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THE BIG INTERVIEW: Nikolay Piriankov, CEO, Taylor & Hart

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Following an impressive period of growth, Taylor & Hart was on for a record year in 2020. Despite Covid-19 putting the brakes on this trajectory, the brand is ramping up initiatives to get back on its expansion plan as demand picks up past the pandemic.

How has business been for T&H this year (before and during the pandemic)?

The last couple of years were very successful for Taylor & Hart. We have more than doubled our monthly revenue, grown to a team of 50 across five countries. More significantly, to continue to ensure customers have the best jewellery experience possible, the design team has tripled.

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Last year we had a turnover of £5.3 million and we were expecting to excel this figure two-fold by the end of 2020.

We had a strong start of 2020 with the opening of a brand-new showroom in central London and our very own workshop. We also launched another OOH campaign and we were on track of breaking all of our current records.

Needless to say, we’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic no less than almost any other business or sector. As many weddings worldwide have been cancelled the wedding industry was in a complete lockdown, it is only logical that the amount of purchases in the past months has dropped.

Engagement rings fall into the category of luxury products, but we gave our customers the chance to pay a 10% deposit to secure their diamond.

Our main focus was the safety of our team members and, of course, our customers. That is why we introduced our virtual and live chat consultations that are as educational and engaging as those in our showrooms. We also continued to communicate via phone, email and WhatsApp.

We’ve decided to also use this time for strategic planning and a brand refreshment-a very exciting project that we can’t wait to share with everyone very soon. We’ve also been expanding with a sales representative in South Africa and some new key operations roles in the company.

Overall the whole team has been amazing, with everyone going the extra mile and working extremely hard to keep the company going. Everyone has been super supportive and the team once again proved that we are one big family.

At the start of the year you made the decision to bring production in-house, could you share a bit about the reason behind that and what the workshop is like?

This was a real milestone for us, at Taylor & Hart. The opening of a workshop was an opportunity to continue to push the limits of what’s possible in the engagement ring category and of traditional ring design. Additionally, it was not a decision simply based on numbers.

It was a very important step for us on the path of building a sustainable culture for the company. Furthermore with quality at the core of the business’ products and values, it was critical for us to develop in house production capabilities that aligned with the brand’s ethos.

The new production process provides us with the ability to control quality at every step. Our growth over the last few years has been incredible and something I’m very proud of.

The success of our sales and satisfied customers have allowed us to step into this next stage in the company’s growth. We wanted to have more autonomy on the creation of our products.

We are very excited that the workshop will allow customers to see how their ring is being crafted, right in front of their eyes. Involving the customer in the creation of their ring is already part of our DNA and we’re really passionate about advancing with this element.

How has bringing the production in-house transformed the business so far?

It’s a real pleasure to share that this move has inspired many of the industry’s top independent crafts people to join the Taylor & Hart team.

We are also very passionate about developing young talent within the bespoke jewellery sector. There has always been this long-term goal of further educating young people and not only working with jewellers at the top of their craft.

Furthermore, we are definitely able to dive deeper into creative ideas and continue to explore what’s possible for ring design.

Obviously in 2020 has been hit by unprecedented times, what impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on your business?

We’ve been of course affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the lockdown we noticed a significant drop in the amount of purchases.

We have made the decision to stop our physical consultations for a couple of months and we started offering online virtual consultations for those who wished to connect with us remotely.

A lot of new measures were implemented as well. Before any jewellery was shipped, all pieces were deep-cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner. Our customer care and design teams were there at the frontline communicating to customers in their preferred way, from the comfort of their homes.

We really used this time to adapt, reflect and accelerate on projects we’ve been thinking about since some time now.

With the lockdown conditions relaxing, we are starting to see demand rising again. One showroom in London is already open and the plan is to open our US one as well soon.

We are excited to see the company coming back on a growth path, and as such are starting to ramp up initiatives in various parts of the business.

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What challenges have you had to overcome during Covid-19? And how have you gone about overcoming them?

We had to overcome the challenge of not being able to offer offline consultations. That is why we introduced a project we’ve been planning on executing since long time – our virtual consultations.

Customers build a real connection with their design consultant, who is often the only other person who knows about the customer’s engagement plans.

It’s priceless for a customer to have this direct contact with their design consultant – whether it’s to query the nitty-gritty of policies or to simply reach out for an update or quick question.

While there was much uncertainty around the COVID-19 virus and its stay-at-home implications, we knew couples who had planned to get engaged may still wish to do so.

Spending time at home together, and knowing that over 70% our customers shop for their engagement ring collaboratively, we felt our digital consultations are going to be something many engage with.

From seeing our engagement rings on a consultant’s hand, to discussing and viewing a selection of diamonds, our consultant’s goal is to replicate the in-store experience to one that is just as good online.

Did you close your manufacturing facility at all? If so, how did this impact business?

The manufacturing facility that we work with didn’t stop working and we were keeping it quite busy to be honest.

There was a moment in April in which we were the only company they kept getting orders from, so we had to make sure certain order volume was coming through.

Once India entered the lockdown we had a bit of a challenge with the diamond supply chain but we managed to adapt fast.

We came up with a new diamond search function on our website that showed only diamonds from countries like Russia & Canada, countries different from India. That is why we also gave our customers the option to reserve their diamond, no matter the country, and lock in the price for 30 days, with the option to cancel any time by paying a fully-refundable 10% deposit.

We wanted to ensure people were getting the diamond they wanted, at the best price point available, no matter the circumstances.

When reopening the factory, how did you go about ensuring the workshop met new government guidelines for workplace safety during Covid-19?

First we made every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option for the vast majority of our business processes.

We have also introduced the virtual consultations to provide customers and consultants with a remote method for completing sales consultations.

When it comes to our production team, they had a very strict schedule & we were making sure we have only one person at a time in the workshop.

Of course, there were newly introduced policies and precautions to ensure their wellbeing during the visits.

What has been the process of planning to reopen your showrooms?

Part of our core team has been working hard on a plan for a couple of weeks now. Our strategy is fully in compliance with government guidelines. In preparing and executing this strategy we have also consulted with health and safety representatives.

Now we’re ready to reopen our doors and welcome customers back to our City of London showroom. Same people, same place, with some new precautions in to ensure the safety of everyone.

All design consultants will be wearing face coverings and washing their hands before and in-between consultations. We’ll of course provide customers with hand sanitiser upon arrival as well as face covering if they wish to wear one.

All items, surfaces and fabrics used in each consultation will be disinfected between bookings and consultations will be entirely contact free, with items exchanged via trays.

We’ve also moved some things around to allow for social distancing where possible. Protective screens are mounted between the customers and the consultant for extra protection.

Nevertheless our consultants are still available for virtual consultations for those who prefer to remotely connect with us.

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What trends have you noticed on the Taylor & Hart website during the pandemic?

One thing we’ve noticed is that people were definitely more cautious when shopping especially when it comes to high-value items such as engagement rings.

Many people were picking up the conversation with us but waited to finalize their purchase. There was just so much uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic.

The diamond reservation option definitely gave them some piece of mind.

Another thing we’ve noticed is that people were spending more time on the website and our social channels.

There was also a huge increase in live chat interactions as people were craving social connections. We actually broke all of our existing live chat records during the lockdown.

What other consumer shopping habits have you noticed during these unprecedented times?

One weird thing that I’ve noticed when it comes to shopping in general is that one might think impulse buying would stop but that was not the case at all.

Everyone has a go-to coping mechanism, and according to a lot of surveys, many were actually relying on impulse purchases to make it through this pandemic. Coronavirus has definitely changed the way we live in a matter of weeks.

What changes have you made to your digital channels to meet consumer demands this year?

The main change is definitely our virtual consultations, which we launched on day one of the lockdown.

Although we did close our London showrooms, our tech, marketing and sales teams quickly managed to set up the virtual consultation rooms and communicated it to the customers.

Allocating human resources to our customer experience department was also very essential for these times.

Can you share anything else of your goals and vision for 2020 and beyond?

So far no one has established themselves as “the brand” for custom designed jewellery. We want to be that brand.

This is a luxury product where production has been impossible to scale and it’s only through emerging technology and ‘customer first’ approach that we’re able to make it possible and accessible.

But beyond the physical limitations, the reason no one does what we do is because it’s a tremendous responsibility.

We help our customers create something deeply personal that expresses their love for the most important person in their life.

The end goal, of course, is to offer a personalised, convenient, emotionally rewarding service.

We listen first, seeking to understand each customers’ needs before offering advice or guidance. We have one chance to get it right and it has to be perfect.

Tags : Nikolay PiriankovTaylor & HartTaylor and HartThe Big Interview
Sam Lewis

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