OPINION: Lessons to be learned from the BHS collapse by Willie Hamilton

Willie Hamilton Speakers Corner

The Company of Master Jewellers chief executive Willie Hamilton on what jewellery retailers can learn from this week’s demise of two major high street retail brands…

In Willie Hamilton’s words…

You will no doubt have read of the sad – but some might say predictable – demise of high street giant BHS at the start of this week, resulting in the possible loss of 11,000 jobs. And now Austin Reed is following suit, with some 1,200 jobs at risk as it also announces it has gone into administration.

Story continues below

These two brands are well known and established names on high streets up and down the country and these retailers, with a combined retailing history of 204 years, will likely be no more.

While this is sad news for many town centres that are already suffering with empty units and loss of footfall, it is of little surprise that they have met such fates. These are two retailers that have struggled to keep up with and adapt to changing customer demands, unable (or unwilling) to embrace an increasingly digital age or modernise their product offering. And more than that: while BHS was once the go-to department store for affordable, high-quality clothing, and Austin Reed was once the high street’s answer to classic tailored workwear, they no longer held that specialismin the public’s eye.

If household names like BHS, Austin Reed – and let’s not forget Woolworths – with their large management teams, big budgets and buying power can find themselves in such retail dire straits, a red flag is waving for the independent jewellery retailer that is choosing the “ostrich” approach and burying their head in the sand, hoping that customers will keep coming back because they always have. Retail jewellers have an important place on the high street, and it would be sad to see more of them go the same way as the recent big names in retail.

I have said for some time that retail jewellers should consider “moving with the mix” if they want to secure their future on the high street. It’s not just about having an internet site any more – m-Retail reported that 45% of all online sales in the run up to Christmas last year were made via a mobile device. Click & Collect, online sales and social media promotions have become the norm in today’s retail environment. Customers want convenience and speed and if they can’t get it, they simply aren’t as loyal as they used to be – they will just go elsewhere.

What is also important to customers is to buy from retailers they can trust – and this is especially the case for those big ticket items like jewellery, whether at Christmas or around other key times in their lives, such as engagements and weddings. This is where jewellers can really excel. If you are the go-to, trusted retailer with professional, enthusiastic highly trained staff, customers are more likely to continue to value your place on the high street. But consider a store filled with old-fashioned merchandise and brands, and poorly trained staff who regard customers as an inconvenience – no one wants to experience that.

Diamond jewellery shoppers are making an emotional purchase and want to deal with staff with specialist knowledge to feel sure they are making the right decision when parting with their hard earned money. If they have a positive experience, they will feel that they can come back to you for gifts in the years to come because you are their family jeweller. This is a unique advantage and a special relationship you have with customers compared to your competition on the high street.

The question I would consider asking yourself, given the context of this week’s announcements, is: do you think your store will still be there in those years to come? I really do hope they answer is yes. But if the honest answer is no, then perhaps consider that staying in the dark may be the easier option for now, but may not work as the long-term solution.

CMJ retailers celebrate their independence but their strength is in sharing knowledge through networking so that they can support and inspire each other to be more creative, successful retailers. Events such as the UK Jewellery Conference and forthcoming Regional Meetings keep them one step ahead so that they can learn from each other and be leading retailers in their towns. While providing extensive support and opportunities for learning and growth, the CMJ considers it vital that every retail member retains true independence – they always remain free to run their businesses exactly as they wish and to buy from any brands, whether approved suppliers to the CMJ or not.


Tags : Austin ReedBHSchristmasCMJdiamond jewelleryjewellery retailersonlineThe Company of Master Jewellerswillie hamilton

The author Stacey Hailes

Editor, Professional Jeweller


  1. Totally agree with Wille, it’s obvious that Woolworths and Bhs should suffer the same fate as they had the same symptoms. A beautiful retail environment with well trained, enthusiastic staff who offer great service should be a given. The opportunity for consumers to enjoy an equally pleasant experience online and social media which reflects the store are now essential. Retail isn’t easy but it also isn’t boring, energy and passion are all too often lacking. I would say wake up, shake up and learn from the best!

  2. It is sad for BHS, although I don’t think it is the whole story. The management since the buy out for a £! don’t seem to have invested much time or money in the brand. Networking with your peers is important as is looking in every shop-front in every town and having professional and highly trained motivated staff with the emphasis on motivated. Also never exclude the importance of Marketing and PR, even in hard times. The then Managing Director of Rolex over thirty years ago recounted a story of how a successful hot-dog salesman on 5th Avenue in New York opened a second stall across the street and erected a large banner and billboards He was persuaded by his son that things were looking tough, so he should cut back on advertising, so he took his banners and billboards down, he then had to close his second stall and his son was right… His turnover did fall…

Leave a Response