Lofty ambitions and the rapid growth of a formula will not be enough; a company must also be able to ‘read’ the premises it wants to locate its store in and have a feel for what it will need to present its concept optimally in it. Smart operation and organisational choices are vital too. Recognisability in look and feel are always good but predictability or – even worse – boring uniformity have not been the way to attract customers for years now.
My Jewellery started out as an e-commerce seller of jewellery and clothing in 2011 and now has 26 stores that range in size from very small (60 m2 in Ghent) to big (700 m2 in Eindhoven). The company is due to open its first store in Cologne soon. This will probably followed by one in Berlin shortly afterwards because of the recent peak in online orders Sharon Hilgers, the concept’s owner, has seen there as well. “Our growth is data-driven. We follow our customers and respond to what we see.” However, Hilgers is known to follow her emotions too and is definitely not afraid to dream out loud. Expand the business into France? Why not Paris? “I’d love to open a store there. I love France and I used to teach French. But I can imagine opening one in Ibiza too. Our style of jewellery and clothing would go down a storm in Bohemian Ibiza.”
Hilgers credits My Jewellery’s rapid growth to the personal connection customers feel in the company’s stores. “Our stores are inspired by the tone of voice we use in social media and the bond this enables us to achieve with customers”, she says. “Our stores are personal, low-threshold and welcoming and have a local touch too if possible.”
The first My Jewellery store opened in Den Bosch in 2015. “In wonderful little premises that we fitted out with the help of family, friends and acquaintances. From the alarm system to furniture assembly: we did it all ourselves.” Although the stores that followed were prepared in much the same way, My Jewellery eventually set out to find a more professional party that could respond faster and cope with more stores as well. “The successful remote management of a formula’s retail strategy requires a strong, standardised basis and a professional shop fitter. Although each store has its own identity, they all share the same smart, well-thought-out basis. When we found ourselves fitting out more stores, which were often bigger than the ones we’d opened before, we knew the time had come to find an experienced shop fitter partner. One with architectural knowledge and the ability to take every aspect of a project off our hands as well. Every step in the shop fitting process is closely coordinated and we don’t have to worry about a thing.”
We switched to a custom-made approach when My Jewellery found suitable premises in Utrecht in 2015 and started to work with Maarten Huls from MR. STIR architect + planner. As an architect, his remit is to translate what he calls ‘a strong online concept into a physical store’. It was his idea to create an island in every store – however big or small – to showcase jewellery (the company’s core business) on. “This ensures that these products stand out wherever you are in a store. The great thing about an island is that you can walk all the way around it, like you would if you were browsing in a little store or on a website. Translating a certain feel into shop fittings is a continuous quest for us; we’re always trying to refine this. No two premises are ever the same and every store presents us with different challenges. Although standardisation and recognisability are important to us, our main aim is for each store to have its own unique feel.”
When My Jewellery bought premises in Nijmegen in 2020, we decided to work with Bulsink. We sat down together to see if we could achieve more standardisation and identify ways to create a modular system. Maarten Huls: “We work with modules, take care of all big-material engineering and, as Sharon has already said, every step in the store build/fitting process now takes place simultaneously. Buying in bulk and implementing processes faster allows us to really crack on and get the job done.”
The architect and Bulsink work together on each new store, before, during and after it opens. “We complement each other, spar with each other and aren’t afraid to say what’s going well and what isn’t”, says Maarten Huls. “We put our heads together to identify the best solutions and find that this is really effective. Everything starts with the careful selection of premises by Sharon Hilgers herself. Bulsink and I start to get involved afterwards.
Every space is different and the challenge is to make sure that each new store has its own unique concept. Because that’s what customers notice and that’s the surprise we want to give them. Bulsink looks at options from a structural point of view, while I think about how to make concept ideas work in a new space. Even though we’ve opted for our stores to be recognisable, they should never be boring. Our job is to turn ideas into amazing store interiors.” Sharon agrees that surprising customers is the number one challenge in today’s retail landscape. “Innovation and creativity are the basis for My Jewellery’s success, not only in the products we sell but also in the approach we take to our stores.”
For Bulsink, My Jewellery is an interesting client. “As a general contractor, we have to make sure the concept works in each unique space and on budget too”, says Christel van Weelden, Retail Account Manager at Bulsink. “With a recognisable design, shop fittings and light lines. The search for qualitative, affordable and surprising solutions for this client really is a joint effort: we create a fitting team made up of preferred parties we know we can rely on and work well with. The advantage we have is our in-depth knowledge of the client – in this case, My Jewellery.”
There wouldn’t seem to be an end in sight for the company’s growth at the moment, nationally or internationally. Fifteen new stores opened last year alone, each with its own identity. So, it’s crucial to be well-organised operationally. For stores abroad, Bulsink is able to offer My Jewellery with a service of a different kind: help with legislation and planning permission. Sharon Hilgers: “We’re encountering new challenges abroad now, where things works differently than they do in the Netherlands. So, it’s good to know we’re working with a partner with valuable international experience of retail build projects.”