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Jewel power

Fashion jewellery label Gaby’s Brand Director Lorraine Watts reveals all about the brand’s acquisition by Dents, wedding-season pearls and the Brexit effect

Tell me a bit about how Gaby became part of the Dents Group.
Gaby was acquired by Dents around five years ago. The label was always synonymous with a great assortment of stylish fashion jewellery and had an especially good reputation for faux pearls. At the time of the acquisition there was a clear synergy with Dents, as the brand's collection also included a range of non-leather, fashion handbags. However, when I joined the business in 2013 it became increasingly obvious that the brand couldn't sustain sales in this category as our customers were buying cheaper and cheaper alternatives from elsewhere and we were not prepared to compromise our quality to compete on price.

What was your experience within the industry prior to joining the business?
My previous roles had mainly been in a product development and buying capacity with several major retailers, and latterly a major player in the wholesale home and gift market. My experience covers a cross-section of various product categories including jewellery.

What was your role in Gaby's evolution as part of Dents?
My brief when I came to Gaby was to manage the product development and sales elements as a separate entity from Dents, while securing the benefit of all the operational support that Dents can give.

What challenges were overcome after the acquisition?
One of the first things we did in 2013 was closely review the dynamics of the collection to enable us to have a better understanding of what styles and product categories drive turnover and profit. We also took a detailed look at our stock position, as overstocks were holding our development back. We had to make some difficult decisions over a period of 18 months in an effort to streamline the business and re-focus our efforts, but this has enabled us to continually present our customers with enticing new, easy-to-wear fashion jewellery ranges at the right price over the last three years. This remains our focus every season.
With the changes we made, it was inevitable that some customers chose to look elsewhere for their fashion jewellery requirements, but I'm delighted to say that after a few seasons away many of them have returned to us. We do have some customer crossover with Dents, and Gaby customers can be assured that they'll always receive high quality service from the friendly and knowledgeable sales and service team at Dents. Five years on, Gaby has a committed customer base, many of whom tell us that they don't need to buy their jewellery anywhere else.

What qualities do you think the Dents brand has brought to Gaby's development over the years?
There are also many benefits of operating from the state of the art distribution facility that we share with Dents in the wonderful countryside on the Wiltshire-Somerset border. Dents also have a dedicated web team, which ensures the continuous development of Gaby's wholesale website and as we benefit from Dents' in-house photographer and state-of-the-art photographic studio, we can ensure that the images for our website are also of the highest quality.
Looking after our customers is really important to us, so we want to provide a service that's totally targeted to them and their requirements. We're delighted with the performance of our trade website, it has worked very well and we now have many customers who only place their order through our website. The Gaby team are pleased to see fresh, increasing traffic and new accounts opening every day.

What sets you apart from your competitors?
The mid-range fashion jewellery market is a very competitive one and it does become increasingly difficult to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We strive to present our customers with a broad selection of styles that perhaps appeal to a wider age group than some of our competitors, and as our faux pearl selection is a core requirement for us - whether fashion trends permit them or not - this is a category where we excel, while our competitors appear to just dip their toe in the water. Gaby customers want to see fabulous new designs every season and that puts a lot of pressure on our buying and stock management skills. However, it's always great to hear that customers are selling through their Gaby stock, which of course gives them the confidence to buy from us again next season.

How has the product offering changed over the past five years and how would you describe your current collection?
Our product offer has many more contemporary elements to it now and the collection has definitely become more streamlined, but we still give our customers a comprehensive product choice. I feel we also offer great value to our customers with our attention to detail and the free gift packaging we send out with every customer order. We're more in touch now with what our customers want from us.

How often do you launch new lines?
Gaby launches two collections each year. We launch our spring/summer collection in January and our autumn/winter collection in July. All of the styles are available from stock when we launch our new collections. Our spring/summer 2017 collection offers tactile, stylish and contemporary styles that are easy to wear and versatile enough to dress up or down.

What are the current bestselling designs?
Our bestselling designs come from opposite ends of the spectrum and illustrate the diversity of our customer base. Long, statement pendant necklaces with a nice weight to them in an assortment of on-trend shades and interesting shapes never fail to appeal, while our favourite entry-level faux pearls with magnetic fastenings offer great value, and are available in 13 great colours this spring. We find that wedding season - which starts in April - brings on a flurry of phone calls and web orders!

Which trade shows do you attend and which one works best for you?
We only exhibit at Moda now. As we provide nationwide coverage and personal service to customers who prefer to see one of our agents and our website registrations continue to grow, we see less and less justification to exhibit at multiple shows.

When was Gaby's website launched and how does it support the business?
We had a soft launch in 2015 but last year we really got behind it, and we now actively encourage current customers to register via our regular email newsletters to them and we're seeing continuous growth from new customer registrations as we reap the benefits of implementing SEO.

What have been the key milestones in the business?
Dents acquisition of Gaby is the clearest milestone in the brand's story. This development allowed the business to grow significantly, not just in terms of sales, but also in terms of its product development, brand positioning and presentation. We're well positioned to continue into the next decade and the support it has from Dents plays no small part in that, particularly as technology and web-based businesses are growing at such a pace. If we didn't have the opportunity to grow at the same pace as Dents, then our future growth would definitely be limited by time and the ability to invest. Our decision to concentrate on offering a great fashion jewellery collection, provide excellent customer service and part company with other product distractions proved to be the right one.

How do you view the current market and what trends, both in product and in business, do you see emerging over the coming months?
The fashion jewellery market in the UK remains extremely competitive both on the wholesale front and amongst the major high street retailers and supermarket fashion ranges. Consumers are exposed to perfectly acceptable product every day when they walk down the high street or do their weekly shop, and so they develop a price ceiling for certain product lines and fashion jewellery is certainly one of them. We don't intend to compete with the supermarkets but what we do have to do is continue to offer our retailers a reason to stock Gaby for their customers who expect a high level of personal service when they shop, and have confidence that the Gaby brand provides them with great design and good quality at an acceptable price level.
As a brand, we follow the worldwide fashion trends and particularly pick up on colours for the forthcoming seasons and each new Gaby collection offers more than 150 new pieces alongside our bestsellers and core lines. As for the next big thing that's always a tricky one and our customers generally feel comfortable with a major fashion trend once it has been in the market for a season or so. We happily follow the trends rather than lead them, it's what our customers want and expect from us.
From a business point of view, the Brexit effect and exchange rates are currently influencing some of our decisions but sometimes it can be good to re-group, re-focus and consider how to do things a little differently in changing circumstances. One thing is certain - nothing stays the same!

What are your future plans for the business?
The future is still exciting. The jewellery markets are growing globally, and although fashion jewellery still has enormous potential, it may take us in some alternative directions. The gift market is an opportunity we're looking at more seriously and we've introduced some specific items with this sector in mind, but we have more work to do. I think we'll see lifestyle boutiques and of course, web-based retailers becoming more prominent over the coming years; and as they do consumers will come to expect fashion jewellery to always be part of their offering. This means we have to be up there with the best of them.

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