Let’s start thinking outside the branded box


Ian Middleton bangs the drum for British jewellery designers.

By Ian Middleton

It’s always good to hear of new stores opening, especially independents, and particularly on local high streets. To me, that individuality is the essence of retailing. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been a retailer myself for over 25 years.

It’s also why I now spend a good deal of my time writing and campaigning about small shops and supporting British entrepreneurship.

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All too often though that initial delight is tempered with a little disappointment when I read the litany of usual suspect brands and collections that are going to be sold in these stores. Not that I have anything against these brands, I know a lot of shops do very well with them. But to me you’re simply buying a full package, not to mention the packaging, and diluting what makes you special as a retailer in the process.

How many stores have you passed recently with the same window displays showing similar designs or styles of jewellery, usually made anywhere but in the UK? This ‘shop in a box’ concept may be attractive to anyone who simply wants to run a jewellery store, but for me it’s about more than that. If I’d wanted to base my whole business on other people’s brands I’d have opened a supermarket instead.

This reluctance to follow the herd is not entirely idealistic. There are distinct disadvantages in carrying branded lines. Margins are usually fixed and price comparisons are much easier, especially online. It’s also difficult to maintain a USP when everyone else in town is selling the same ranges. Even more so when a major brand you depend on decides to open a standalone in the same town.

Working with brands is of course a symbiotic relationship; not least because of the promotional clout they can provide to drive trade to your door. But we’ve always preferred to promote our own brand values rather than someone else’s, one of which is our long association with British designers.

For me, trawling trade fairs and finding emerging talent has always been the most rewarding part of my job. In fact, it’s recently become a herculean task, cramming all these diffuse explosions of creativity into our small stores. So in 2014 we’ll be launching a new UK designer portal on our website specifically aimed at consumers who are looking for something different and, above all, something made in England.

Jewellery making is possibly one of the few remaining industries that we can sustain in the UK in the future. So let’s start thinking outside the branded box and bang the drum for home-grown flair and ingenuity. There should be a lot more to our sector than a me-too window display and a smart logo.

Ian Middleton is the managing director of jewellery retailer Argenteus. This Guest Column was taken from the November issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.

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