An interview with Piggotts, Upchurch and Wilkins
Closing down a store is never an easy decision for any independent retail jeweller, nor one that is taken lightly. With jobs line, money tied up in unsold stock and many years of time, energy and resource ploughed into a store, closing it down is usually the last resort. The option taken when all other avenues have been exhausted.
Selling jewellery is, of course, second nature to independent jewellers, and their knowledge of their local market is usually unrivalled. However, few will have had experience of running a closing down Sale. Unlike normal Sales events, a closing down Sale comes with high emotion attached. It can be a traumatic experience for all involved, particularly loyal staff, who are, in effect, being asked to help with an event that will inevitably lead to the loss of their jobs. For this reason, a number of experienced family-fun jewellers have turned to an external consultant to help and support them and their teams through their final Sale.
Jewellery sector veteran Karl Massey, owner of Prestons in Wilmslow and Guildford, and his team at White House Consulting have already been involved in 16 sales, and are currently working on another two, with more expected during 2018. The White House team aims to reduce the pain for everyone involved in the process by handling all aspects of the Sale, including adding extra stock, handling staff concerns and questions and overseeing the marketing and PR, while ensuring that the owners are able to exit their business with enough money to move on.
It is simple, yet effective. “People come to us for a number of reasons,” says Massey. “Sometimes they have just had enough; others want a change of direction; some are forced out due to ill health and some just want to retire after long careers.” The mounting external pressures on the jewellery sector are also changing landscape that many traditional independents were based on, Massey adds. The increasing reliance on branded products, the growth of online shopping – particularly mobile – and events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are all taking their toll. “The pace of change is never going to be this slow again,” he explains. “Quite a few of the people we work with are glad to be out of it.”
For veteran Jeweller Michael Hyman, who still has Leonard Dews in Blackpool and has just closed Wilkins on the Isle of Man, the decision to close has been life changing, and bringing in Massey and the White House team to do it was “worth every penny”. He explains; “The team has distance from the store. Karl was able to get things done that I wouldn’t have been able to convince my managers to do.” The store having been open by his father 93 years ago, Hyman admits making the final decision to close was not easy, even if it was necessary.
He explains: “There simply wasn’t the growth that there had been in the past.” Working with the White House team, Hyman says he was able to capitalise on the situation by using the closing down Sale to turn a large amount of unsold stock into cash. That has since been used to secure the future of Hyman’s remaining Blackpool store. “It has allowed me to start all over again in Blackpool and I have the freedom to do it without worrying about budgets. It has changed my life and secured my future.”
For Caroline England, who with business partner Adrian Batchelor has just completed the closure of Upchurch Jewellers and its sister store the Gallery at Upchurch in Colchester, it was White House’s honest and open approach that helped to make a success of the Sale and ensure the smooth running of the closure.
“It is tricky to come in and close a store down, and there was some negativity (from staff)”, England admits. “It was outstanding how they encouraged everyone to be part of it. “They were very open and answered questions honestly and fairly. It ensured there was as small amount of pain as possible. But they also bought a certain excitement with them and that is quite infectious.” England admits that, at first, she thought she could handle the closing down Sale with Batchelor, but, after careful research, including talking to another jeweller that had worked with Massey, she was persuaded.
“We had two stores and 12 staff in total. At that point, we didn’t have a vast amount of experience of closing down. White House really knew what they were doing and, between them, had a really strong mix of capabilities.” A key part of these capabilities is their marketing experience, says England. “We talked in detail about their view and combined that with our experience of the local area. It was an ongoing and iterative process that went on through the Sale period.”
Michael and Linda Piggott, former owners of Piggotts in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, decided to contact Massey after reading about the service in Retail Jeweller last summer. The couple, which set up the store in 2001, had made several attempts to secure its future but, after making their first loss during Christmas 2016, felt it was time to take decisive action. “Having spoken to him [Massey], we knew exactly why he was introducing stock”, explains Michael Piggott. “We were really confident in his idea.” This included bringing in an additional £1m of stock, and taking on one of Massey’s staff as well as recruiting two new staff to support the store opening seven days a week, which it had not previously done. The key, says Piggott, was that Massey’s formula slotted into what they were already doing. “That helped us to have confidence. We knew what he was doing and why, and we had the systems in place to support that,” explains Piggott.
“All of our stock was up to date and we were in lean, mean shape.” And the outcome has been exactly what the Piggotts had hoped for. He adds: “On offer at half price, we had £3m of retail. It was the best Sale we’ve done. We cleared the backlog of finances and stock, and have made enough for us to leave.”
No process is without issues, and things will crop up says England. “There were no major issues but, what singled them (White House Consulting) out, was the seriousness and speed with which they addressed anything that did happen,” she says. “I have worked in many sectors, mainly on the supply side, and I was astonished by how good they were.”
Having gone through the process, Linda Piggott says they would advise jewellers considering the same service to make sure they budget enough cash to cover the additional insurance needed for the new stock, and staff costs that come from running the Sale. She also believes the Sale could have been concluded in two months rather than three, as they saw a three-week lull in the middle of the event.
Meanwhile, Michael does add that other jewellers – albeit stores in towns sufficiently far away – that were also closing down were using the same advertising campaign. These points aside, the couple would recommend the service to jewellers that are looking to exit, but can’t see a way out.
“We had been doing it for a long time,” says Michael. “It was too full-on. We needed a light at the end of the tunnel with money in the bank.
Anyone looking to exit their business should do their research throughout advises England, “Be brave Be honest,” she says. “Look realistically at what the future holds and use that as your starting point. Do talk to people who have done it in different ways. What we did may not be the right decision for everyone.” For England and Batchelor, however, it was the right decision and it was made at the right time. “It is best to do it earlier rather than later,” England adds. “It was particularly hard for Adrian (who had inherited the business with his late wife, but it is a huge weight off his shoulders. Economically, it was the best decision.”
Every store is different, and different circumstances led each one to be closed. What these businesses share in common, however, is the amount of time, energy, money and resources put into them in a bid to build them and make them a success. The emotions that this creates cannot be removed completely, but the sense of relief that comes with finding a solution – even if that does mean the end of that business – is palpable.
Please note, this article has been taken from Retail Jeweller’s ‘Closing Time’ article. Published: April 2018, page 45 & 46.