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Bringing back independence – the Mark Lloyd store

Goldsmith Mark Lloyd FIPG made a statement when he transformed a jewellery store with a 140-year history into an establishment he believed the jewellery industry craved. He sits down with SHEKINA TUAHENE to explain the reasoning behind the store’s re-branding.

Master goldsmith Mark Lloyd took a risk when he acquired the longstanding H Lamb jewellery shop in Hartlepool. Returning to the establishment where his 30-year career began, the H Lamb jewellery shop was founded in 1873 and had become a well recognised fixture in the local community. Originally set up as a jewellers for quality pieces, H Lamb quickly adopted the growing trend for branded jewellery, and became the town’s go-to spot for brands such as Pandora.

Taking over the store on 1 October 2016, Lloyd ran the business before deciding to rebrand it exactly a year later. “When I took over,” he says, “I felt that the shop had lost its way a bit and it was trying different brands. The feeling I got from talking to my customers was they didn’t really know what the shop was trying to be anymore.

“I made the decision to stop selling all branded jewellery and going back to how it used to be where you would pick the jewellery you fancied selling in your shop and put it in your branded box. I find that with the branded jewellery, really you were just at a price war. They’re trying to make you sell all at the same price, but people would do discounts and then others would get discontinued items and undersell. It’s fighting a losing battle to make a decent margin.” 

With this sentiment, Lloyd decided it was his opportunity to restore artistry, individuality and independence to the jewellery industry in his own small way, with the reopening of the shop as a Mark Lloyd store with his wife Michelle. Despite the bold move of transforming the brand that many had become accustomed to and changing it from the store that many from this generation would recognise, it was never in Lloyd’s plans to make the changes so soon after gaining ownership of the business.

However, it was own prominence and independence as a goldsmith which encouraged him to ditch the Pandora-focused sales point and make the change sooner. Declaring his USP as the fact that “you don’t get goldsmiths in many shops these days,” Lloyd says, “a lot of customers come looking for me from out of town who don’t know the shop; it became apparent that they were looking for Mark Lloyd in a H Lamb shop and it just made sense – it’s time to stand up and say: ‘Here I am’.”

However, he did not use his chance simply to make the store an extension of himself; as a Fellow of the Institute of Professional Goldsmiths (FIPG) and a new member of the Society of British Jewellers and the Guild of Jewellery Designers, Lloyd thought this would be the opportune moment to highlight the authenticity that still exists in the jewellery industry with the celebration of fellow jewellers.

Advertising to the industry via Facebook groups and jewellery forums, he put the word out to source goldsmiths and designers, who he felt fit with his vision of the store and the direction he wished to see the jewellery industry return to. With this, he selected eight different jewellery designers to showcase their pieces in the newly branded Mark Lloyd store.

“You’re guaranteed people who are serious, producing decent quality of work,” he says. Opting for those who didn’t have their own shops, Lloyd cited a preference for jewellers who were familiar with the process of selling in galleries. “They’re dotted about at other galleries, I thought that could be great for my shop. Not only is it giving my customers a unique product they’re not going to find easily, but it’s also helping my whole idea of coming to me to have something made, or coming to see jewellery that other people have made.”

Lloyd doesn’t take a cut of what is sold outside of the store, he acknowledges the service it may be doing for others in the industry. “I am a little bit of an agent –  I’m just trying to help fellow goldsmiths and craftspeople who are trying to make a living in their sheds and in their gardens like a lot of them are.” Noting that customers make appointments with Michelle first, he continues: “If somebody comes in and they like what that style of jewellery is, they can commission that person. I’m out the loop then – I’m encouraging my customers, ‘If you like that person and you want them to do something for you, then contact them directly’. I’m helping to promote them.”

Lloyd tries to make sure that the lack of international branding in his store brings an abundance of choice, as each designer housed at the Mark Lloyd store has something different to offer. As well as this, each collection features the backstory of the designer behind it; giving each range a sense of personality and allowing customers to find out about a designer they may otherwise not know. “It has to have a bit of an ‘X factor’ about it – especially something that tells a bit of a story. People love that; that’s what people have liked about me, those who have travelled to use me. So, we want to do the same for everybody else.” mark lloyd rings

The venture is more about just promoting and elevating others in the sector, as to Lloyd, the store sends a message of returning independence to independent jewellers. “You’ve got to really fight to create an identity for yourself – it’s not that I hate branded jewellery [but] it’s taken away the identity from independent jewellers. You end up on a bandwagon thinking ‘I’ve got to get the new brand and the latest product’, and all you’re really doing is playing a conduit for them.” Lloyd stresses this point saying: “I don’t want to put down branded jewellery it has its place in the market. But I think it’s more for the multiple retailer. Independent jewellers like myself need to find our identity or we’ll struggle.”

For this reason, Lloyd plans to make each designer’s range a permanent fixture in his store, in some ways not too dissimilar to the H Lamb store it used to be except with lesser known designers. He is also open to adding to the eight designers that he currently showcases, saying: “We’re just starting off with eight. We had eight spaces we could easily allocate in that cabinet – it’s just a case of when something is going to fit.”

Even with the change from what the original H Lamb store once was, Lloyd has retained more than just the bricks and mortar that once made up the shop that stood in Hartlepool for 140 years. Holding on to the cabinet that was once held internationally renowned brands, it is now used for the independent jewellers Lloyd wants to push forward. He says: “[It] still says H Lamb on the top, so it’s the H Lamb jewellery gallery.”

Holding on to what may appear nothing more than a piece of furniture resonates with Lloyd and what the store once was, as it was in the H Lamb store that he begun the very career which would later allow him to promote other jewellers. “It’s a natural progression especially because I was the apprentice here 30 years ago It sort of feels like I’ve gone full circle.” Lloyd recalls: “I’m stood in the room now that I practiced in when I was 17, looking out into the car park, still remembering what I felt like as a 17-year-old. It’s quite odd.” 

Lloyd worked alongside former owner and proprietor John Davey – the only non-Lamb to run the store – for two years as part of a five year one-on-one apprenticeship due to the lack of jewellery schools and colleges near Hartlepool. The role was heavily repair-based and Lloyd soon learned all the practical skills to equip him in his career. Following that, he decided to apply for jobs with local jewellers after his mentor’s move to Sunderland made it difficult for Lloyd to travel daily. He found himself employed with a local jeweller for eight years before deciding to become self-employed.

Lloyd then opened up his work tradeshop, followed by a jewellery repair centre which he ran for 12 years, before being asked to take over the shop by Davey who was ready for retirement. “I’ve come up fairly slowly through the years, I suppose.”

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