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Support, Service and Sausages! – Article written for Professional Jeweller Magazine September 2010

Love me? Love me not? For most designers, the relationship that they have retailers is everything. Fine jewellery designer Andrew Geoghegan gives his opinion on the best way for designers to develop a positive business dynamic with stockists.

“It was only in recent years that I first heard the phrase ‘retail partners.’ I will be honest and say that my initial reaction was that it sounded a little too American for me. To put it into context, this was the phrase given by a German manufacturing company for their stockists. As a jewellery designer, starting out in the late Nineties, I was inspired (jealous is closer to the truth) by such German companies as Neissing and Henrich & Denzel – so, guided through this respect, I started to contemplate the phrase and its significance.

The relationships between wholesaler and retailer can be delightful, respectful, interesting, challenging, fraught and even downright uncomfortable – just like any relationship can be, as I am sure both sides of the industry will agree.

When I started to supply retail, as a totally inexperienced business man at the start of my career, there was an overwhelming and inexplicable feeling of ‘me verses them’. Rather than ‘what can I do for them?’ the emphasis was on ‘how many more orders can I squeeze out of them?’. This, I am glad to say, has all changed and, if it hadn’t, I doubt very much I would be writing this article.

The change came about through personal maturity and, on a wider level, was about better understanding the dynamics of business and relationships. It was hearing the phrase ‘retail partners’ that reminded me of this early and immature perspective, but it also made me realise that maybe I was more German than I had previously thought. With a penchant for Bratwurst and Helmut as my middle name, some may say this is not surprising.

So, what had occurred in my business to make me confident enough to describe many of my stockists as partners? The first shift involved putting myself in the shoes of the retailer. I am well aware that many of you may well giggle at the level one nature of this comment, but its importance necessitates its repetition. ‘What would I want from a Jewellery Designer if I was a retailer?’ is a question which was and is essential in how I develop my business.

When you are locked away in a design studio, it is far too easy to just concentrate on churning out designs, thinking that this is the most important facet of your business as a wholesale designer. The discerning retailer expects more than this. With the recent startling phenomenon of the branded bead jewellery et al, the level of retail support has reached incredible proportions. Even though much of the support has to be purchased, it is designed to aid the retailer to sell the product. I am in no way saying that we all have to design concept cabinets (and demand £50k minimum orders), but I am arguing that we have to think wisely about what we are doing. It is pretty tough out there, so we have to be constantly mindful about being a preferred option for the retailers.

Before I get into any specifics on processes we have introduced into the business, I would say that one of the most valuable things I have done is actually ask my retailers for their advice. I am not a retailer and I can only make an educated guess about what they want. Simply asking, ‘what can I do for you that I am currently not doing?’ has helped me no end in my business. This surely goes for retailers and their customers. If one of my suppliers asked me this question, I would be shocked and pleased that they were thinking of how they could improve their service to me.

Recent developments in my business have been based around increasing public awareness of my brand/products. Looking again at the Bead Brigade, the amount of advertising and promotion these companies do is a heaven sent for retailers and this is obviously a key to their success. Though I and most other jewellery designers do not have £3,000,000 to spend on advertising, there are many less expensive alternatives. This year I have been concentrating on writing articles highlighting AG products in the retailer. These are emailed to various local publications in a bid to get some free press. The cost for us is time, but the effectiveness of a quality article in a quality magazine can be astonishing.

One area I realised we were unable to focus on was repeat trade. By this, I mean concentrating on customers who had already purchased an AG piece. Ordinarily, we have no access to the details of our end customers. However, we have agreed with the majority of our stockists that, subject to the agreement of the customer, we will email them with up and coming designs, info that may be of help to them or reminders that their pieces are due for a free check/re-finish, etc.

I like to think that the willingness of our retailers to provide us with this sensitive data is a testament to the trust they have in us. As in any relationship, trust is of huge importance and it takes time to develop. If I am honest, I do not particularly like merely ‘business’ relationships. As much as I have a passion for the industry and what I do, I much prefer to create friendships with the people I do business with. I don’t suggest that we hit the pub every Sunday night for the quiz and nor do I mean that a rather superficial familiarity is created. It is more about being open, honest and actually wanting to help, not merely for financial return, but because it is our nature and business is not all about making money – regardless of what some may say.

There are many other developments in my business which we are implementing to support our retailers, but due to the constraints of this article and not wanting to give away all my secrets, I will just mention one more – ‘Meet the Designer Days’.

This, as you may have guessed, is when I take my whole range to a retailer for the day. It is well advertised before hand and the public appears to enjoy the opportunity to have a chat with the jewellery designers – particularly when you are pouring them free champagne.

As well as being financially very rewarding, it also gives me an insight into a day in the life of the retailer. Those who go into retail thinking it will be a breeze must receive a rude awakening. I remember being involved with one at the Old Courthouse Gallery in Ambleside and, towards the end of the day, I was so shattered, I was struggling to string a sentence together. Retailers, I salute you. I salute you, but I also implore you to stick with me for this final part, as it is about supporting British talent.

Writing this article has further strengthened my determination to bend over backwards for my established and future retailer partners, not just because I want their business, but because this is the way I believe business should be conducted. If I had to sumarise in three words how we should develop the wholesaler/retailer relationship it would be support, support and support! For what it’s worth and on the flip side, I would say to retailers collectively that it is important that our local talent is supported and given the chance to shine.

We have some outstanding talent in this country, such as James Newman, Iain Henderson, Ruth Bridges, Annika Rutlin and some chap called Andrew Helmut Geoghegan, to name but a few. While I understand the appeal and salability of many non-UK designs, I believe we should also look on our own doorstep and promote British craft, and the British economy. ‘British Made’ was once synonymous with the highest quality. The industry, as a whole, should aim to revive this heritage. As I slide off my soapbox, in the words of me and my Frauline in the office: ‘Vorsprung Durch Unterstützung or ‘Progress Through Support.’”

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