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On the shop floor with……the Boodles managing director Michael Wainwright

Sitting in his office above his glitzy store on Bond Street Michael Wainwright ponders the next move for the 210-year old family firm of jewellers which he jointly runs with his brother Nicholas. He reckons the business is now at a crossroads.

GENERAL MERCHANDISE

On the shop floor with……the Boodles managing director Michael Wainwright

Sitting in his office above his glitzy store on Bond Street Michael Wainwright ponders the next move for the 210-year old family firm of jewellers which he jointly runs with his brother Nicholas. He reckons the business is now at a crossroads.

This is partly down to this particular store, which opened in June 2007, because it has played a major role in helping transform the company from what Wainwright describes as an “archetypal county jeweller, with nice shops” to a luxury goods brand with a presence on one of the world's most prestigious streets.

“The landscape has changed, three years ago we were looking at UK cities like Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh but now it's New York, Moscow and Shanghai. But we need to see how much desire there is for this from our family members,” he says.

There is also the potential for gaining an international presence closer to home, which is why Boodles is due to host a couple of dinner parties in Monte Carlo this year to

help gauge the potential demand for the brand in the country.

Such grand plans are a far cry from 15 years ago when Wainwright says he and Nicholas set the “wheels in motion” for developing the business beyond its base of three shops in the North West of England. The start of its transformation was the opening of the company's first shop in London (there are now four), which has been followed by a Dublin unit that in 2006 that has taken the portfolio to eight outlets with a combined turnover of 45 million.

Another major factor in the development of Boodles, and the key move in its progression from a regional jewellery business to a brand was the decision to design all its own products in-house. “From a company selling 80 per cent bought-in we shifted it to the point five years ago where we could exit entirely from selling third-party brands. Now everything is produced in-house, which has made us a genuine brand,” explains Wainwright.

Its core product is diamond-set jewellery with prices ranging from 500 to 500,000 (of which there are two such items in stock at any one time), with its bread and butter, according to Wainwright, falling between the 3,000 and 30,000 level.

To highlight the capabilities of its design team Boodles recently launched its 'Wonderland' collection of 14 unique pieces worth a total of 1.7 million. “They will be on show in all our shops and we expect to sell them all. They've been made without regard to cost,” he says.

'Wonderland' fits in with Boodles' objective of creating a buzz around its products and using this as a way into the pages of glossy magazines - through a combination of advertising and PR.

The company spends seven per cent of turnover on marketing, which Wainwright says is high for a “county” jeweller but low compared with the 10 to 12 per cent that is typically spent by the large luxury goods companies such as Hermes, Gucci and Cartier. “There is a correlation between success and advertising and PR. Our shoppers like to see their jewellery worn by well known people,” he says.

These shoppers have typically been British and include directors of FTSE 100 companies, which Wainwright describes as Boodles' best customers. But through the Bond Street store he is hoping to also attract an international clientele - and that this will pave the way for the company to make its first move overseas.

To help it ease its way into this new world the company has been using the expertise of brand development agency Walford Wilkie, which many employees initially thought was a questionable move. But Wainwright says they have been won over as the company has helped create “some outstanding advertising” for Boodles including its ongoing campaign that uses the word Boodle as a verb.

Another unpopular move was the radical step in 2004 of changing the company's name from Boodle & Dunthorne to simply Boodles: “People thought it was cutting off the founders but we're now very contemporary (take a look at the interior of the Bond Street store for proof) and Boodles is a good name. Only three people voted for the change, me, my brother and my nephew. But now most people think it was a good move.”

The move to Bond Street, from Regent Street, was also clearly a very good move. Partly because Wainwright says it sends the right message to opinion formers and editors of publications. “It shows journalists that we are in the big league with a unique looking shop. And while Regent Street's footfall was greater it was not the right people compared with those who walk down Bond Street.”

Created by renowned architect Eva Jiricna the store has also helped push the company into the sightlines of financiers and Wainwright says he gets approached by private equity firms on a constant basis. But he has little interest in selling up.

“I've had three approaches in the last 10 days. We're regarded as a trophy so are on a relatively high rating. But I'm not interested because we enjoy running the business and don't want to sell. I've 12-year-old twins and we talk around the dining table about them moving into the business,” he says.

This is a serious issue for such a company that is now under fifth generation ownership because Wainwright like others in his position is very reluctant to be the “one who sells the family silver”. As it is it looks unlikely that he will take this route as he maintains that the family is not materialistic so holiday homes around the world are not at the top of his must-have list.

Of more concern at the present time for Wainwright is battling through the downturn. Although trading in London remains strong, he admits that outside the capital things are proving a little “more tricky”.

He adds: “We're battening down the hatches and the wheels are still on. I had lunch with a property chap, lots of them are our customers, and they are depressed. Christmas will be the acid test because if a chap earns a good salary then he might still spend 5,000 on jewellery. But we'll have to see.”

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