Large jewellery brands are increasingly dominating the jewellery landscape, whether it be online or high street retail. In a highly competitive and very mature market, it is a brave step for an aspiring high street jeweller to focus on unbranded, but that’s exactly what newly-opened Harrington Brookshaw Jewellers has planned.
The store was founded by Andrew Brookshaw and Paul Harrington, who had both previously worked in the jewellery and retail industry. At 18, Brookshaw worked for Goldsmiths and worked his way up through various positions from sales to supervisor and assistant manager. “I think it was inevitable that after college I was drawn to applying for positions with jewellers. I spent a lot of my childhood in Bath visiting Mallory Jewellers and many antique fairs with my grandparents who had a keen interest in jewellery and antiques,” he says. From there he joined independent jeweller Preston & Duckworth in Guildford where he stayed for 11 years – as manager for the last five.
Meanwhile, Harrington’s experience was in high end men’s fashion retail, but he always had a keen interest in watches, before he too moved over to Preston & Duckworth, where he worked for nine years. Both Harrington and Brookshaw ran Preston & Duckworth, and the owner gave them a great deal of autonomy in running the store.
They had always dreamed of opening their own store, but despite on-and-off conversations for more than three years, but couldn’t find the right moment. That changed in September 2016. The pair sat down to make a plan, and Brookshaw says that “everything fell into place”. After securing a £300,000 financial package from HSBC – around 60% of the total amount the pair needed to set up shop – the business was born.
Harrington Brookshaw has tried to keep as much of its branded jewellery based in the UK. They have maintained their previous relationship with British suppliers such as watch brand Bremont and wedding ring and jewellery supplier Brown & Newirth, as well as taking on cufflink manufacturer Deakin & Francis. This British theme is also continued in its own bespoke jewellery range. Harrington Brookshaw has its own UK-based workshop.
BUSY HIGH STREET
The funds were used to secure a lease on a property – which coincidently had been a jewellers previously – on Guildford’s high street and the duo used their existing knowledge of suppliers to set up their window displays and start finding products to stock. The store opened on the 26 November, just in time for the Christmas rush. Having opened in just six weeks from deciding they were going to go ahead with the business, to welcoming the first customer through the door, Brookshaw says “everything went very well over Christmas, much better than expected.”
Located on Guildford’s high street, and surrounded by both multiples and independents alike, the company made the bold decision to be positioned close to various other jewellers. However, Brookshaw believes having competition means the store’s location helps to drive additional footfall through its doors. “There are a huge number of jewellers in Guildford, but you need a busy high street to attract footfall. It makes Guildford a destination town for jewellery,” says Brookshaw.
The main premise when setting up the store was to be free from the big jewellery brands that have become synonymous with the jewellery retailer in the past decade. These brands – largely driven by the trend for customisable jewellery and charms – can help retailers increase profit, but they can equally be the cause of a brand identity loss and creeping dependency.
While the store stocks some brands such as Bremont, Deakin & Francis and Brown & Newirth, Brookshaw says: “One thing we are trying to stay away from is branded jewellery, as we feel shops are losing their identity. It would be easy to just become a collection of all these small – or should I say big – brands. We want Harrington Brookshaw to be the brand.”
As a result, the store’s main focus is on bespoke jewellery. Harrington Brookshaw creates the majority of its engagement rings and eternity rings at its UK workshop. As well as selling in-house designs, customers are also able to have pieces specially designed and made. “It makes the process of buying jewellery more personal,” says Brookshaw.
Independent at heart
Brookshaw has experienced both the multiple side of jewellery retail and the independent, having previously worked at Goldsmiths and then Preston & Duckworth. “I much preferred the independent side of things and the freedom to pick our own stock, come up with designs and have meetings with the suppliers. It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to do something for myself”, he says.
The store only opened late last year, but the pair already have their sights set on further expansion. Set in a Grade II-listed building, the store has a “very small footprint”. The shop has two floors above it and the duo now plan to convert the first floor into a private area and the second floor into an office space. But it’s not easy, operating in a listed building means there are strict regulatory rules required for planning permission.
Harrington Brookshaw is taking a traditional approach to running a jewellery store with its lack of brands, but the designs and products it stocks are contemporary and exciting. It’s this mix of approaches that is helping the store to find its niche on an increasingly competitive high street.