There’s jewellery made from precious metals and set with precious stones. Then there’s costume jewellery. But the latter is not a simple imitation of real jewellery using cheaper materials – but the fast-growing, fashion-conscious, trend-setting sector of the global jewellery market. And at its forefront is Leeds-based Buckley London.
Founded in 1989 by Adrian Buckley, the company started by selling its now branded products into independent retailers, it soon discovered that there was a fast track to growth – supplying own-label costume jewellery to large retailers.
Within a few years, Buckley London was a major supplier for Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Tesco and other high street names. The business quadrupled in size.
All that changed in 2008 with the credit crunch. “We had a lot of working capital tied up in stock,” recalls director Neil Thompson, “and it forced us to contemplate the future differently.”
What Buckley and Thompson concluded was that as a private-label supplier, the company didn’t have enough control over its own destiny. And it was at risk of the big retailers opting to source its products direct. “We realised that our ostensibly successful business model was fragile.”
They turned back to the original Buckley London brand, which by now accounted for less than ten per cent of turnover. It was time to make it the focus of the business once more. But Buckley London’s domestic business was small.
“We couldn’t replace our lost business just through small UK independent retailers,” says Thompson. “Our future lay outside of the UK.”
He identified duty-free outlets, in-flight catalogues, and cruise ships and ferries, as three potential areas for Buckley London. “Our brand was just about perfect; we were mid-market, mid-priced and gift-oriented. The market was dominated by one big brand in costume jewellery, Swarovski, and a host of local players.”
It was a huge shift for the company. Staff members who had previously worked on the private-label business had to re-trained about travel retail. New disciplines, such as marketing, merchandising and international business development, had to be learned.
And learn it they have. In 2010, Buckley London products were just in the BA in-flight catalogue; today, they are in 145 airlines and sold in more than 100 airport duty-free stores. You can buy their jewellery in retail outlets in Singapore, Guatemala and the Netherlands, and in China.
The turnaround is astonishing. In 2009, 100 per cent of Buckley London’s sales were in the UK. Today, 80 per cent of its sales are exports.
UKTI has played an important part in boosting Buckley London’s export capabilities and know-how, particularly when it comes to identifying suitable agents and distributors around the world. “They are of great help and can provide you with very useful research,” says Thompson, “but make sure that you have enough resources to follow up the information that they provide.”
“Being on a journey” has become a business cliché. But with Buckley London it really has been the case. “My business travel used to be the East Coast railway,” laughs Thompson, “now I travel 150,000 miles a year.”