Professional Jeweller ended its 2017 series of cityscape in Hull – the UK City of Culture – and for 2018 we have began in Liverpool, where we visit jewellery retailers ten years after its tenure as the European Capital of Culture.
Being named European Capital of Culture is an opportunity for an area to generate considerable cultural, social and economic benefits and it can help foster urban regeneration, change the city’s image and raise its visibility and profile on an international scale.
Despite taking place during the financial crash, as with Hull, Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture earned the city bumper visitor numbers and a multimillion-pound boost to its economy.
According to a report from Liverpool’s universities, which took five-years to compile, the festival year saw 9.7m visitors descend on the city, and generated £753.8m for the economy. In addition, media coverage of Liverpool’s cultural attractions doubled, and for the first time in decades, initial impressions of the city were replaced with a picture of a vibrant cultural hub.
During the same year, the city also welcomed one of Europe’s leading retail and leisure destinations — Liverpool One.
Built around the existing streets of Liverpool, the 1.65million sq ft contemporary open-air complex, which hosts restaurants and shops such as Debenhams, Topshop and John Lewis, transformed the city’s retail scene.
Liverpool One brought Merseyside’s shoppers back to the heart of the city and attracted brands that have elevated its retailer offering to contend nationally.
While the shopping complex has spelled a variety of changes for the independent jewellers of the city – depending on their locations – the majority agreed Liverpool One has been an extremely positive addition.
Visiting Liverpool a decade later, it’s hard to imagine a time when Liverpool was anything other than the vibrant and friendly metropolis it is today.
During our trip the high street was busy, despite visiting mid week on a couple of freezing cold days, and independent jewellers spoke about the city with nothing but fondness.
In terms of retail, the majority of jewellery retailers are a stone’s throw from each other. Inside Liverpool One resides national chains Goldsmiths, Ernest Jones, and H Samuel, alongside a Pandora and Swarovski boutique, and independent jeweller David M Robinson.
Just outside the entrance on Lord Street, Boodles can be found in the very building the company bought in 1920. Lord Street merges into Church Street, and together they form two of the main shopping roads, alongside parallel streets John Street (home of Stephen Jones Jewellers) and Whitechapel, where Wongs trades in the city. Off of Whitechapel is The Metquarter shopping centre, which houses a Links of London concept store, and independent jewellery fashion retailers Mococo and Olivia Divine.
Other independents, such as Brown & Gold, can also be found in streets a little outside of the main retail hub.
Home of the Flagships
For many of the jewellers with more than one store, Liverpool is extremely important. For most, its where they started, and have chosen to keep their flagships, while for others it’s where the owners always dreamed of ending up and they couldn’t be prouder to be represented in the city centre.
“Liverpool is our home and the city in which Boodles started,” shares Boodles director, James Amos. “We bought the building on the corner of Lord Street in 1920, and it is still our head office today.”
As luck would have it, when Liverpool One opened in the city, Boodles couldn’t have wished for a better location as, despite being bought over 80 years prior to the opening, the luxury jeweller is right on the threshold of the complex.
“Liverpool has become a cosmopolitan, multi-dimensional and business focused city, but where traditional values and friendships stay true,” Amos continues. “It is a city of warmth and character which draws in many overseas visitors due to its diverse range of attractions. All of these factors help to stimulate business and growth.”
For independent jeweller David M Robinson, the company’s founder started working as a goldsmith in a humble city workshop 50 years ago. While the city reverberated to the sounds of the Beatles, Robinson was quietly learning his craft and building a reputation on innovative design, unparalleled craftsmanship and integrity.
This talent blossomed into a jewellery retail business, which now employs more in-house goldsmiths than any other jeweller in the North of England. While the company now has showrooms in London, Manchester, Altrincham, and Southport, Liverpool is still the home to its flagship and remains at the core of the David M Robinson jewellery business.
“We are nearly in our 50th year, it is where the business began, Mr Robinson started in a workshop, just near here along in North John Street, and since then we’ve gone from strength to strength,” shares David M Robinson’s Liverpool store manager, Alisha Duffy. “It’s our home, it’s our roots, and our heritage, so it’s a lovely place to have the flagship showroom.”
Duffy continues: “It’s the biggest showroom at the moment and we love being here. Culturally Liverpool is a really important place for the UK with music, arts, and culture, and I think jewellery goes hand in hand with that.”
While David M Robinson has moved around the city a bit, the store is now firmly rooted and happy to be in a prime location inside the Liverpool One complex. The jeweller has been there for the last nine years.
“Even though we have moved a few times in the city, as a company we’ve been able to have a citywide brand awareness and DNA,” shares showroom sales ambassador, Neil Baxandall. “Sometimes if you move a few times there is a potential to lose customers, but the way David M Robinson has been brave, the moves have been better for the business.”
“That’s testament to our staff members that have been here over 40 years and customers have grown to know them,” adds PR and social media executive, Jamie McFadden. “We weren’t always in a position where we could get the best location or the best showrooms, but we knew that we had the staff to make a point and that’s how we stand out.
We’ve got staff who give the best service. They know the product, they develop that relationship with clients, and it works so well.”
For Mococo, Liverpool is the largest city the independent fashion jewellery retailer is in, and the one place the founders always dreamt of being.
“I was born here and my ambition in life was to open a jewellers in Liverpool,” shares Maureen Hooson, who founded Mococo with her husband Lee in 2006. “Our first store was in a tiny little town in North Wales. Liverpool was actually our fourth store because it was a big brave move. It’s the biggest city that we are in.”
She continues: “We are terribly proud of being here. It’s a fabulous city. In 2008 it was European Capital of Culture, and it absolutely put Liverpool back on the map. There was a lot of investments from Europe and the footfall was incredible. It changed the city. So we came in just after that so we really reaped the benefit of that.”
Like David M Robinson, and other jewellers in the city, Mococo has moved from a small boutique to a larger one during its time trading in Liverpool. Now the fashion jeweller is located in The Metquarter shopping centre.
While at first this was a fantastic location for the independent fashion jeweller, a lot of trade has been taken away from this area of town since the opening of Liverpool One. Not only did the brand new shopping complex steal consumers from The Metquarter, it also led to brands moving out and as a result the centre is only half full. While a cinema is meant to be taking up residence in the noticeable gap, Mococo – whose bestsellers include Pandora, ChloBo and Thomas Sabo – is looking to move to a more prominent location this year.
“We are looking to relocate,” shares Mococo owner Maureen Hooson. “Even though footfall has dropped, we have done very well considering because we are a destination business.”
She continues: “The thing is, everything is changing because of the web and you’ve got to be realistic, it is never going to be quite what it was, but all things considered we are still doing really well. People still love coming out shopping, and Liverpudlians do more than anybody else. They love shopping. They are the most fashionable people in the country, they are on trends before everybody else.”
At present, Mococo dominates the branded jewellery market in Liverpool, with the majority of jewellers in the city focusing on fine goods and bespoke jewellery purchases.
Wongs Jewellers, which is located near the entrance of The Metquarter, used to sell branded goods, but decided to return to its roots as a traditional jewellers earlier this year.
“We took initiation probably back in March, maybe April, to go back to our roots,” shares managing director, Peter Wong. “So we’ve sold off all the branded jewellery now apart from Carat*London.”
Prior to making this decision, branded jewellery didn’t form a massive part of Wongs’ business. As such, customers have responded well to the jewellers radical transformation.
In terms of location, Wongs has been in Whitechapel since 2010. While business is still good for the jeweller, because its customers are used to travelling to Wongs as a destination boutique, the managing director says that the drop in stores and footfall in The Metquarter has changed the atmosphere in the area.
“We still get good footfall,” shares Wong. With business manager, Cynthia Aldridge adding: “Since the business started we have always been in this area, so our customers have always come to this area for Wongs, and we have become a destination really.”
For Boodles and David M Robinson, the popularity of Liverpool One has boosted business for the two stores.
“We get a lot of footfall,” confirms the team at David M Robinson. “Liverpool One has pretty much linked the retail part of the city up with the Albert Dock, so you get quite a lot of people that are visiting and going to the Albert Dock and Liverpool One for shopping. It’s the best location,” adds the store’s manager. Boodles director, James Amos, echoes: “Our Liverpool shop has had a good year in terms of absolute sales, but also in terms of the variety of items that have been sold, from ‘Love Letter’ pendants, to engagement rings, to wearable jewellery, to ‘high jewellery’ from our new Poetry of Landscape collection, to Patek Philippe watches.”
When discussing the challenges jewellery retailers face in Liverpool, Amos cites the quick train to London as its biggest obstacle, alongside the internet and rival cities.
He explains: “The train to London is quicker than ever — this inevitably takes its toll on high end retail. The rise of internet shopping also means that less people are shopping in Liverpool from one day to the next. There is also competition from rival cities and out of town shopping centres. However, Boodles in Liverpool continues to thrive and the showroom’s sales were up 20% last year.”
All in all though, the majority of jewellers are extremely pleased with how business has been on Liverpool high street and are confident 2018 will be another triumphant year.
For many, the success lies in excellent customer service, which marries knowledge with friendliness, and leaves many popping in just to have a cup of tea and spend time with the staff.
Family-run jewellery retailer, Brown & Gold, which is located just outside the main shopping centre near Liverpool Lime Street station, says business in the city has “peaks and troths”, but his amazing workforce keeps customers coming back for more.
“Where we are positioned here, we would see ourselves as a little gem outside the city centre,” explains Brown & Gold director, Chris Brown. “We are in the city, but we are not, and the challenges we have here are bringing the mountains to Mohammed. People have got money, so they need to find us to see what we’ve got. When they get here, we retain every customer that comes and most of them get converted into buying something. This is a destination shop, people will come to purposely shop but we don’t get a lot of passing trade.”
He continues: “The key for us is we are a family business. The family ethos is exceptionally strong. We are all supportive of each other and understanding home dynamics, and between the branches we are like a big family. We all know what the target of the day is, we are all online in the same Epos system so we can see who has done what. If a shop does a big sale you know you’re phone is going to ring from three of the branches in 10 minutes, with the other stores asking what has been sold and congratulating them. We have a very ‘in it together’ culture. Which is lovely and that’s the culture we want to develop.”
Even though the business has grown significantly, with the jeweller now trading from eight branches, the family feel of the company has not changed. The director encourages total honesty among the team, and gathers everyone together once a year for a celebratory party.
In the city, Brown & Gold is more of a traditional jewellers, with a wide selection of pre-owned jewellery and watches, which result in strong sales for the store.
With business going well, the company is now looking to expand further, and has a particular interest in taking over from jewellers looking to retire.
Elsewhere in the city, Wongs Jewellers has also been going from strength to strength. Last year the independent jeweller won the Decade of Excellence accolade at the Liverpool Awards hosted by Downtown Liverpool.
While product wise Wongs stands out with the bespoke side of its business and workshop, which consumers can look through, it’s the friendly team that really stands out.
“We get people tell us that we welcome anyone and it’s true,” says Wong. “And we really try and welcome everyone because when you’ve got a locked door policy and sell fine jewellery at a certain price point it can be intimidating for a lot of people and I think it is our job to make sure we are not that,” adds business manager, Aldridge.
She continues: “The team really work hard with every single client to make sure we are not like that. We get them a drink, ask them to sit down, and I like to think we are probably one of the most welcoming jewellers and our customers do comment on that.”
“Building relationships is probably one of our key things,” says David M Robinson manager, Duffy. “That is what is encouraged, building relationships with our clients and getting to know them, and luckily we call most of them friends. It’s lovely. And I think that essence of family runs right the way through the store. Everybody gets on. We are like a family.”
In addition, David M Robinson stocks its very own exclusive jewellery collections designed by Mr Robinson, and in Liverpool the retailer has a watch maker and master goldsmiths on the premises. This means small services can be done in house on the same day they are bought in.
“Those services do really set us apart,” says McFadden. “Equally, in the way that customers get to know the shop floor staff, they get to know our goldsmith too.”
At Mococo, the customer is king, and customer service is second to none. While the retailer is known for going the extra mile – placing each customer’s purchase in a luxury brand with tissue paper, chocolates and a Mococo product – last year the focus was on training staff on the entire customer journey from start to finish.
In 2017, Mococo hired jewellery consultant Jo Henderson to help the company put together the Mococo Promise.
“All the store managers worked on the Mococo Promise, which is a six step training programme detailing what we should do from the minute a customer walks from the door, to wishing them well when they leave,” explains the jewellery retailer’s Liverpool store manager, Mark Kennedy.
Maureen Hooson adds: “Jo Henderson was the catalyst of the whole of it but she empowered the managers, and we built it ourselves through her knowledge and help.
“The Mococo Promise was our big thing last year. We’ve always been massive on customer service, it’s always been a focal point, but last year we really invested in it. It takes time to get every member of staff to go through it, but, it’s been wonderful and what we have always wanted to do.”
With every jewellery retailer striving to make customers feel welcome, it is little wonder the high street in the city remains busy, amid challenging retail conditions on a national level.
It doesn’t take long to realise every jeweller is passionate about its staff, customers, and products — a recipe which will surely serve them well for years to come.