Bijouled says goodbye to Georgina

So some big news…..I am retiring from Bijouled and passing the business onto the ownership of Tracey Jones who has worked with us since last November. Tracey will take over Bijouled with her husband, Chris, on the 2nd of September after I have done the Autumn window with Nev. My last window for Bijouled!! I was not sure how to say goodbye but asked my close friend and business partner, designer Clare Jordan, to do an interview with me. So we sat down and here it is…

Celebrating your promotion to the next chapter and passing the baton

Clare:

Georgina, we have worked together for 14 years and the first time I met you I knew we would have a great connection…we laughed so much! Thankfully we did, and we worked on so many projects together over the years that were so fabulous and brought together our talents and passions.

Georgina:

It was one of those chance things that happen in life that brought us together Clare and I am so pleased it did as you have been such an important part of Bijouled as it has evolved over the years – not just through the products of yours that we sell but with the work you have done to support our branding and window design. We have done some wonderful and wacky things together, for which I will be forever grateful. We did bite off a lot more than we could chew (often!) but we got through with determination, hard work and a lot of laughter.

Clare:

Bijouled is an amazing accomplishment; building a business from scratch, creating a brand, developing a strong following and running a business for 15 years in very challenging circumstances is by no means easy. You have supported so many businesses and individuals over the years, and have generously contributed to so many worthy causes and charities. Georgina it’s a testament to your skills, kindness and dedication to your suppliers and customers. 

So why are you leaving now?

Georgina:

Well as many people know we have been under huge pressure over the last few years with Nev’s health – Nev has a heart condition, a brain tumour and is just recovering from his latest bout of cancer. The lockdown situation has forced us to reflect on what we want from the future. I am sure a lot of people have done the same thing. The most important thing for me to do now is to support Nev and so it is the right time to go. We are also very lucky that we have found someone in Tracey who is excited about taking the business forward.

Clare:

Bijouled is a particularly special shop and that is down to you and your vision. You brought together an individual, unique collection of merchandise into a stunning shop that is curated and styled, giving your customers an experience and a joyful visit. 

What was your Bijouled highlight? 

Georgina

It’s hard to pick just one highlight from over the past 15 years. Opening a business from scratch in Sowerby Bridge, at a time when there was only one other retail shop in the town, was a huge highlight. I barely knew how to work the till on the first day of opening but we built Bijouled up into being a destination shop. Our customer base was mainly local and we got to know so many people. It was such a special shop and I look back on that period of time with great affection. When we moved to Harrogate, we became a little fish in a big pond. We managed to save ourselves from being eaten alive through creating our own niche in a town that had a wealth of fabulous independents. Being on television as part of Channel 5’s “Harrogate: a great Yorkshire Christmas,” was an amazing opportunity and a once in a lifetime experience for us and winning best jewellery and accessories shop in the UK last year meant such a lot to me. I also have loved the way in which our customers got involved in our Christmas windows and that we raised, with their support, a huge amount of money for brain tumour research.

Clare:

If you were to do a do-over is there anything you might have done differently?

Georgina:

Like most things, it would be great if you had the same wisdom and knowledge that you get from experience when you start out. However, the main thing I would have liked to have done differently would have been to start Bijouled earlier in my life and work directly with a lot of suppliers in sourcing and helping to design my own products.

Clare:

Nev is your right hand man, your wingman and soul mate. He has had a huge contribution to the business both practically and strategically. How important was having such an amazing supportive husband in your corner to running such a successful business?

Georgina:

I could not have run the business without Nev. Coming from a high level academic background (he has more degrees than we have brands!), Nev has so many skills, particularly practical skills that I don’t have. He can literally put his hand to anything and has helped me on every level with the business. He knows no fear and has been with me every step of the way. We are lucky in that we complement each other and I owe him more than a bucket load of champagne when we retire! He is a total inspiration to me.  

Clare:

Let’s talk about your customers

Bijouled has always been focused on the customer and they are the lifeblood of the business, they are cherished, appreciated and adored. I know when working on our first Christmas Window, we made the customer the centrepiece of the display. This showed me how customer focused Bijouled was, and what a loyal customer you have. I am sure that is one aspect of the business that you will miss. 

How important is connection between a business and their customers? 

Georgina:

This connection is fundamental – it makes or breaks your business. When Bijouled was in Sowerby Bridge we knew our customers very well as they were mainly local – we knew what they liked, what they didn’t like and had a real personal connection with significant repeat custom. Online shopping was minimal and Friends Reunited was the main mechanism for keeping in touch with people and not Facebook! Now things are so much more challenging. In Harrogate, we have not just a local customer base but a significant visitor base. This means we have to continually interest and engage local customers for the long term and make a memorable impression on visiting customers in a very short period of time, hoping they will come back and visit us or continue to shop with us online. The other part of the equation is developing and maintaining customer connections through our website, email communication and social media. This requires completely different customer care skills.

Clare:

Is the Bijouled customer particularly special? And why is s/he so loyal to Bijouled?

Georgina:

I think all our customers are very special and appreciate that we bring something different to the retail plate. Loyalty comes from developing relationships and giving people a fabulous experience – whether they visit the store, shop online or look at our social media. We work hard on this and hope that those things, coupled with products and displays that excite people, will engender loyalty.

Clare:

Keeping products and displays fresh and vibrant doesn’t just happen, what level of planning and what kind of strategy did you use to source new products, keep the displays fresh and keep engaged with the customers?

Georgina:

Planning the purchasing of products is key and we can work anything up to ten months in advance. We try to source at least two new brands a season as well as maintain brands that sell well and keep changing their own designs to make then fresh. We have gone to trade fairs in and outside the UK and do a lot of research online to find suppliers that we can work with directly and who don’t exhibit at fairs. Being different to other stores is very important and effective merchandising is key to the success of the shop and to selling these product choices. We merchandise brands in different ways to draw attention to their difference and move and change modes of display regularly to stimulate interest. You have to work at this and see things from the point of view of both customers who come in the shop regularly and customers who have never been in the shop before. My grandparents had a sweet shop and I think I was heavily influenced by the display of confectionery! I have always wanted the shop to be a feast for the senses and love it when people appreciate this.

Clare:

Will you stay connected with your customers?

Georgina:

I hope so as some of our regular customers have become friends and they are important to me. I also hope they will get behind our next venture.

Supporting women

Clare:

I see you as a supporter of women; you stocked so many stunning lines that were mainly created by women, female designers, artists, entrepreneurs or crafters. I think I speak for all your fabulous suppliers when I say we are so grateful for everything you have done for us over the years. You championed small businesses, formed connections and friendships and helped growth. 

Was this intuitive and happened organically, or did you actively seek to help them businesses grow when you saw potential?

Georgina:

When I grew up, I was influenced significantly by my father, who was a jewellery designer. At that time the world of jewellery, particularly fine jewellery, was dominated by men. You can still see this now in some of the high-end jewellery stores. As the world of fashion accessories and costume jewellery began to explode, however, more women came onto the scene and I have always tried to work with and promote women designers with whom we have a connection and can work with effectively. As we have a predominantly female customer base, it is important to me that I can see that the people behind the design process of a product have an inclusive approach, understanding the varying and individual needs and desires of women.

Clare:

What advice would you give shop owners who are looking for new merchandise? 

Georgina:

Keep your bread and butter brands strong whilst searching widely and creatively for difference. Don’t be afraid to be bold in bringing difference to your store.

Clare:

How could they better cultivate relationships with their suppliers? 

Georgina:

You need to build relationships with your suppliers as you develop selling experience of their products. Regular communication is important as they need to understand your business and customers to help them evolve as well. One of the great things about working with you Clare over the years is that we have been able to develop bespoke products just for the shop.

Clare:

Do you see this as an important aspect of the business?

Georgina:

It is important as supplier loyalty is key to hold onto a good brand in your area and you need to be able to rely on your suppliers when things go wrong. There have been some fabulous examples during lockdown of suppliers working with businesses to help each other, for example by offering extended credit terms and photographs for online use.

The importance of creative

Clare:

We worked on so many different projects over the years and you were amazing at pushing the boat in terms of what we did, I was outside my comfort zone many times which is actually now my favourite place to be. This ability of yours to keep stretching, growing and expanding within a business is fabulous, you have a very small space in Bijouled but your reach is phenomenal. 

Do you think it is important for small businesses to keep growing? 

Georgina:

If you don’t grow and re-invent then customers will get bored (and so will you!) You also need to evolve with customers’ buying habits and never get complacent. I’ve always been a firm believer in pushing boundaries as if you don’t you will never experience different things. It is also important not to regret anything when you look back on your life. If things don’t work, you learn, and if they do, what amazing value does that bring!  

Clare:

How could businesses owners introduce this concept to their business?

You have to be a critical friend of your own business by taking into account customer and staff feedback and developing strong quality assurance procedures where you regularly measure the performance of your own brands, retail space, merchandising and displays, including the power of your window displays. I often do a usability test on different aspects of the shop – you have to regularly evaluate the customer perspective, their experience and buying patterns

Clare:

What advice would you give to shop owners who are restricted by the size of their premises, footfall and may be struggling right now with this pandemic and the restrictions we are facing? (Basically solve the problems of the world Georgina)

Georgina:

We have a very narrow shop and it is very difficult for all of us with the restrictions we are facing. You have to think outside the box but the key thing here is to maximise your online and social media presence. I have seen some great examples of shops doing different things with technology to get people to engage and buy. Not to mention home delivery!  


And now the windows

Clare:

Bijouled windows are showstoppers and customers love to visit the shop to see your amazing displays. 

Why was this such an important aspect to your business? 

Georgina:

We learnt a lot by participating in the Channel 5 programme (as you well know!) and our windows have gone from strength to strength since then. We have a very small window space (and pavement space outside) but it is vital that we make people stop and stare so that we encourage them to come in. How and what we display in the windows has a significant impact on sales. 

Clare:

You have such a creative flair when it comes to the windows, how do you come up with new ideas and when do you start planning for the next window?

Georgina:

I usually have ideas for the year’s windows at the start of each year – this gives me time to plan and buy products and props. I love coming up with ideas and literally get inspired by anything – you don’t want to get inside my head! As each window includes a part of me, whether it’s the overall impression or the detail within them, I hope that they strike a cord and generate feelings with everyone who looks at them.

Your staff

Clare:

Staff are integral to small businesses and especially in current circumstances. How can staff make a difference to a business?

Georgina:

Working in an independent is very different to working in a chain and can be more challenging. Staff have to be involved in so many aspects of the business and therefore have to have a wide skills set. They have to reflect and be loyal to the core values and style of the owners and carry these qualities through in all aspects of the job. Good relationships, trust and communication are vital to small teams. Training is also key as sole working is often a feature of working in an independent and staff need to have the same amount of knowledge, not just about products. but about all aspects of the shop, in order that they can maintain an excellent level of customer service. This gives staff members a unique responsibility and opportunity within an independent that can be so empowering and rewarding. Owners rely heavily on small staff teams to provide excellent customer service and generate sales in their absence as well as be pro-active about product performance, merchandising and shop maintenance to help the business grow. 

Clare:

What advice would you give to shop owners when choosing staff to become part of their business family?

Georgina:

I think the word family here is key. Staff don’t just have to have the right skills but they need to understand, buy into and be loyal to the business brand and the owners though good times and bad. Jobs in independents are more than just 9 to 5 jobs as you are giving someone a unique experience to play a big role in something you have personally built up from scratch. You have to be sure that the staff you appoint have the qualities to take on that mantle.

Homage

Clare:

While I can’t quite imagine Bijouled without you, I can see that it is the right time for you and Nev to pass the baton and continue to the next chapter. While Bijouled will continue without you at the helm and we hope that the next chapter for Bijouled will be as successful as the first, everyone is curious about you… so spill it sister, we know that it’s not retirement…what’s next for Georgina??

Georgina:

Well Clare, as you well know, as you are half of it (!), I am lucky enough to be moving into Darling Divas – a wholesale greetings card and gifts business. It’s an interesting leap from retail to wholesale for me but I am so excited about it and hope I can bring my retail experience into good use. We’ve only really just got going this last year but have already got 40 stockists for our cards and our new umbrella designs have just been licensed by umbrella company Soake. We trialled our cards in Bijouled and they have been a huge success. I have such a great sense of optimism about the future and am so looking forward to helping Darling Divas grow from strength to strength. I get to work with you, can work from home and be with Nev – it’s a win-win situation (although you and Nev may not agree!).

Clare:

As a final closing I just want to say thank you…thank you for believing in me, for showcasing and selling my products for so many years, for the kindness, the laughter and the amazing experiences. Wishing you all the love and happiness in the world, I can see sparkles and bubbles in your future and look forward to seeing the next chapter unfold. 

Georgina I will leave the last word to you, do you have any closing remarks?

Georgina Thank you Clare. I am leaving with such a mixture of emotions. However, I am so pleased that Bijouled will continue and hope that everyone will get behind Tracey and Chris. I have had such wonderful support from our customers over the years and met so many people from all over the world. The conversations and experiences I have had can only be imagined! I can’t thank our customers enough for making Bijouled such a magical experience – they have and always will be the lifeblood of the business. I came into Bijouled when I was 40 after a bad car accident and a completely different career path. My motto then was George Eliot’s quote “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I am now carrying this motto forward into my next adventure.