Sisters Sophie Fulford and Tanya von Moll inherited Winsor Bishop after their father, Robert, passed away in 2011. Having been working in a director role in London for eight years, Fulford returned to the store’s location in Norwich to take over the day-to-day operations of the business as managing director, while von Moll remains a silent shareholder.
This wasn’t their first foray into the family business. The sisters started working at the firm, which was founded in 1834, during Christmas holidays from as young as eight years old. “We were sent to work and gift wrap at the age of eight, although in hindsight I think it was our mother’s plan to get us out of the house,” says Fulford. While the tasks were small at first, this experience in the family-owned business gave the sisters the skills and knowledge they needed to not only continue the successful operations of the company, but steadily improve profits in an increasingly challenging high street.
As reported by Jewellery Focus in January last year, Winsor Bishop is expecting to post record sales growth for the 2015 to 2016 financial year. Total sales increased 24%, with December 2015 footfall and web traffic up 20% and 61% respectively, compared with the same month in 2014.
This sales growth continued into 2016, with Winsor Bishop now reporting a 20% increase in overall sales in the current financial year. This financial growth has provided a foundation for a three-year expansion strategy, which the sisters hope will help it climb to become one of the “most notable businesses in the country”. Fulford says: “It has been an absolute rollercoaster this year for our group. We’re continuously pushing the boundaries for our business and seeing a phenomenal positive growth in our sales.”
Expansion plans have been kickstarted by the company’s new store opening in Cambridge just before Christmas – only its second own-brand store and its third in total including the Swarovski store in Norwich’s Intu Chapelfield shopping centre, which it owns and operates. Located on Trinity Street, Cambridge, the store represents a £1m investment for the company, which Fulford says had been 18 months in the pipeline. “It has always been my vision to expand on the family business and make the high street independent again.”
Winsor Bishop’s second store location is a poignant one. Having both grown up and attended school at The Leys in Cambridge, Fulford and von Moll would probably be the first to admit they were slightly biased when choosing the city for the first phase of expansion. However, Fulford says Cambridge was the “perfect fit” for Winsor Bishop’s brand and vision. “There is a lot of travelling and in-depth market analysis we go through before choosing a new site. Whilst we were investigating the Cambridge site, we continued to search for future opportunities to complement our current success,” she says.
What is most unusual, and what many independent jewellers should take inspiration from, is the natural progression the company is taking in its bid to grow its presence across the UK. Fulford says: “The company is entirely self-sufficient on funding to execute our strategy. We have seen impressive growth over recent years through the talent we have as a team, as well as the knowledge we invest to continue to cater to our market. This has allowed us to fund our vision without additional support.”
The company now plans to use the extra funds from its growing sales to push its expansion across other locations in the UK. The first phase of its expansion has been completed with the Cambridge opening, which Fulford says has shaped the group’s movements over the coming years, “setting the standards for future acquisitions, locations and renovations”. While Fulford is reserved to give any numbers on the number of stores the company is aiming for, it would be fair to say that the company is fairly ambitious in what it plans to achieve. However, at the same time, Winsor Bishop is cautious enough to grow at a rate that is both sensible and steady for the business.
No expansion comes without risk, even if each step is well thought out and taken slowly. Numerous factors could go wrong, from deciding on the wrong location, employing the wrong staff and opening in turbulent economic conditions. Fulford says that in order to make a splash you need to “jump into the market”, and that the key to a successful expansion is to stick to your brand and not compromise on its values, ensuring the creation and preservation of a loyal customer base.
It’s clear that Fulford is not only confident in the business plan, but also in the high street despite its apparent decline. Shopping centres and ecommerce continue to chip away at footfall and many are concerned that the future of town centres is looking bleak. Many brands dilute their customer base by holding continuous sales to attract more footfall to their store, says Fulford, without any knowledge or connection with their customers.
She claims this results in the customer having no bond with the store, and that the “perceived discount” impacts on the sentimental value of the items purchased. Winsor Bishop does hold sales, but these are carefully planned to maximise the company’s connection with its loyal customer base.
Coinciding with the growth of its bricks-and-mortar business the company is also investing in its ecommerce channel. Although tight-lipped about what we can expect from the process, Winsor Bishop is set to undergo a complete renovation of its digital strategy which Fulford says will be an “exciting time” for the company.
Despite the growing business, Fulford says she is still the same hard worker she was back as an eight year old child gift wrapping products. She is hands-on and leaves no side of the business untouched, whether that’s immersing herself with the Winsor Bishop team, serving and greeting customers or leading the brand’s vision from behind the scenes. It’s Fulford’s drive and determination that is leading the growth of this exciting, and family-owned, company. Does she have any last minute advice for other retailers looking to expand in the New Year? “Be smart about your choices.”
This feature first appeared in the January 2017 issue of Hotel Owner .