In 2019 national retailer Beaverbrooks celebrated 100 years since it was founded. That same year also happened to be the most financially successful in the company’s history. Then 2020 happened.
“We’d grown culturally, our people engagement was high, and we did a lot of charity work,” Anna Blackburn, managing director of the jeweller, tells Professional Jeweller.
“We were riding this crest of a wave, we were all on a super high, and then the pandemic hit.” Beaverbrooks is by no means disappointed with its performance since the Covid outbreak – far from it.
Chairman Mark Adlestone reveals: “We’ve been amazed by the business that we’ve been doing actually. ‘Phenomenal’ is the word I would use.” This is not just in reference to one arm of the business either.
It includes brick-and-mortar sales (when stores have been open) as well as online and mail order, Adlestone says.
What is even more remarkable is that e-commerce sales continue to be strong even since shops reopened.
“With online, we were expecting to see a drop off,” Adlestone explains. “There’s been a little drop off, but it’s still exceeding what we did last year in 2020 when the shops were actually closed.”
One might expect a somewhat cutthroat business culture to be behind such success while the pandemic rages on around Beaverbrooks, but the opposite could not be more true.
Talking the business’ top priorities that it set out in March 2020, Blackburn says: “Right from the beginning, number one was our people – keeping our people and customers safe. Number two was protecting incomes and jobs as much as we possibly could.”
Only after this does she add: “Number three was making sure that we came out of the pandemic as strong as we possibly could.”
Given the “phenomenal” success of that third tenet, surely the first two priorities must have proven even greater triumphs, you might ask.
You would not be wrong. An ever-present feature in the UK’s yearly ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list, ranking for 18 consecutive years, Beaverbrooks this year reclaimed the top spot for the first time since 2009.
“Yes,” confirms Adlestone, “we had the wonderful news that, two weeks ago, we were voted as the best employer in the country and best large company to work for.”
The list is compiled by surveying companies’ staff to find out what they think of their employer, so the proof is very much in the pudding when it comes to Beaverbrooks’ staff care package, believes Adlestone. “We were thrilled,” he says, “because we felt that during the pandemic we communicated really well with our teams.”
Blackburn chimes in: “To get the feedback that we’ve heard from our people, on the back of that being the best year ever, to being thrust into the pandemic, to getting that feedback from our people… the business is just in a really, really good place,” she glows.
Taking advantage of this and making hay while the sun shines, Beaverbrooks has taken on an aggressive – “We prefer ‘ambitious’” Blackburn says – expansion plan throughout the pandemic, including new stores and office space. The crown jewel among the many plates the company is spinning, however, is Loupe.
Both a jewellery brand and a high-end jewellery and watch retailer in its own right, and sister company to Beaverbrooks, Loupe is the new concept from Blackburn, Adlestone and team.
The brand will be looking to make a splash as it debuts not one but two boutiques in the south. A Milton Keynes flagship and a second Croydon boutique are to be the first two sites, with an accompanying e-commerce site to follow.
Watch brand Rolex will be a focal point for the stores, with luxury brands Hublot, Tudor, Zenith and TAG Heuer also featuring.
On the jewellery side, Royal Assher, Gucci Fine Jewellery, Mikimoto and Hearts on Fire will make appearances alongside the exclusive Loupe brand.
To those that fear the jewellery selection could take a backseat to the big-name watch brands onboard, Adlestone has the following to say: “We do feel sometimes that the jewellery offer doesn’t match the quality of the watch brands that are being stocked by some retailers.
“We were very keen to make sure that we have jewellery that is absolutely our own, jewellery which is absolutely synonymous and on the right level with the brand, and with the watch brands that we’re stocking. That’s really, really important.”
Going into detail on the conception of the Loupe pieces, Blackburn adds: “We saw a massive opportunity in terms of elevation of jewellery within the stores, and to create a jewellery brand.
“Every single piece of Loupe jewellery has been chosen, hand-selected, designed by us, by our buyers. And the level of that jewellery is just absolutely beautiful. It really does offer something quite different in the market. We’re very proud of that. I’m very excited.”
To take it back to the beginning, though, the idea for Loupe was conceived before the first lockdown, the duo confirms to PJ.
“The work really started during lockdown,” Blackburn says, “but the journey started before that, when we took the two Fraser Hart stores in Milton Keynes and Croydon.” She is, of course, referencing the sites that will soon house the very first pair of Loupe stores.
“we were voted as the best employer in the country and best large company to work for”
The starting point for the brand was simply that it should “be different to Beaverbrooks”.
Speaking more to the high-end nature of Loupe, Blackburn continues: “We know our market, we know our product, but we wanted to increase the level of jewellery to sit alongside Rolex basically.
“We knew we wanted there to be this clear distinction between Beaverbrooks and the new brand. We set out to create something new within our sector, but actually it’s something different for luxury, full stop.”
Only one watch brand will be shared by both Beaverbrooks and Loupe, says Adlestone, “and even then the way we treat Omega in the two stores will be quite different.”
The two retailers will not promote their link, their “shared DNA” as Adlestone puts it, but are equally happy for the public to know.
“To the outside world it’s going to look like two separate businesses,” he says, “unlike some organisations that we feel don’t differentiate their offerings terribly well.”
What’s in a name?
Choosing the right name was the next step and it was fraught with difficulty. “It was probably one of the hardest parts,” explains Blackburn, who says the team knew the moniker needed to be contemporary to reflect Loupe’s USP.
“We knew we wanted it to be shorter than Beaverbrooks, and we wanted something that would stand out. What we loved about ‘Loupe’ was the balance of it: if you know the jewellery industry you’ll know that a Loupe is absolutely critical within watchmaking, but it’s equally as important in jewellery.
“And even if you don’t know about jewellery or what a Loupe is, it’s a beautiful word in isolation. It’s got quite a lightness to it.”
One pertinent question about the Loupe concept, though, is: why now? Why just as the world emerges from a pandemic and retail is yet to completely regain its footing?
Beaverbrooks’ strong 2019 and 2020 performance has a lot do with its ability to pull off the manoeuvre at a time like this. However, Loupe is not its only ongoing project.
“When you look at our schedule this year we actually have eight different projects,” clarifies Adlestone.
“What we did during the pandemic is take a view that we would continue to invest.” While some would call this strategy ‘counterintuitive’, the chairman says, “we’re just deciding to keep going and keep investing, keep growing. We’re in this for the long run.” And yes, he confirms, this will mean more Loupe stores in the future.