There was an air of positivity on Professional Jeweller’s trip to Leeds that has not been felt for a while.
Although no one would deny retail is hard at the moment, the city’s jewellers are winning large sales that keep them confident about the future. In fact, the smile on their faces give the game away — compared to other areas in the country, business in Leeds is positively booming.
Nestled in the North of England in West Yorkshire, Leeds is known as one of the most vibrant cities in the UK. It has something for everyone — from independent restaurants, to specialist shops, a lively nightlife, and a packed schedule of events.
The city is also constantly evolving, with a decade and a half of redevelopment transforming the centre from a near-derelict mill town into a vision of 21st-century urban culture.
Indeed, while many cities have stayed still, or even gone backwards, Leeds has kept progressing and developing, leaving many of the nearby shopping centres and high streets in its shadows.
Leeds has a dynamic retail scene, including high street chains, inspiring independents, and local market stalls.
The main two shopping hubs are Trinity Leeds and Victoria Leeds.
Housed under a giant glass roof, Trinity Leeds, which opened five years ago, is located in the heart of the city and is home to high street chains such as Topshop, New Look and Dorothy Perkins. On the jewellery front, multiple Fraser Hart is located inside with independents Philip Stoner and Rox Jewellers. Pandora and Swarovski also have concept stores within the shopping centre.
Naturally, Trinity Leeds attracts a younger generation of shoppers, alongside consumers who like to shop with names they know and recognise.
Just a five minute walk away is Victoria Leeds; home to the Victoria Quarter and Leeds’ newest retail destination, Victoria Gate.
The striking architecture of the Victoria Quarter’s Grade II arcades make a spectacular setting for a shopping spree, so its little wonder many jewellers trade from here.
This is the city’s destination for luxury buys, with designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Louis Vuitton, and Ted Baker present alongside department store Harvey Nichols. Here, independent jewellery retailers Berry’s, Phillip Stoner, and Yorkshire Jewellery sell fine and bridal pieces alongside fashion brand Links of London.
Besides these two main shopping hubs, Leeds has a bustling high street, where Ace Jewellery and the national chains reside, and the city’s Corn Exchange has a wide range of unique retail outlets, including two jewellers.
Leeds has stores in abundance, and its jewellery offering is particularly strong. Not only does it have award-winning independents, but nearly every major multiple and brand has a presence too. But what do jewellers say the city is like for business?
Rox Jewellers is a relative newcomer in the city, opening its store five years ago when Trinity Leeds opened, and the directors tell Professional Jeweller it has hit the ground running.
Co-founder of Rox Jewellers, Kyron Keogh, shares: “It’s hard to believe we opened Rox Leeds five years ago. Leeds was always an area Grant and I were keen to explore. It’s one of the UK’s top five shopping locations for retail spend and has a strong luxury retail mix with Harvey Nichols, the Victoria Quarter and Trinity Leeds. It seemed a natural fit for the brand and our Diamonds & Thrills philosophy.”
He continues: “Rox Leeds hit the ground running and it was an instant success for us. We’ve seen consistent like for like sales growth since we opened.
“Leeds is a fast paced, charismatic city with a bright future. It’s continually growing, in fact Leeds City Region signed the country’s largest city deal worth over £1 billion. The city also boasts a strong financial sector, the second biggest outside of London, and is in the top five UK tourism destinations welcoming more than 26 million visitors a year. As well as being an economic hub Leeds has a strong track record in the creative arts and with Channel 4 moving its headquarters to the city this will not only encourage and support the creative community but it will also play a vital role in securing future media for the area.”
Leeds is where it all started for Berry’s Jewellers, which now has three stores and owns the Owen & Robinson boutique in the city.
While the directors say it can feel at times like they are now having to work a lot harder for similar results, business has been going from strength to strength as the company dominates all corners of the city.
Managing director, Simon Walton, tells Professional Jeweller: “Leeds is great. We’ve got all the multiples here and then independents, and a working jewellers. Leeds has a big catchment area pulling people in from around Leeds. Other cities have unfortunately had issues and Leeds has become the dominant city. It’s reinvigorated itself.”
The managing director adds: “We are a big city, there is wealth here, but let’s not get carried away. It’s not like London and some of Southern England. We are just working hard and trying our best and we get our fair share as everybody does. There are a lot of jewellers here. The competition is fierce.”
The catchment area is huge for Leeds and jewellers are definitely reaping the rewards of other cities not growing as fast. But, the city’s jewellers warn there is no time to get comfortable. Leeds still has its challenges, and the high street is far from perfect, with empty units often remaining vacant for a while.
“Retail is more challenging and all we can do is keeping working as hard as we can,” shares owner of Phillip Stoner the Jewellers, Jonathan Stoner. “There are still some really good opportunities though. The first half of 2018 wasn’t as strong for us as the second half, which was very strong. The like for like sales are virtually on par with what we did in 2017. So at least it is always nice to go forward every year and we did have a good year in 2017, so to hold those figures in challenging times is good.”
Unique and Unified
What stood out to Professional Jeweller is how much the independent jewellers respect one another and have made a big effort to stand out from competition and carve a niche for themselves.
Phillip Stoner the Jewellers for instance made the conscious decision not to sell any watches, with the focus very much on the all-important bridal sale.
Jonathan Stoner, who has been involved in the business since he was 16 and bought the company from his parents a little over ten years ago, tells our editor: “Even though we are a small family business, we try to make sure we have our own identity. We keep ourselves contained and do as much as we can in-house.”
The majority of the jewellery retailer’s windows are filled with in-house created stock, including the company’s very own fine jewellery collections, and even pieces from external suppliers are displayed on Phillip Stoner visual merchandising.
This means, if someone falls in love with a product in one of Phillip Stoner’s two stores in the city, most of the time they will not be able to find that piece anywhere else.
The bridal market is very strong for Phillip Stoner, with the owner revealing nearly every engagement ring customer comes back for a wedding band, and in turn gifts for special occasions.
By focusing on bridal staff are prepared to capture consumer’s at the most important point in their jewellery buying journey.
Phillip Stoner prides itself on stocking a vast amount of bridal jewellery, with Jonathan Stoner saying engagement ring sales is where his staff really shine.
On top of that, Phillip Stoner is known for its on-site workshop, where pieces can be transformed, repaired, or new things can be created from scratch.
“I think as a business we are a little bit different to everybody else, and certainly when I look at other Houlden members, we are the only business that doesn’t sell watches. We haven’t got a single watch in the business for sale right now. Years ago when I started to buy the business and moved into Leeds, there were people already well established in Leeds who had secured all the brands and all the watches, so rather than just competing with them, we wanted to create our own niche. So we really became a diamond business and really concentrated on engagement rings and bridal and fine jewellery, and we have a heavy bespoke and manufacturing side of the business. Obviously watch brands bring certain business, the major brands have a huge knock-on for everything else you do, but like with the windows now, there isn’t a single other brand identity apart from Phillip Stoner,” shares Stoner.
He continues: “We have built up a really strong engagement ring and bridal business and that’s really what we focus on. Because that’s what we do the staff are so good at treating that kind of customer and giving them the experience they want, and we have such a huge choice. Between the three stores [two in Leeds and one in Manchester] we have nearly 1,000 engagement rings.”
In the Trinity Shopping Centre, Rox Jewellers has also been winning sales with its very own products that can’t be found anywhere else in the city.
Like Phillip Stoner, when Rox first moved to Leeds there wasn’t an opportunity to stock the leading watch brands, so the decision was made to focus on the retailer’s in-house pieces.
Kyron Keogh tells Professional Jeweller: “When we opened Rox Leeds there was no opportunity for any watch agencies from our existing partners — the local market was mature and that’s something we had to react to. As a result we decided to open our first own-label Rox store with a focus on our fine diamond jewellery and silver collections.”
“The boutique also shines a light on our bridal jewellery — it’s a real showcase of the best of Rox. With regards to trade, it’s comparable to jewellery sales in our Edinburgh and Glasgow boutiques (without watches of course),” adds the co-founder.
By not having the big watch brands, Rox says it has had to work harder to position the business in Leeds.
Keogh explains: “Watch brands create a greater awareness and drive frequent footfall into our boutiques. They also appeal to male shoppers who make up a core part of our client base across our other boutiques.”
Rox has managed to build a strong and loyal clientele though, and by being located in Trinity the independent jeweller attracts young, fashion conscious shoppers who have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to the latest trends.
Outside on the high street, Ace Jewellery is known in the city for its repairs, but once you trek up its four flights of stairs you discover the business offers so much more.
Not only does Ace Jewellery have an on-site workshop, but it employs 15 people to work in said workshop — making it one of, if not the, biggest in the North of England.
As such, Ace Jewellery has built a reputation not only with customers in the city, but with trade professionals all around the UK.
“We take in a lot of repairs,” shares store owner, Edward Peters. “We do work for 45 jewellers, but the biggest customer our workshop has is Ace Jewellery. We take more repairs in from customers than from other jewellers. We are well recommended. A lot of the jewellers recommend us. Once we had three people in here who had all been sent up because they were recommended by another jeweller on the high street.”
The showroom side of the business happened by accident, the store owner tells Professional Jeweller. At first the company worked off the strength of its workshop, but the gold boom uncovered an opportunity for Ace Jewellery to sell direct to the consumer.
Peters explains: “In about 1988 there was a gold boom and we put a sign out to say we buy gold, and people were queuing up the stairs. Then we thought — if people will come up the stairs to sell us gold, why wouldn’t they come up the stairs to buy from us? And the pieces we were taking in were quite nice, so we put a showcase on, and now we’ve got what you see here today. We have a mixture of pre-loved and new pieces up here. A lot of our diamonds are pre-loved but the gold chains and silver are new. We also have an antiques showcase.”
Ace Jewellery’s store owner says the company is in a great spot on the high street. The retailer actually occupies the unit downstairs, which although is not used as a shop, allows the firm to control the window displays and help draw in business up the store floors.
The company also uses social media and has seen sales fly in through the various channels it’s on.
“We do Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and all those channels are bringing in business. This morning before I left home I had an enquiry on a birthstone pendant, so I started working before I even left home this morning — but that’s the internet. We also do a giveaway on Facebook every two or three months. We used to giveaway jewellery but now we give away £100 gift vouchers and we can have as many as 400 people enter the competition and they will leave little comments. We also get a picture of the winner with their voucher to put on Facebook. All that technology is great.”
Also on the high street, and in the Victoria Quarter, is Berry’s Jewellers, which has a grand total of four stores in the city — making sure it covers almost each and every area.
From its humble beginnings Berry’s has made a name for itself in the North of England, and Leeds is where it leads from. Not only is Leeds the home to four Berry’s stores, but one of those is its new flagship that has doubled the size of its space on Albion Street. “Our USP is we are a local family jewellers who have been here since 1897, with a flagship store, selling items from £500 to half a million,” shares Simon Walton. “We have certainly moved upmarket over the years to really try and compete with London and some of the high end jewellers around the country. And that had really been our success but we needed a store to match the actual goods we sell.”
“It’s taken time but the brand of Berry’s is very strong everywhere in the North of England, but this particular shop people aspire to buy something here,” adds chairman Jeffrey Walton. “A couple will come in and say they’ve always wanted to buy here.”
Another thing that sets Berry’s apart from other jewellery retailers of its size is that the directors will spend a lot of time on the shop floor. In fact, chairman Jeffrey Walton has been serving on Berry’s shop floor for 50 years — something not many in the industry can claim.
Simon Walton explains: “High end customers like continuity. It’s about that face-to-face personal touch. And that’s how I’ve been bought up. Rather than being sat in the office, you are on the shop floor. You can analyse your business all year long but at the end of the day your customer comes first. The first thing is the customer and the rest follows.”
In the city’s Corn Exchange, Outrage Jewellers is perfectly placed alongside niche stores.
Unlike other jewellery retailers in the city, Outrage Jewellers sells unique handcrafted sterling silver pieces, often adorned with unusual gemstones.
“We have always been known for handcrafting,” explains store owner and founder, Regina Tombs. “All our pieces are handcrafted and stone set and silver. We try to be affordable compared to other stores. We just offer a fair price.”
Outrage Jewellers has moved as the city has developed and expanded, and now trades in the Corn Exchange, which is an ideal location, but the store owner says more people need to know that it is a shopping centre.
What’s Selling in Leeds?
Nearly every jeweller Professional Jeweller spoke to revealed they were seeing a spike in higher-value sales, with large diamonds and expensive timepieces being the main order of the day.
While engagement rings and bridal jewellery continue to sell well for Phillip Stoner, the business owner reveals he has seen an uplift in the diamond weight commanding attention.
Stoner reveals: “We have seen a massive improvement in higher purchases. Sales from £20K up have been much higher over the last 12 months. We have rings now at 2,3,4 carat, so we are building up our offering and that’s an area that is certainly growing. The footfall for £1-2 thousand is harder.”
“What we are finding is there is no pattern to any business that is going on at the moment. Just to put it in perspective, in October we had the best week we have ever had in 30-odd years of business. That’s including every Christmas in the last 30 years. We had the best week we have ever had. Everything just happened. We sold a lot of diamond rings and we just had this momentum that just didn’t stop.”
Berry’s Jewellers has also seen high-value sales rise, with the jeweller admitting to becoming more upmarket over the years.
Now with a lavish new flagship to present pieces in, the directors are confident fine jewellery and high-end watches will continue to perform well.
In the city, Berry’s has the monopoly on major watch brands such a Patek Philippe, but the store’s new flagship has been designed to bolster the jewellery business by enabling its jewels more room to breathe and shine in the windows. “Our biggest challenge really is to sell more jewellery,” says managing director, Simon Walton. “Watch brands push you and want more furniture, but we try and sell more jewellery because we are independent and we can do what we want with our own jewellery, the margin is so much better, and it gives you a bit of an identity – otherwise you become the same shop selling the same brands all over the country.”
Chairman, Jeffrey Walton, adds: “This year we’ve got the best range of jewellery from a low price to a high price. It is fantastic. We are making and designing a lot more of our stock as well.”
When asked if they have seen a rise in jewellery sales since the opening of the new flagship, Walton answers, “without a doubt”.
“We’ve sold a lot of coloured stones and more unusual pieces,” shares Simon Walton. “The fact we can now spread everything out and put it into groups makes it become a little bit more special.”
Over in the Corn Exchange Outrage Jewellers has seen coloured gemstones increase in popularity.
Looking ahead jewellers in Leeds are confident about the future. They know the city is a shopping destination, and the rise in higher-value products is a positive because no matter what happens in March, consumers who can afford those higher tickets items are less likely to be impacted. That being said, many revealed plans to remain sensible over the next 12 months — looking at how they can protect profitability, keep stores fresh, and continue to see growth.