a steep learning curve of the corporate world and harsh negotiation and budgeting. I was thoroughly enjoying my role with Tesco when Dad had some staff off on maternity leave and needed help. I offered to take some holiday and help out in the stores and that’s when I fell in love with our industry.

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Rebecca Church: As with most children of a parent who owns their own business, Baker Brothers has always been part of my life as I would often go in to one of the stores and be given odd jobs to make myself useful and earn some pocket money. Therefore, when I showed a serious interest in joining the business my father wouldn’t let either of us make a decision about whether to join until I had looked at the trade, in his words, from the outside in. I went to work for different jewellers around the country to get a true perspective on our trade. This was a clever move on my father’s part as my time spent working for other companies gave me a true scope and understanding of how wonderfully interesting and exciting and varied the jewellery business is – when you’ve grown up with something we often take it for granted. I do feel very lucky to work in such an exciting industry – it always amazes me how interested people are when they ask what you do for a living – people always have lots of questions for you about various jewellery, gemstones and watches.

PJ: What kind of challenges have the two of you faced running your own business?
LM: Many people think owning your own business means picking your own hours and big bucks, while there are many pros, these are not one of them. The biggest challenge personally is never being able to switch off from work, always ensuring your Blackberry has coverage to be on hand at all times. Even though we have a fantastic team you can’t help but worry. Staffing is always a challenge, we are very lucky with the established team we have but as we grow and add more members to the team it is always difficult to obtain the right type and then the investment in time and money to train them to the high standards we need. There are many industry challenges, but these are the same for us all so one must just keep adapting and trying to stay one step ahead at all times – no mean feat. I have been surprised at the challenges my sister and I have had dealing with some of the males in the industry, in particular the diamond cutters and bourse in Antwerp – we stick out like a sore thumb amongst the males and they are not used to doing face to face business with women, something I never found happened when I was accompanied by our father.

RC: There are many challenges to running your own business, but there are two for me that are undoubtedly the biggest challenge. Number one: hiring and keeping the right staff (Lizzie and I are very aware that our staff are the key to our success and we work very hard to find people who share our standards and vision), and secondly security. I have seen such a horrifying change in the last 20 years with regards to how many violent crimes people in our industry have been subjected to. We have gone from the days of having the front door propped open all day to encourage people to wander in, to a time where we have a locked door with buzzer entry.

PJ: Do you believe that women are gaining more prominence in the UK jewellery industry as business persons, entrepreneurs and experts?
LM: There are many females in our industry but mostly on the shop floor. I know very few female business owners or directors. However we have begun to see more female designers that have started their own businesses. At one time these designers would have a male business partner whereas today there are many designing and running the business side.

RC: With regards to the prominence of women within the trade I have always been surprised at the lack of female buyers within the trade considering that most jewellery is made with women in mind. I feel it is a definite advantage as a female to know what appeals to women when travelling around the world to various buying shows where there is such a wealth of choice of designers and manufacturers. My personal style has always been classic, timeless and elegant jewellery and this sits well with the profile of Baker Brothers. What has been exciting to see is that there has been an increase in the number of female designers launching their own businesses in the last few years. It’s wonderful to see these women creating a business from something they feel passionately about.

PJ: Where do you believe the jewellery industry will go in the next few years?
LM: I believe the industry has changed more in the last two years than it has in 10, the recession and material prices has forced significant changes. As this shows no signs of diminishing the continual growth of gold vermeil and substitute metals and materials will be stocked by some jewellers. While many watch houses are requesting shop-in-shops, I believe that over the next few years this will develop into more of the watch houses opening a retail arm of the business and sell direct.

RC: Like all retail industries the jewellery trade will change an awful lot in the coming years. We are having to adapt, change and react so much quicker as the world has become a smaller place with the explosion of the internet, meaning we have to be continually paying attention to what’s going on around us. More than ever before you have to be acutely aware of where you want your business to sit within its market and fight to keep it there.

PJ: Who do you consider inspiring female figures in the UK jewellery or luxury goods industries?
LM: This is a difficult question, as sadly no-one jumps to mind. I take inspiration from women outside of our industry and a favourite is Karren Brady who made it in a male dominated world but without losing her personal side and sense of humour. Dido Harding who was at Tesco during my time there and is now at TalkTalk always stood by her beliefs and fought hard to develop and make changes in a cut throat world without ever receiving the glory of some great decisions.

RC: I take inspiration from all women who run their own business in any industry, not just our own, regardless of what you do, you can often recognise the same struggles and joys. Within the jewellery trade I was very lucky to meet Helen Fortunoff who ran Fortunoffs of New York. She was incredibly inspiring and candid in her outlook on the trade and was passionate about what she did and sold the most amazing and interesting jewellery. Brigid O’Hagan is another fascinating lady who having retired from Hancocks in Manchester is still to be seen walking the halls at Basel and buying jewellery for her private clients. She has an instinctive knowledge of our trade that you will struggle to match, and she is inspiring as she is still as passionate about our industry as she was 30 years ago.

To read the Jewellery Girls Rule issue of Professional Jeweller in full online, click here




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