9 Mar 2021

Customers, team, suppliers: marketing for independent retailers

Continuing with our Reading Recovery blog series, we catch up with Adam Jacobs, partner in a third-generation family independent jewellery shop, Jacobs the Jewellers, in Reading town centre. Blending technology, personal service, craft skills and fantastic products together with its team, physical shop and website, Jacobs the Jewellers has been delivering a fantastic shopping experience for almost 75 years. A feature in Reading’s high street since 1948, Its accolades include Pride of Reading 2017 and Best Customer Event in 2019’s British Jewellery Awards. Adam is also Chairman of Reading UK and has been working with us since 2005 to boost business and enhance visitor experiences within the Reading region.

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As one of Reading’s independent retailers, what can you tell us about the outlook in 2021?
I honestly don’t know what the path out will look like – or when it will happen. But what I can say, is that we’ll be as prepared as possible for when we are able to open again. For independent or multiple retailers I’m anticipating a similar reopening feel as the first 2020 lockdown, as it looks like we’ll have been closed for a similar amount of time. I’m confident that the retail industry will be busy again in time, but this will also depend on a number of other factors which also have an impact on our businesses, such as Brexit. I would say, however, that as a town, Reading is as well-placed as one can hope for, to recover as quickly as possible. We have seen some recent endorsement of Reading’s resilience from independent reports such as PwC and Centre for Cities, who claim that Reading’s pre-Covid economy will help it bounce back quicker than other towns and cities, and I also get a sense of this from my own personal experience. Having lived and worked in Reading for a many years now, I’ve continually witnessed the unquestionable cooperative mentality of our local public and private sector which, I believe, will be the driving force behind our town’s recovery.

What do you think has been the biggest impact of Covid on the retail industry?
I don’t think we’ll understand the full impact of Covid until perhaps two years after things level to a ‘settled state’. Until the very last restriction is lifted, we just won’t be able to get enough of an understanding to make accurate and informed forecasts about the future of the industry. I would say, however, that I believe that retail will recover. For example, when the office workers return to Reading, the residential and business developments in town have finished and new tenants moved in – that’s when I think we’ll really be in a position to quantify Covid’s impact.


I strongly believe there are still lots of reasons to be here, in Reading, as an independent business.


I personally feel positive about the future and I would argue that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. We’ve seen a continuation of building, office work and investment in Reading throughout the pandemic. I think that for retail specifically, the longer-term picture will be positive, where business have been able to be flexible and adapt their offering to survive and thrive in challenging times, reinventing themselves and repositioning their offering. I strongly believe there are still lots of reasons to be here, in Reading, as an independent business. At Jacobs, we’ve adapted to restrictions and have actually found new processes which we’ll take forward when things return to ‘normal’, such as online booking specific appointment times for customers. This has worked well to manage social distancing but has also allowed us to better plan and meet customer expectations. We were lucky enough to see a quick return to pre-Covid levels in the time that we were able to open in 2020, so I’m confident and hopeful we’ll see this again – across the whole industry.

What hints / tips / information can you share for other independent businesses, around marketing and innovation?
Marketing and innovation are two vital components in our skill set and have enabled Jacobs to stay relevant and attract new customers over three-quarters of a century. We’ve won awards nationally and locally, recently winning Best Customer Event in 2019’s British Jewellery awards. I always look at the business with three lenses: customers, team and suppliers (I don’t differentiate between offline or online – I believe good practice and habits are applicable to anything):

Customers

  • Know your business inside and out – be able to communicate it succinctly and clearly.
  • Stay close to customers – observe, listen and reflect whenever it’s possible.
  • Test - Quickly, for things that are easy and have low risk. Longer, staying the course for deeper changes – give time to bed in, and ideas a chance to thrive. For us, we have a long buying cycle, almost 5 to 7 years, so our marketing takes that into account in its planning horizon.
  • Know what the crowd is and what trends are, though remember one doesn’t need to follow it – focus on what’s right for your business and your goals.

Team

  • Extend your team by talking with a peer group of similar businesses – they don’t have to be in the same industry as you, they just need similar curious and co-operative mindsets.
  • With any marketing or ideas you have, involve the team – sometimes more, sometimes less, but staff are an organisation’s front line advocates so consider how, when and to what degree to bring them in.

Suppliers

  • Look for good ideas everywhere – suppliers often see things you don’t with other clients and can pass on best practice and ideas.

If you had a best kept secret you’d recommend for other businesses, what it be and why?
It’s not a ‘secret’ as such, but I can’t stress the importance of getting out there and talking to people. Not necessarily in a hardcore-handshake-speed-date way, but it’s more about simply being out and about. Participating in voluntary or business support groups where you have an interest or stake, being yourself, will help forge new connections. You never know where clients will come from, or when. The Reading Business Network is a great example of positive, supportive and likeminded people. Every company struggles with some aspect of their business at some point, so having a good, solid network to reach out to for inspiration and support is vital, particularly during challenges times such as these. Reading is a community, and from what I’ve seen since living and working here, everyone genuinely wants to help each other succeed. Personally, some of the best ideas I’ve had have come from networking and chatting to the local community and businesses – so get out there and have a chat!


I can’t stress the importance of getting out there and talking to people. Participating in voluntary or business support groups where you have an interest or stake, being yourself, will help forge new connections.


What has kept you going during 2020?
Knowing that we had big plans for 2021 which we have been able to put into place (see next question) definitely gave me a feeling of forward momentum – something to aim for and be looking forward to.

What are you most excited about for 2021?
There are three things I’m excited about for the coming year. Firstly, seeing lots of the developments in the town centre and surrounding area either kicking off or completing – couldn’t be better timing to have new and fresh physical aspects to Reading. From a professional point of view, we have just undertaken a huge refurbishment project to the store – our biggest investment in the premises in 15 years. So, I’m very much looking forward to unveiling our new shop front once restrictions ease and we can welcome customers back again. On a more personal note, as a season ticket holder I’m definitely looking forward to seeing if Reading FC’s fantastic form continues and we can manage promotion in the clubs 150th anniversary year.


Adam Jacobs is the Chairman of Reading UK and has worked with us in support of Reading’s Economic Recovery Strategy. More information on Jacobs the Jewellers can be found on its website.

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