The United Kingdom is bursting with cities, each one more unique than the next, but precious few compare to Bath. Known for its natural hot springs and 18th century Georgian architecture, it has a cultural and historical worth so rich that the entire city became a World Heritage Site in 1987.
First founded by the Romans as a thermal spa, Bath became an important centre of the wool industry in the Middle Ages. In the 18th century, the city developed into an elegant town adorned with Palladian buildings, which complement the Roman Baths, which can still be visited by tourists today.
It would be no exaggeration to say Bath has provided the ultimate spa break destination for thousands of years. It is therefore little wonder that despite challenging market conditions, Bath has bucked the trend and seen tourist numbers increase in recent years as people travel far and wide to experience its truly unique offering. However, Bath is not without its challenges.
The city’s council is faced with £37m of cuts in the next five years, with current considerations for generating additional revenue including the introduction of Britain’s very first tourist tax for overnight visitors. Although many businesses fear what this might do for the city, most notably those in the hospitality sector, retailers don’t have too much to worry about as the amount of day visitors to Bath is actually significantly larger than those who stay for longer. In fact, the latest figures show that Bath welcomes 4.8 million day trippers a year, but only a million overnight visitors in the same time frame.
A variety of visitors
First established in 1898, independent jewellery retailer Mallory has stood the test of time and served a wide variety of visitors from “the ladies”, as current managing director Robert Vander Woerd calls them, who came to Bath to “take the waters” and popped into the boutique to buy tea sets, to the store’s current clients who progressively look for bespoke items, luxury jewellery and watches.
Despite being founded so long ago by Edward Palmer Mallory, the business is still very much a family affair with Mallory’s great-grandson, Robert Vander Woerd, now at the helm. Woerd has grown up in the company and works hard to steer its 21st century course through a combination of exclusive brand acquisitions and investments in in-house craftsmanship. Today, Mallory spans across six units and three floors, and is by far the largest jewellers in Bath.
While the store started out as one unit, Mallory has slowly grown. The last expansion took place just under ten years ago, when the jeweller opened a watch department, a part of the business Woerd says has been the most progressive in recent years. Commenting on the secret to the businesses success over the years, Woerd remarks: “Retail is an ever changing market, fortunately Bath is quite lucky. We have a lot of visitors and good people come to see us and we take customers from London because they come down to stay and we look after them probably a little bit better, with a little bit more care.”
The idea of having “good” customers and those who regularly visit from other areas of the UK is one that most the jewellers Professional Jeweller visited mentioned. With a growing hospitality industry, easy access into London, a strong selection of independent boutiques and plenty to see and do, Bath is the ideal city for local tourists to make frequent visits.
This year marks Nicholas Wylde’s 30th anniversary, and while the jewellery designer now has two boutiques, the journey began in the cobbled streets of Bath where he opened his first store at just 24 years old. Like many people, Wylde visited Bath and instantly fell in love with the city. So, when it came to opening his very own store, Bath was the only destination the passionate jeweller had in mind.
“I opened up with 12 rings in the window and I haven’t looked back,” Wylde explains. “Why Bath? It’s because Bath is a tourist city. It is always busy, every month. It doesn’t really have a quiet period, although January and February is a little bit quieter than the summer, but from April right through to December it is very, very busy.”
While Wylde does not do much business with international tourists, the store owner enjoys clients from all over England, with the average customer ranging from 25 upwards. “Our main target is local people,” Wylde shares. “In Bath I say local being in a 50 mile radius. People come maybe half a dozen times a year to shop and they put a day aside and they make a special day to come to their jeweller and go to their favourite gift shop — that’s local people. And then we’ve got the rest of the people who come to stay here for nice weekends, stay in a nice hotel and become our clients.”
Gold & Platinum Studio director, Mike Parsons, echoes: “We get a fair number of tourists. They tend to be mostly UK based and they are quite often people who are regular visitors to Bath and quite familiar with Bath.”
Parsons, like Wylde, fell in love with Bath, so much so that when he finished travelling and living in Australia, he decided it was the city he wanted to put down roots in. Parsons went on to work for four-five years at what was the Gold & Silver Studio. When the couple who founded the business in 1970 retired in 1997, Parsons took over and has since relocated and changed the name to better reflect the store’s jewellery offering.
“We have got a lot of old clients and then there decedents, so we get a lot of business from people whose parents or even grandparents have used the business over the years,” Parsons remarks. “It is a trust business, it is recommendation, we get people all the way from London, quite often their parents bought their engagement ring here, and you get the continuity.” While neither Wylde nor Parsons trade much with foreign tourists, they both agree the presents of visitors from overseas keeps Bath flamboyant and helps circulate money around the historical city.
Jody Cory also take the majority of her sales from British tourists, however due the location of the store, which is situated right in front of the Abbey and across from the Roman Baths, she also serves and caters to international visitors.
Cory is one of the only store owners to be born and bred in Bath. Having lived in the city for most of her life, she knows it like the back of her hand and has a real heart to see the jewellery industry thrive in the area. Jody Cory has been located outside the Abbey for 11 years and the store’s tag line is ‘homemade in the heart of Bath’. “We do have a lot of tourists for trade, but we do have a lot of local business and what I call the British tourists,” Cory explains.
Cory makes her own jewellery, as well as stocking pieces from local designers. Due to the store’s location the designer created a collection called Memories of Bath. Pieces in this range include motifs of the angels climbing the Abbey and Roman coins. “It’s just a little collection of different things that are wearable, without shouting ‘I am a tourist’. They do really well. Bath Abbey and the tourist information are now stocking those ranges as well,” Cory reveals.
Miles Mann also benefits from a position close to the Abbey. The store manager told Professional Jeweller that during the summer months and Christmas business is primarily driven by tourists. Elsewhere Bill Skinner benefits from tourists who recognise the brand from museum gift shops in London.
The Divided City
Whether international or local, those who visit Bath are greeted with a high street which is has two very distinct ends. Those travelling by bus or train will arrive at the Southgate side of the city, which is described by locals as the younger and more modern area of town. In this part of the high street visitors will find the likes of fashion-forward multiples including H&M, Debenhams, Urban Outfitters and Top Shop. On the jewellery front Pandora and Fabulous were located in the Southgate part of town at the time of visiting, however, Fabulous has since closed its store as it looks to find a new home in the city.
Fabulous opened its Bath store in 2010 after the landlords of Southgate, which was under development at the time to make the formerly run down area newer and younger, approached store owner Jo Stroud. While Stroud was not originally looking to open doors in the city, like many Professional Jeweller spoke to, she fell in love with Bath and decided to make it the home of her third boutique.
While the jewellery retailer has enjoyed six years trading in the Southgate area, Stroud feels the divide is so strong in the city that businesses in the ‘younger end’ of the high street miss out on some core customers. She explains: “Being in Southgate we are very near the train station and the bus station, so we attract a lot more of the day tripper market than we would perhaps get somewhere else in Bath. So the challenge that we have found is, our Leamington and Solihull stores pretty much run on regular customers –we see the same customers every three or four weeks, they come in to have a chat, they come to see what’s new, they attend our events and we know them really well – whereas Bath in any given day of the week we see different customers, so you don’t build up the same level of loyalty and customer familiarity.” To cater for the day tripper customers Stroud made sure the store stocks more items as she bares in mind that consumers won’t be able to wait for an order to come in. She also looked at different price points, making sure the business offers lower priced goods in Bath as it is a gifting city.
However, as a break in the lease gave Fabulous the opportunity to shut its doors and find a place in a more central location on the high street, Stroud embraced the chance to be better placed to serve local customers and create a regular and loyal clientele. “For us we need to be somewhere more prominent,” Stroud explains. “I would say a lot of Southgate is shoppers in their 20s and 30s and what we don’t really get is our core Fabulous customer like in the other two towns. We don’t really get professional working women in their 40s and 50s. We feel we are missing out on our target customer who is that bit older and who would spend more.”
While Stroud looks for the perfect new location, there temporarily won’t be a Fabulous in Bath but she hopes it won’t be long before they are back. Between closing one door and opening another Stroud is looking into a potential pop up unit for the store’s own brand — Mantra, which she says has been performing very well in the city. Staff in the mean time have moved over to the Pandora store, which Stroud also owns and has no plans to move at the moment. However, due to its success she hopes to find a bigger site in the future.
As Stroud has had a strong run in the Southgate end of town and looks to find a new location in the middle of Bath, many jewellers in the city have benefited from being in the more traditional end of town. The ‘older’ half of the city offers consumers a broad selection of independent shops, as well as upmarket boutiques such as Jo Malone and Bobbi Brown.
H Samuel and Goldsmiths also have stores in the middle area of the town in a prominent spot on the high street. Goldsmiths’ Bath store manager, Rachel McEwen, says it is one of the most amazing cities to shop in. She explains: “The city is compact so all you need for shopping is in easy walking distance, this is what makes it a great place to visit, and we are always happy to see any client visit from around the world.”
Goldsmiths will be launching Mappin & Webb inside its Bath store later this year — this acquirement includes the company’s bespoke ‘by appointment’ range, which will add a new and unique element to the stores offering.
In the traditional area Nicholas Wylde, Bill Skinner and Gold & Platinum Studio are located in the same street. Jody Cory and Miles Mann can be found more central, while Mallory’s location also falls under the older part of Bath, which is known for attracting more locals.
Owners on the Bench
The jewellers found in the middle of the high street and the traditional end pride themselves on producing their very own jewellery and offering consumers extensive services such as bespoke jewellery creations and repairs.
The majority of jewellers Professional Jeweller met with had workshops on the premises and the owners were very passionate about creating quality jewellery and going the extra mile for customers.
At Jody Cory, Nicholas Wylde and Gold & Platinum Studio, it is the store’s handmade jewellery which takes centre stage and sets them apart from competition. At Jody Cory, the store outside the Abbey specialises in wedding and engagement rings, designs incorporating unusual stones and bespoke pieces.
“I am really into rare gemstones, we have a beautiful collection of gems that I am regularly trying to mount up for the shop,” Cory explains. “I do a lot of one off bespoke pieces because I buy one off bespoke stones, but I do make some ranges in silver and sometimes in 9ct, just for the affordability.” For Cory, she believes her store stands out for offering competitive priced pieces and providing the customer with an educational experience.
“The whole reason I wanted to start the shop was to educate people a bit in jewellery, it is a huge subject matter and there is not a lot of knowledge in the public, people don’t understand why things break or what the different metals are,” Cory reveals. “I quite often explain the different metals to people and the hardness of stones. You can’t please everyone all of the time but we do our upmost to do a really good job at the fairest price that we can offer while keeping the business running.” Gold & Platinum Studio director Mike Parsons also places a strong emphasis on education.
“We help people to come to the right decision,” Parsons explains. “People are often given lots of information on the high street, which are sound bites, they don’t necessarily give them any real information, or useful information. People come for the knowledge and they appreciate the advice. It is always a pleasure to give that advice.”
In terms of the jewellers niche, Parsons says the store has its own look and style and its core customer comes from loyal individuals who have gone to Gold & Platinum Studio, and when it was previously Gold & Silver Studio, as a family jeweller for a long time.
For Bill Skinner, the store’s unusual costume jewellery pulls people in. “Our luxury costume jewellery does stand out from many others, inspired by nature and wildlife we have many quirky stories which puts the fun into wearing jewellery,” says Bill Skinner managing director, Toby Skinner. He adds: “Who wouldn’t want to wear a pineapple locket with a piña colada cocktail inside!”
At Nicholas Wylde, the store also has a very distinct style, which is expressed even in the store’s wallpaper which was designed by the founder. The business also has something no other jeweller in the city has – its very own cut of diamond.
Titled the Wylde Flower, Nicholas Wylde’s diamond has been cut to make the facets represent petals of a flower. These diamonds are ethically mined and cut by an established company in the heart of Antwerp.
The Wylde Flower diamond was launched to mark Nicholas Wylde’s 25th anniversary and has since become a best seller for the independent jeweller.
“There are only 400 in the world of these stones and they [customers who purchase a stone] become part of the Wylde Flower family,” Wylde explains. “We like to stand out from the crowd with our unique jewellery, our unique diamond, our really trained service of our staff, and when I started the business, my aim was to always be in front of everyone else. To be unique from everyone else. I always keep an eye out of what is going on around Bath and around the world, and I try to come up with ideas to make sure we stay in front and unique.”
Mallory’s strength is that the store has been in the city for a very long time, it has built up a loyal customer base and it stocks items across the board. Customers can buy a Links of London charm for £40 or a watch for half a million. Additionally, the workshop provides customers with a repair service for jewellery and watches. Talking about the store’s customer service, Woerd shares: “We want people to enjoy themselves. We don’t want to be stuffy. Most people are frightened of jewellers and that’s why we really make them feel welcome. Customer service is not just answering the door, it is more than that, we offer the experience.”
Bath is a very fascinating place which offers its varied customers a wealth of outstanding jewellery retailers to chose from. Store owners are very aware of the challenges they face, with many commenting on the city council being slow to help retailers and reluctant to make any changes to the old city but, the jewellers’ upbeat attitude, passion for the trade and willingness to work hard in order to drive footfall into the stores sets them on a very good path to survive the rapidly-evolving British high street.
Each jeweller visited was extremely welcoming and had truly found their place in Bath. Whether offering customers a branded product or bespoke item, each store strived to give the very best customer experience and go and above and beyond to make sure those who encounter the business never forget it.