At long last, spring is in the air. Many jewellery retailers have now graced their windows with floral displays, while brands are adding vibrant colours for the (hopefully) warmer months.
In Preston, spring means capitalising on the all-important wedding season and getting consumers kitted out in the perfect jewellery to match sun-kissed skin and SS18 wardrobes.
Those visiting Preston to transform from winter to spring have plenty of choice too, as the city is overflowing with jewellers — from multiples such as Signet’s H Samuel and Ernest Jones, to independents stocking fine and fashion, and standalone stores from the big three brand giants: Pandora, Swarovski and Thomas Sabo,
They also don’t have far to walk either. In central Preston, the majority of jewellers can be found in St George’s Shopping Centre, while those which are not are no more than a five minute walk away on the surrounding streets.
From a consumer perspective, the jewellery scene is thriving, but for jewellers trading in Preston, how is business faring?
KEO Jewellers, an independent retailer located in the main shopping centres, says footfall is not what it used to be but the quality is the same and the jeweller has so far been experiencing an uplift in sales compared to last year. “Although the number of people is down, we have found that the trade is up on last year,” shares KEO Jewellers manager, Linda Keogh.
She continues: “While there is not as many people coming into Preston, we do have an online website which has been running for five to six years now, and this brings people into Preston from Cumbria, the Lake District, and out of town, and the surrounding towns, because they say they saw something on our website and wanted to come in.”
While KEO Jewellers stocks a mixture of jewellery, from silver designs priced at £5, to engagement rings from £2,000+, it specialises in antique pieces, which consumers know are one-of-a-kind and any delay in purchasing could lead to missing out.
The store manager attributes its one-off pieces and unique products, alongside excellent customer service, as its USP in the city.
Discussing bestsellers at the moment, store manager Linda Keogh says coloured gemstones are on the up, a trend also felt by independent family-run George Banks Jewellers. Both jewellers told Professional Jeweller that sales of pieces adorned with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires have been increasing.
George Banks has been in the city for over 80 years and is still run today by a member of the Banks family.
The grandfather of the current owner, John Banks, started the business in 1935, and the jewellery retailer believes it is the oldest jeweller in the city still run by a family member.
During its time trading in Preston, George Banks Jewellers has been on quite the journey, occupying spaces in different locations, and eventually ending up in the same street where it all began over 80 years ago.
John Banks tells Professional Jeweller: “We did expand. We used to have another shop in Preston just opposite M&S, and that was really good when it started but the lease didn’t get any cheaper, and the trade wasn’t quite as good, so we closed that shop.”
George Banks also closed its store in the Lake District around the same time, three years ago, and the family jeweller used to own two Pandora franchises, one of which was in Preston too, but the brand has since taken these back as part of its programme to have more owned and operated stores. However, as the saying goes, as one door closes another one opens, and for George Banks Jewellers that came in the form of Swarovski.
In the autumn of 2015, George Banks Jewellers opened the doors to a Swarovski standalone boutique in St George’s Shopping Centre, and the owner has nothing but positive things to say about the partnership.
“Swarovski is an excellent business,” shares John Banks. “The store is doing well. I just like the way Swarovski do business. They are a good company to work with. They train the staff for us and tell us all the bestsellers, and everything we need to run a franchise really.”
Elsewhere in the city new jewellers have been opening doors, while other longstanding independents have expanded their presence.
Just over a year ago, Lancashire-based Church Jewellers chose Preston as the location of its second branch.
Located on Winckley Street, just off Fishergate Street and a stone’s throw away from the main shopping centre, the family-run jeweller offers predominantly wedding and engagement jewellery, specialising in bespoke gold and diamond pieces.
On its front window, Church Jewellers proudly calls itself ‘Preston’s Little Diamond Store’.
Whilst unfortunately the store was closed during Professional Jewellers visit, reports in local newspapers on the time of the jeweller’s opening states owner Patrick O’Donnell chose Preston because he believes it is “on the up”.
O’Donnell told the Lancashire Post: “With lots of places you hear of them getting talked down for filling empty buildings with charity shops but that’s not the case in Preston. It feels like the city is really on the up and I wanted to be part of it.”
On the corner of Winckley Street and Fishergate high street the city’s oldest jeweller Whittles can be found.
Trading in the city since 1862, Whittles has a history with Preston’s shoppers that spans over 155 years.
Today, 49% of the independent jewellery retailer is owned by Beaverbrooks, and the jeweller has plans to expand into the neighbouring unit to create a Rolex boutique area.
Moving into the unit next door is something Peter Jackson the Jewellers, located inside St George’s Shopping Centre, did last year.
When Peter Jackson the Jewellers first opened a store in Preston 35 years ago, the independent jewellery retailer managed to bag a prime location, which is still one of the best in the city today. Located near the main entrance of the shopping centre, and next to the escalators connecting consumers to the lower level stores and upper level facilities, Peter Jackson the Jewellers is well placed to attract passing trade.
“We are the oldest tenant in the shopping centre apart from WH Smith,” shares Peter Jackson the Jewellers managing director. Discussing the store’s evolution in the city, he adds: “We had a smaller shop when we first opened in 1982, and then about ten years ago the shopping centre was being redeveloped and we had the opportunity to make our store a lot larger than it is now and redevelop. Sometimes it is very tempting to do nothing when business is good and you are doing well, but if you stand still you go backwards, so we took the plunge and we trebled the size of the shop and we ended up with this beautiful shop that you can see now.”
Six months ago Peter Jackson the Jewellers also acquired the unit next door and worked very closely with Thomas Sabo to open the brand’s first duel retail store.
As a new wholesale venture for Thomas Sabo, the Preston boutique is the first concept store not owned by the fashion jewellery brand, and it has been designed to sit side-by-side with Peter Jackson’s flagship.
From the outside the two areas look like two completely separate and very different stores but inside you can move between Peter Jackson the Jewellers and its Thomas Sabo boutique.
“We worked very, very closely with Thomas Sabo to build and create that unit,” explains Jackson, adding: “I didn’t want it to look like something that had been added on as an afterthought, so when we did that shop we closed here [the Peter Jackson side] for a few days, and refurbished both sides so everything was new together. We are really pleased with it.”
Altogether, Preston has a strong mixture of independent jewellers surviving side-by-side with a couple of multiples.
Visiting the different jewellers of Preston it is clear each store has a unique selling point, from the way it does business, to the very products it sells.
Furthermore, the jewellery retailers seem upbeat. Despite a mention of footfall decreasing, but this is a challenge for bricks and mortar businesses up and down the UK, most are positive for the future of trading in Preston.
“Preston has had its ups and downs over the years, but Preston is an important city,” shares Peter Jackson. “It is the administrative centre of Lancashire, so Lancashire Country Council is based here in Preston, and we have the city council here as well, so there is a lot of employment in Preston. And of course we’ve got the football club, which was one of the founding members of the football league all those years ago, so it is very much on the map.”
John Banks of George Banks Jewellers shares: “Business did slow down when we closed the other two shops. I think the locals did just wonder where we were going to finish up. But the last year/year in a half, has generally improved, and I think the town is just generally feeling a little bit better.
“The press have been suggesting that we are on the up, although I am sure you have walked round and seen a few empty premises.”
Retailers told Professional Jeweller that one of the problems Preston was facing a couple of years ago was a lack of nightlife, but this has been on the up with new restaurants opening over the last 12 months, many of which are independently-owned and provide another reason for shoppers to visit Preston city centre rather than an out of town shopping centre.
Furthermore, the city’s historic Winckley Square has been developed, with surrounding units now being filled with offices, and earlier this year the city opened its new Market Hall, which is the first stage of the £50m Market Quarter redevelopment, that, when finished, will see the city welcome a major cinema and restaurant complex.
Additionally, the university just outside the centre is investing in improvements, and Preston’s main shopping centre (St George’s) has submitted proposals to refit its Friargate entrance and create a ‘restaurant quarter’ fronting onto the street.
However, while improvements are being made in and around the city, Peter Jackson the Jewellers still believes more could be done to help bolster business for the retailers of Preston.
He explains: “Preston has some of the issues a lot of other similar sized towns have. We have traffic issues, the streets were never built for the volume of traffic that’s on the roads today, so managing that traffic, managing that parking — the fact that the big out of town shopping centres have free parking and Preston doesn’t, so that’s always a challenge, therefore it is important that people running the city recognise that and recognise that they have to work that little bit harder to make the city and interesting and appealing place for people to visit.
“There is a lot more they can do and I think the local authorities need to think more like a business at times, and not like a faceless organisation, and the local authorities really need to work on developing and nurturing the town or the city. The city centre is at the heart of any community and the people that run that city have a duty to keep that heart beating and that will only happen if people want to come into town. And it is so easy to shop online. It is so easy to pop in the car and drive to one of the big out of town centres, that if we want people to come into our city we’ve got to work on what we offer them — on the experience. And while I think that Preston is a far better experience than it was a few years ago, it is still not enough and the people running the city need to know that and they need to continue to look for ways to improve.”
Over the last three months Preston has made headline for crimes taking place in the city centre, including attempted theft of two jewellers, but none of the retailers Professional Jeweller met with mentioned this as a concern.
In fact, the majority are trading inside a shopping centre and say this provides them with the security their competitors don’t necessarily have on the high street.
For the most part, the city’s jewellers also work together, and it seems they are able to all exist in a relatively small retail space without treading on any toes.
Jackson concludes: “The first thing you said was you were surprised by the number of jewellers in the city — competition is a good thing. And, we’ve got a friendly relationship with most of the jewellers in town. We are all in it together and if Preston is successful we will all be successful and if Preston could market itself as the place to go for jewellery, all of the jewellers in Preston will benefit.”