ARABELLA RODEN explores the appeal of Australia and New Zealand’s local jewellery brands and how they can improve retailers’ stock mix.
In an increasingly globalised world, it can be easy to lose sight of the unique characteristics that make local brands special – yet special they certainly are.
Uniquely developed for the Australian and New Zealand markets, ‘homegrown’ brands share a deep knowledge and understanding of local consumers as well as a pride and passion for supporting retailers.
Across the jewellery industry, many of these brands are part of independent family-operated businesses – another value they have in common with jewellery retail.
SAMS Group Australia CEO Steve Der Bedrossian tells Jeweller, “SAMS Group Australia represents the homegrown Australian jewellery and watch brands, such as Classique, Pink Kimberley and Sapphire Dreams.
“Founded in 1967 as a family business, Classique Watches had been servicing the Australian watch industry for more than 50 years.
“Our luxury jewellery brands Pink Kimberley and Blush Pink had been operating for about 15 years. Sapphire Dreams is our newly launched brand that came to life in 2021,” he says.
Indelible Australian touches are evident throughout the brands, with Der Bedrossian noting, “The identity of our brand revolves around working with Australian gemstones. The Australian way is also reflected in our brand marketing and company values as all our products are ethically and responsibly sourced.”
Paterson Fine Jewellery (PFJ) is another Aussie brand with a long history.
“Paterson Fine Jewellery was originally established in 1935 and operated locally around Melbourne,” says managing director David Paterson, grandson of founder Keith Paterson.
“The business expanded nationally in 1959 when Keith took the ‘Little Gypsy’ range of earrings to wholesalers around Australia, and shortly afterwards we expanded internationally into the New Zealand market.”
Today, PFJ manufactures several registered brands including My Little Angel, Firegem Australian Opal, and Babylinks.
“As an Australian-owned business, we pride ourselves on our customer service, quality, and authenticity of our products. Customer satisfaction and quality workmanship are at the heart of our business philosophy and underpin our reputation in the industry,” Paterson says.
That commitment to customer satisfaction and quality is evident in modern jewellery brands too, such as Harper & Rowe – also a family business – which was established in South Australia in 2010 and now counts retail stockists across Australia and New Zealand.
“As a family business, we take pride in the knowledge that our company has developed locally and organically,” says director Virginia Moody.
“Our jewellery is designed in our workshop in South Australia, with many of our pieces also handmade there. We try to source local components and materials wherever possible for our products, and love working with our amazing Australian suppliers.”
Moody adds, “Being a local company means we can work closely with our retailers to develop and supply designs that work best in their markets, and many of our pieces have come to life from the close relationships we have developed with our customers.
“To us, being homegrown not only means creating a beautiful local product that sells well in the Australasian market, but also developing close ties with many small local businesses.”
Christine Harold, director of Melbourne brand Moore Jewels, which launched in 2007, echoes that sentiment.
“Being a local brand, we are able to respond to our customers’ needs quickly,” she tells Jeweller. “We are completely independent and are therefore able to treat any issues that may arise quickly, and always to our customers’ satisfaction.
“We work together with our manufacturers to produce the best quality product for our local market.”
Those same qualities are abundantly evident in brands founded ‘across the ditch’.
“New Zealand is small and our economy is made up of approximately 85 per cent small and medium enterprises (SMEs); many are like us – family owned and operated,” says Helen Thompson-Carter, director of Fabuleux Vous, which was founded in 2014.
“Having exported for more than 30 years across many industry sectors, the one thing I can honestly say is that New Zealand is proud of its people, its product and its presentation to the world,” she adds.
“We have a reputation globally for being a leader and having products that the world simply wants.
“There is not only a strong sense of pride, there is a camaraderie between business owners and a very special kind of admiration and support for each other.”
Nick Hoogwerf, brand manager of New Zealand-founded interchangeable jewellery brand Kagi, adds, “Stocking home-grown brands is vital to supporting local businesses.
“Customers love and appreciate a home-grown success story and are happy to support a brand that offers good quality, affordability as well as the ability to mix and match looks for any occasion.”
|L to R: Sapphire Dreams, Kagi, Foundrae, Paterson Fine Jewellery|
Above: Opal Minded
Above: Pink Kimberley
Above: Ikecho Australia
Adapting to Change
Perhaps the most important quality in a business – particularly given the rapid pace of change in the retail environment – is the owner’s ability to adapt quickly, shifting gears to meet challenges and increasingly high expectations of customers.
It’s a quality that is embedded in the mentality of New Zealanders, according to Thompson-Carter.
“Kiwis are well known globally for their innovation, ability to adapt to change and with a ‘number-eight wire’ [resourceful and inventive] approach to things.
“We are proud to be designing and producing beautiful world class products from this little corner of the world,” she says.
Worth & Douglas has manufactured its namesake brand of wedding rings since 1953, and also manufactures jewellery brands Karen Walker, Lord Of The Rings, and ZiRO.
“Being local allows us to offer flexibility in design, take orders in a friendly way, and deliver quality products in a timely manner,” says business development manager Chris Worth.
In practical terms, Paul Hicks, director of Ellani Collections – which has been established in both the Australian and New Zealand markets since 2008 – says local brands have an advantage when it comes to serving evolving consumer tastes.
“Being local allows you to react quickly to changing consumer demand for designs, materials and price points,” he explains.
“This allows the retailers representing your brand to be stocking a range with proven sales results and better retail margins.”
Harold has a similar perspective: “One of the benefits to the retailers is that most local suppliers carry stock – we certainly do. “We know the local market and, after working in the industry for more than 40 years, I’m very cognisant of regional variance and try to cater for most areas.”
Indeed, while the Australian and New Zealand market shares some similarities with Europe, the US and the UK, homegrown brands have an intimate knowledge of local consumer tastes and shopping behaviours, as well as a natural affinity for relevant designs and materials.
“Over the past 50-plus years, we have worked with many established Australian retailers, maintaining strong connections with Australian businesses and our local community,” says Der Bedrossian, noting that SAMS Group’s brands celebrate the nation’s unique natural history.
“In Australia, we have so many spectacular natural gemstones that we use to create our jewellery and watch designs.
“For instance, we were the first to create a single-slice Australian opal dial for our watches – which remains the unique hallmark of Classique to this day,” he explains.
Adds Thompson-Carter, “Local people love a local story to be proud of! Jewellery can so easily tell a life story, and sometimes that starts from where the jewellery came from and the inspiration behind the design.”
Homegrown brands also share a geographic advantage, being located in similar time zones to their retail stockists and being able to tailor stock to local needs.
Explains Moody, “Important economic and social influences are at play – things like economy of shipping, fast and efficient supply of stock, dealing in the same language and currency, combined with the ability to make special orders, including bespoke designs, also influences buying decisions.”
She adds that the importance of doing business with people they “know and enjoy dealing with, and who understand their business and customer base” cannot be underestimated by retailers.
Paterson emphasises the customer service advantage enjoyed by retailers who stock a mix that includes Australian and New Zealand brands: “The biggest benefits are retailers can get real-time answers on stock availability, place custom orders with a fast turnaround, and can access local repairs and quick returns.
“Plus, we have state-based agents who come in-store to showcase new arrivals and can also take back stock that hasn’t worked.”
Indeed, New Zealand brand Kagi recently switched to a new Australian-based distributor, Pride Brands, in order to better serve its retailer base.
“We can now offer super fast delivery and support to retailers of our 300-piece range as a result of our partnership with Pride Brands in Australia,” says Hoogwerf.
“We are looking forward to Australians again being able to wear and love our product through the convenience of a local distributor. We have a great brand and history in both the New Zealand and Australian markets and now is the time to build
upon this solid foundation.”
While many overseas brands have found popularity in the Australian and New Zealand markets and developed loyal followings, others have faltered, leaving retailers and consumers disappointed. Says Hicks, “Sometimes what is selling in European markets does not resonate with our consumer base and distributors in our region – followed by the retailer – have little to no input in the designs for new release products, due to the size of our market in comparison to the rest of the world.”
|L to R: Ikecho Australia; Karen Walker; Sapphire Dreams; Ikecho Australia|
Above: Worth & Douglas
Above: Couture Kingdom
With fewer supply chain disruptions and close existing relationships with retailers, homegrown brands were able to communicate and cater to their stockists’ needs throughout the past 18 months, while the COVID-19 pandemic raged.
“We are manufacturers as well as wholesalers. As a manufacturer, we have the benefit of being able to scale-up or scale-down the business depending on demand,” Paterson explains.
“Initially, we scaled back production dramatically, but once we realised the demand for jewellery was rising and retailers were struggling to attain stock from overseas, we were able to scale-up to full capacity in the factory.”
At Worth & Douglas, “It’s been important to us to remain fresh and continue creating and designing so we have released new designs and collections in the past 18 months,” says Worth.
“During lockdowns, we have continued to serve by offering marketing support, online assets, answer quotes and general enquiries, and just be there to help where we can to navigate these unchartered territories together with our customers.”
In New Zealand, Fabuleux Vous’ team “got up, got dressed and got on with it,” says Thompson-Carter. “COVID-19 gave a new appreciation to being ‘local’,” she continues.
“We reached out to as many of our retailer partners as we could across Australia and New Zealand and kept in touch.
“We supported them with payment plans so that they still had access to product, ramped up our digital presence – both business-to-business and business-to-consumer – and we made sure our retailers had imagery and material to ramp up their digital performance.”
Thompson-Carter added, “We also brought fresh on-trend products to market and we learnt more than anything that cash reserves, cash management and conservative business thinking was the saviour.”
A similar strategy was employed at Harper & Rowe, which Moody describes as a “hands-on” business that “rolled with the punches” during the pandemic.
“Over the years we have built excellent relationships with our customers which has held us in good stead during these turbulent times,” she explains.
“Like many other Australian small businesses, we needed to think outside of the square – not just working differently, but working smarter. With the explosion in online shopping and the emergence of the ‘lockdown look,’ we launched our At Home Collection.
“The designs in this collection included pieces which could be worn to complement a casual look, or to elevate a professional look while attending online meetings.
“We also focused on designing pieces which evoked sentimental feelings of love and affection, for people to send to family members living in other places.
“When individuals cannot see friends and family in person, they want to be able to send them personal gifts which express their love.”
At Kagi, Hoogwerf notes, “The lockdowns have given our customers time to build upon their collection and be more creative in crafting their daily look. It’s been great to see so many of our customers find unique ways daily to bring out their personality with our interchangeable pieces.”
He adds, “We’ve seen a surge in demand particularly for our statement earrings – everybody is looking to brighten up their look for Zoom calls.” Like retailers, e-commerce was a high priority for homegrown brands.
“The emergence of COVID-19 was not a time to panic – it was a time to refocus our energies and to pinpoint what we perceived our rapidly changing marketplace was going to be.
“The first thing we did was to put into place the rebuilding of our website to better showcase and streamline our jewellery collections and individual designs,” says Moody.
SAMS Group Australia’s digital infrastructure – already in place pre-pandemic – proved a boon for the company, according to Der Bedrossian.
“Frequent interstate travel and remote work had always been a big part of the job, which enabled us to be digitally prepared many years before the pandemic happened,” he explains.
“The functionality of our systems – with the diversity and flexibility of the working arrangements we have in place – ensured a smooth transition for us to ‘work from home’.”
He adds, “Once the pandemic hit, we were ready to service the public with our online presence, especially with the ‘Click and collect from your local stockist’ function.
“I’ve always been a big believer in investing into technology. Even though at the time I did not see the return on this investment, it prepared me to face the challenges of the pandemic before it even began.”
Similarly, PFJ made investments into e-commerce “long before the pandemic”, and is in the process of launching a new and improved online store.
With many retailers unable to meet with sales agents, the business also introduced a consignment box service for Australian and New Zealand customers, with Paterson explaining, “It’s a contactless and COVID-safe delivery to their door. Our consignment boxes contain a selection of our latest arrivals and a variety of stock that we can tailor to request.
“Upon delivery, retailers can review and keep the jewellery pieces they wish to stock. We include a free return freight satchel should they wish to return any items to us,” he adds
With NSW, Victoria, the ACT, and Auckland beset by further extended lockdowns in 2021, homegrown brands have another benefit – an ability to relate to the challenges faced by local retailers.
“Boy, it’s certainly been tough,” says Harold. “Being based in metropolitan Melbourne we’ve had over 230 days in lockdown.
“We don’t sell to the public and are, therefore, reliant on retailers exclusively for sales and it’s been a very rough period as our lovely customers are also trying to cope with a greatly-reduced cashflow, furloughed staff and ongoing overheads and costs to their businesses.”
Three years on from the ‘watershed’ year of 2018, when natural diamond juggernaut De Beers introduced Lightbox Jewelry, the lab-created diamond category has gone from strength to strength.
She adds, “Selling trips have had to be cancelled suddenly due to different states or regions being locked down, so we haven’t seen some of our customers for over a year and the states that have fared better with COVID-19 cases have had very patchy tourist numbers, resulting in less buying flow through retail.”
Ellani’s Hicks has also observed the uneven nature of the ‘pandemic effect’, telling Jeweller, “There are currently challenges for retailers in some states with COVID-19 restrictions. We are seeing states that do not have operating restrictions having strong demand.
Like many in the jewellery industry, Hicks is optimistic. “With higher vaccination rates in the coming months we should see less operating restrictions and if the demand in the run towards Christmas this year is anything like last year we will see incredibly good results,” he says.
This assertion is supported by a recent survey of 3,000 local consumers conducted by the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) in conjunction with market research firm Roy Morgan.
The survey found that gift buyers would spend an average of $726 each, with 79 per cent of respondents saying they would spend the same or more than they did last year.
Economists have also predicted a wave of ‘revenge spending’, similar to the post-lockdown spending bumps observed in 2020.
Remarking on the survey’s results, Paul Zahra, CEO of the ARA, said, “The past few months have been a uniquely challenging time for most retailers, in particular small businesses navigating extended state-imposed lockdowns and restrictions that have limited their ability to trade.
“Despite this uncertainty, the good news is that consumer sentiment is upbeat for Christmas and retailers can look forward to healthy trading conditions over the busy festive season.”
With a bumper season hopefully just around the corner, jewellery retailers should consider the benefits of adding homegrown brands to their product mix – both for the holidays, and beyond.
CONSUMER INSIGHTS – COVID19 TRENDS
There is no doubt the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has influenced consumer tastes and behaviour to a large degree – and to the advantage of homegrown brands.
“There is a new passion to shop local,” confirms Chris Worth, business development manager at Worth & Douglas.
“While many customers are unable to travel overseas due to border restrictions, more are now shopping locally and choose to recognise and support local manufacturers and retailers. Consumers are also looking for bespoke pieces and want them now, without having the long wait to have it made off-shore.”
Virginia Moody, director Harper & Rowe, observes, “Closed borders have meant that, as a nation, we are now reflecting inwards a lot more.
“Australian brand sentiment is very high at present, as is social conscience and awareness of sustainability. Australians now recognise the importance of ensuring our industries at home are supported.
“So, it appears that COVID-19 has expanded people’s mindsets and that ‘stocking local’ is an important part of ensuring this mindset endures when borders reopen.”
Helen Thompson-Carter, director Fabuleux Vous, says local brands offer a “point of difference” for shoppers.
“There is a famous New Zealand TV fisherman who always said, ‘Fish with your feet first’ – meaning have a look around the waters that surround your feet before you look elsewhere. I love this quote and I think it’s right on the button for where we are at.”
Indeed the CommBank Consumer Insights Report, published in May 2021, noted that “a majority of consumers in eight of the 10 retail categories covered, and half the patrons of personal care service providers, say that since the pandemic, it has become more important to them to have options to buy products manufactured in Australia.”
The report’s authors also observed, “Another apparent change in priorities uncovered by the research is the desire to support Australian online retailers and manufacturers, as well as local suburban shopping centres and neighbourhood stores.”
And while COVID-19 may have accelerated the online shopping trend, analysis by retail media firm Shopper recently found 36 per cent of Australians spend 80 per cent or more of their discretionary income within 5km of their home.
For many of today’s consumers, it seems home is where the heart – and the wallet – is.