Colin Polkington : Nationwide

Colin Pocklington Nationwide Jewellers

The jewel in the crown

With over 35 years in jewellery, Colin  is considered one of the gems of the jewellery industry. The founder and managing director of Nationwide Jewellers looks back at his time in the industry and gives us an insight into the backroom workings behind bringing precious stones to sale.

When Colin Pocklington left university with his degree in business, he had two paths to consider. The first was a job in the public service; one that could offer real stability for a kid just starting out in what could be a ruthless corporate world in waiting. The second offer was with Prouds Jewellers; a household name founded in 1903, whose 72 stores had been acquired by Hooker Corporation in 1971.

“I felt it was good to join a business that was a growing, publicly listed company,” Colin says. “I could put some of my skills to use in computer and implement some of the things I’d learnt.”

Colin is a qualified Chartered Secretary and a Fellow of the CPA, but it was the opportunity to upgrade systems that he was really interested in, although his career was on a particularly fast track.

“Initially I joined Prouds to assist as an accountant and then in about 1985 I became Company Secretary. I joined the Board as a spectator at age 24,” Colin says.

“I was one of the youngest at Board level and it was a great experience. The head of Hooker Corporation was on the Board and I learnt from leaders of industry. In fact, Sir Keith Campbell, the man who recommended floating the dollar once asked f I wanted to move from Prouds to be his assistant.”

Fortunately for the jewellery industry Colin stayed, primarily because he liked working with people and the assistant’s job would have denied him that experience.

It also enabled to implement systems that brought Prouds into the electronic age. Colin was part of the transition from paper to IBM 360 computers. Before that implementation it was not unheard of to find reams of paper lining company floors as accountants and other company officials scoured facts and data and often made mistakes as that data became a blur of numbers.”

Colin was instrumental in the implementation of electronic systems and by the time he left Prouds in 1990, the business was turning over $235 million.

He says he would still be at Prouds if it had not changed ownership to Goldmark Jewellers, and the subsequently to current owners James Pascoe Limited.

“Hooker had done some poor shopping centre deals in the US and went into liquidation in Australia. With a couple of colleagues we formed a buyout team, and raised $55 million but were outbid by Goldmark. So I left and we started Nationwide Jewellers.”

Colin sat down with his colleagues and asked what they could do differently. And while he was aware that there were two buying groups already in existence, he felt they could carve their own niche.

“We started a marketing and buying group for independent and family jewellers and in February 1991 started trading as Nationwide Jewellers.”

Today, Nationwide Jewellers has grown to become the largest marketing and buying group in Australasia, representing over 500 independent jewellery stores.

Colin says that it is exceptionally good business management that is behind the company’s success and this is reflected by the success of the stores Nationwide represents. They have a financial structure that works, sound principles in terms of stock control and a library of resources that members can draw on, including books and papers, with a wealth of valuable advice.

“We did a lot of research into retail when we started Nationwide and this helped us set up our structures. It costs nothing for stores to join, and nothing is compulsory. There is a range of jewellery and business services that our members can select from based on their individual.”

When Nationwide first began, Colin had little inkling that the business would grow as quickly as it did. After 9-12 months, and after so many stores joined so quickly, he and his partners were confident they had the right model and by 1993 had launched in New Zealand.

“The markets are very similar,” Colin says of the foray into international waters. But that foray didn’t stop there. “We also have a relationship with the Independent Jewellers Organisation in the US and they are the largest of this kind of business in the world. We have been liaising with them since 1999 and their issues are the same as our so there is great synergy.”

Nationwide is set up to help small businesses face the challenges of what Colin refers to as the three Ms: money marketing and management.

“We help them in each of those areas. Wide range of materials, we offer interest free to buy merchandise at fairs and trade events and we provide a library of management information that is available to them 24/7 and covers benchmarking and system operations. We also run seminars with some of the best experts in sales, social media, and everything we can think of that a small business needs.”

What really sets Nationwide apart is its recognition of a three-way partnership between the business, its suppliers and the retailers.

“We pay all suppliers on the last day of the month whether we have been paid or not. We do a lot of work with the suppliers in assisting them to present their product to the market. We bring suppliers and retailers together in several buying events. We have about 120 suppliers and they are the most important to the industry. We also have a couple of overseas suppliers of diamonds. One of the biggest things we did in 1999 was introduce our network to suppliers in Antwerp. We take jewellers to Antwerp twice a year to buy diamonds directly from the site holders. Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world; 80% of all diamonds are first traded in this one street, so we are cutting out the middleman.”

Importantly, all suppliers are reputable and comply with the Kimberley Process, mandated by the UN so that no conflict diamonds come into the mix.

Reputation is important in this industry and a bad word can kill a business, however Colin is considered one of the gentlemen of the game and was recognised as such when he was inducted as a life member of the Jewllers Association of Australia.

He is modest about the award. “I appreciated the recognition by the JAA, but my goal is to give something back to the industry, so you don’t look for awards, but as I said it is appreciated.”

Moving forward Nationwide will move with the trends that help independent stores compete with their larger counterparts. Some of the trends coming in are towards more bespoke design and the rising gold prices have seen a shift towards a greater purchase of silver jewellery.

“Sales of gold jewellery have dropped by 75%. Consumers have thus shifted to silver and a lot more silver jewellery brands such as Pandora and Karen Walker are thriving. The other big change started five or six years ago, when more and more consumers wanted to be involved in the selection and design of their diamond jewellery. Jewellers have had to react to that and I think that is a positive change. At Nationwide we have picked up these trends pretty quickly. We introduced design and drawing training for jewellers and we hired the best designer in Australia to help them adapt.”

Colin derives a great deal of enjoyment out of seeing small family jewellers grow and his mission is to continue to help the average retailer get the most out of their business. By continuing to do this, Nationwide will also expand and build its membership base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.


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