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Inside Retail: You actually come from a finance background! What made you want to enter a whole new sector and what were some of the great skills that you brought to it?
Irene Deutsch: After I resigned from my last banking role, I started a consulting business, and was actually asked by my partner if I could help him with a couple of small businesses he owned, one of them being Fairfax & Roberts! Our CEO departed not long after I started and I ended up filling in for her and then decided to stay. I now own the business 50/50 with my partner and am loving the change of industry. My 25 year banking career was mostly spent in running Sales & Marketing teams that delivered solutions to high net worth individuals – we deal with those same individuals at Fairfax & Roberts, so that is familiar territory to me, it is just the product that is something new to me. I think that also having the financial background has enabled me to quickly assess what was and wasn’t working and make business improvements.
Inside Retail: What’s it like being at the helm of a retailer with such a great history behind it and aiming to keep it relevant now and into the future?
ID: I deeply respect the heritage Australian brand that we have here and I really feel it is part of our DNA. We have a strong reputation in the market for making high quality, beautiful things and deal with generations of families. I wouldn’t want to disrupt that at all. However, we do have to acknowledge that times change, so what we offer here has a contemporary feel to it, but always with a nod to the classic. And having worked here for over a year now, I can clearly see the absolutely first class quality our workshop produces. I feel with confidence that anyone who walks through our doors and has an engagement ring made here, no matter what the budget, will walk out with something stunning that will last a lifetime.
Inside Retail: Since you’ve worked in the fine jewellery industry, what have been some of the interesting customer insights that you have gathered over time? I imagine that it must be quite an emotional and intimate relationship that you’ve built with so many people over time. Tell me about that.
ID: Yes it’s been interesting – in the banking world, you were discussing how to help people build and protect their wealth, but in a fine jewellery store the purchases are made on 100% emotion. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy seeing the happiness on customer’s faces when they make a purchase here – whether it is a young man buying an engagement ring and planning his proposal, or the couple buying a gift for a wedding anniversary, I really feel this is a place of joy.
Inside Retail: What do you love about working in the jewellery industry?
ID: Well I love being around beautiful things, I love creating beautiful things, but most of all I have to say it is the pure joy that we create. People cry tears of joy in our showroom – that’s pretty special and a lot of people don’t get that in their workplace!
Inside Retail: How has the fine jewellery industry been impacted since Covid hit?
ID: The fine jewellery industry has been part of the phenomenon of increased luxury purchases that we have seen – some call it ‘revenge buying’. I think that is true in some cases, it’s been a tough year for many and they feel like spoiling themselves or their loved ones. A lot of people haven’t been able to travel, so they are splurging on gifts for special anniversaries and birthdays instead. Our customer base is an affluent one, so a lot of them have been fortunate to not have been adversely affected by the pandemic, so we are seeing them make purchases and the purchase of jewellery I think is a display of love in the form of something that will last a long time, which gives comfort to people in these uncertain times.
Inside Retail: You’ve seen a rise in wedding/engagement rings in the past year. What do you think is behind that?
ID: Again, I think a lot of people saw this past year as difficult and so they decided to propose as a way of showing their appreciation for each other and to do something that made them happy in a time of uncertainty. And it was really lovely to be a part of that – for a moment in time to forget all that was wrong with the world and just focus on love and happiness.
Inside Retail: What were the ways that your business pivoted during Covid and what were some of the lessons that you learnt?
ID: I had just started as CEO when we went into lockdown so after the panic subsided, I decided to clear some of our aged stock and bring enough cash in to see us through whatever this pandemic was going to turn out to be. I made a decision to ‘reinvent’ us albeit in a small way. We took the opportunity to renovate, I made and bought fresh new stock, we increased our marketing activity both traditional and digital to let everyone know we were here to stay….I also launched a bespoke luxury homewares line, which has been incredibly well received. I learned that we have a strong and valued brand and as long as you stay relevant to the customer, they will be loyal.