The first half of 2019 appears to have been something of a mixed bag for independent jewellery retailers.
Hannah Gibson of Lancashire-based Silver Tree Jewellery described the period as unpredictable, an assertion backed up by Helen Malloy of Forum Jewellers in Poole, and Peter Wong of Wongs Jewellers in Liverpool. Gibson claims that, “a quiet month would be followed by a busy month followed by an exceptional month” with Malloy adding that, “some weeks footfall could be surprisingly low and other weeks surprisingly high” and Wong describing the start to the year as “a little bit up and down”.
Others, such as David Clark of Lewes-based W.E. Clark & Son, were more downbeat. “It was tough, actually,” he admits. “We have seen our top clients really clam up and hold onto their money.” He elaborated that the problem was not that customers did not have the money, but that they were waiting to see what would happen with the economic and political situation, a factor which has had far reaching ramifications across a number of industries in the retail sector.
And although some respondents were more positive – Olivia Stewart-Stead of Fitzgerald Jewellers in Canterbury said that business had been “steady” while Dominic Gomersall of Leicester-based Lumbers Jewellers claimed “a good first half” – the resounding mood does seem to be one characterised by a high degree of uncertainty.
Going into the latter end of the year though, most of the independent jewellers in conversation with Professional Jeweller appear to be cautiously optimistic of improved fortunes in the coming months. There were a number of reasons for this, such as the fact that disruption is now already factored into the mind-set of consumers, and the busy Christmas season to come.
As they seek to make the most of what remains of 2019, we’ve broken down their plans for the remainder of the year into four sections: digital, events, staff and stock.
One thing that independent jewellers agree that it is essential to optimise in order to secure a successful second half of the year is a strong digital presence. Although the approaches they are taking differ, everyone that was questioned spoke of digital objectives they will be focusing on for the remainder of 2019.
Gibson, for example, spoke of a new advertising strategy that Silver Tree has recently embarked on with the help of its digital team’s marketing analyst.
“We are very fortunate to know this person who creates all sorts of digital marketing ideas for companies in the US,” explains Gibson. “As a business we are very passionate about using local companies for any of our digital outsourcing — it also helps that you can talk face-to-face too.”
Fitzgerald, meanwhile, is mainly looking towards social media; after making the decision last year to make its website non-commerce, its focus in terms of digital strategy has switched to Instagram. Stewart-Stead claims that the team are working hard on building up the store’s Instagram shop, “so that people can buy in just a few taps”. Instagram is also the focus for Forum, which is keen to target the 19-35 year old market, while the store has also recently began running a monthly birthstone email.
Lumbers, meanwhile, has recently taken all its digital opportunities in-house with a small team working hard to ensure an updated presence. This will include a completely new website which is set to be launched in October and which Gomersall believes will greatly enhance the business’ digital experience. W.E Clark also has a new website on the horizon, and although Clark has not yet explained the specifics, he promises a completely bespoke website that will feature many functions and interactive ideas that show off the store’s individuality.
Wongs, meanwhile is focusing on targeting Facebook adverts to a select audience based on data, in addition to concentrating on the store’s Google My Business page.
This all points towards an increasing awareness of the importance of having a strong digital presence to complement the in-store experience, and – from those we spoke to at least – it appears to be something that independent jewellers are embracing whole-heartedly.
Increasingly, events have become a major factor in the industry, and several of those questioned outlined the significance of these in terms of driving business for the second half of the year.
Gomersall in particular was keen to highlight their importance, claiming that the industry had become an events driven business and insisting that the old days of high street retailing have long since passed.
“You can be arrogant and believe you are purely a destination shop,” he tells Professional Jeweller, “or you can create an event calendar giving high net worth individuals a reason to visit your store repeatedly.”
He outlines Lumbers’ varied events calendar that will be taking place during the remainder of the year, including a continuation of the store’s collaboration with The Curve, the creation of an in-store cabaret version of Grease, several co-operative brand events and the third annual Fine Dining Nights.
Stewart-Stead was similarly positive about the impact of events, highlighting that as well as driving awareness of the business, Fitzgerald’s events have a charity focus. This year the jeweller has partnered with a local homelessness charity called Porchlight.
She claims that the most successful events tend to be those that give the customer a feeling that they are getting a real one-to-one opportunity to be with the team, explaining: “Our most successful event we run is ‘An Evening at Fitzgerald’s’ where eight customers are on lock down in the shop. We encourage the customer to tailor the event to what they would enjoy whether that be live demonstrations from our goldsmiths or a jewellery quiz. It’s always such good fun and we get really positive feedback.”
Clark, meanwhile, claimed that the store’s Lewes showroom was ideally suited for in-store events with suppliers, something that he said he would be looking at using to the store’s advantage this year.
When these are added to Wong’s upcoming client evening with 100 VIP guests, and Silver Tree’s extensive list of events – including a wedding event for the store’s Diamond Room customers – it would appear that creating a lengthy and appealing event list is considered a hugely important part of doing business for the country’s leading independent jewellers.
When it comes to staffing, most of the independents questioned showed a great deal of support and confidence in those working in their stores, while highlighting the need to top up their skills through increased engagement and on-going training.
Stewart-Stead claimed that her team would be heading into the latter part of the year in great spirits after being shortlisted for Sales Team of the Year at the UK Jewellery Awards, whilst also announcing that two new members would be joining the team — after going through sales training and completing JET courses.
She says: “We are such a close knit-team that ideas bounce between us and our hard work always seems to pay off. We’re incredibly lucky to be in this position with our staff.”
Meanwhile, continued staff training and engagement remain popular methods of preparing staff for busy sales periods. For example, Lumbers claims to have re-energised its team by delegating more responsibility to each and every individual.
Gomersall explains: “They come together in regular ‘Think Tank’ sessions where as a group we discuss and debate important strategic decisions. I believe this has made them all feel more included and valued and has concentrated their contributions to the improvement of the business.”
Malloy said that Forum jewellers would continue to hold weekly staff training sessions, while Silver Tree regularly engage their staff in brand-led training, most recently by Swarovski, who Gibson claimed are “leading the way in investing in people”. Wongs, meanwhile, has decided to put further emphasis on incentivising its team through the implementation of a new bonus structure.
Despite a few tweaks however, there seems to be a good degree of confidence in staff members amongst independent jewellers. This is perhaps best summed up by Clark’s assertion: “I’m pretty sure our team are always ready.”
When asked about popular products, a common answer among those questioned was noticing a trend in favour of more bespoke and customised pieces of jewellery. This was picked up on at Fitzgerald, Silver Tree and W.E Clark.
Stewart-Stead says on the subject: “We’re noticing a big increase in our bespoke customers reaching for more unusual designs, especially with their shaped wedding rings and a lot of jewellery being made using our signature cuttlefish casting.”
Making a similar observation, Gibson adds: “I see a shift in customers wanting different pieces of jewellery, a one-off, especially within our sterling silver and precious stone ranges.” Wongs have also played into this, and will be introducing a twist into its key selling engagement rings in order “to make them more bespoke to Wongs”.
Most of the jewellers also had a particular brand or brands that they expect to be their big seller for the remainder of the year, for example Silver Tree said that Thomas Sabo was its strongest performing brand, Fitzgerald revealed that George Jensen was going from “strength-to-strength” and Forum picked out Nomination, Coeur de Lion and Clogau as its standout brands.
Meanwhile customers at Lumbers have a new engagement ring concept to look forward to. Gomersall said that it would be ready for a full launch by September, and claimed that “we really do believe this will corner the engagement ring sales for our area and give a huge uplift over the next few months”.
As we approach the latter part of the year then, the independent jewellers we spoke to seem fairly confident that they can make a sparkling success of 2019, whilst still acknowledging that uncertainty remains.
Stewart-Stead concluded that it was a “great year to be part of Fitzgerald,” Gibson insisted “I think we shall do well!” Gomersall claimed “I see no reason why we shouldn’t be confident” and Wong said “a resounding yes!” when asked if he was in confidence.
All in all then, despite some challenges it seems that the independent jewellery sector remains in good hands.