FLOGGING diamond rings would seem a million miles from the world of surveying. Yet the skills picked up by the co-founder of Scottish jewellery chain Rox in his previous life are proving their worth as the business presses ahead with its expansion plans, writes Scott Reid.
Kyron Keogh and fellow fortysomething business partner Grant Mitchell founded Rox in 2002 after following quite different career paths.
While Keogh started out in London as a graduate surveyor with one of the big property consultancies before moving to Hong Kong to work as a management consultant, Mitchell studied “gemology” and jewellery in Glasgow and spent time running a stall in London’s trendy Camden Market.
Ten years on and Rox boasts four stores – three in Glasgow, one in Aberdeen – plus a fast-growing dotcom business, with an overall turnover projected to top £10 million in the current financial year.
Just days from now, the shutters are set to go up on a fifth emporium for all things sparkling, providing the firm with a presence in Edinburgh’s newly redeveloped Assembly Rooms. The culmination of a £1m investment in fitting, fixtures and stock, the new outlet will incorporate its own Champagne bar, sponsored by Laurent Perrier, and a VIP “thrill room” – a private shopping lounge that has become something of a trademark for the brand.
Keogh says his property background has helped with the firm’s physical push into new territories, while his previous involvement in a software venture has made him “obsessive” with keeping the Rox website up to speed.
Web-derived sales now account for about 15 per cent of trade – a high figure for the jewellery industry – and the company has invested heavily in the past year in both its existing internet store and an “m-commerce” application to serve the growing numbers of shoppers using smartphones and tablets.
“We are shipping an average of about 400 parcels a week from the website,” says Keogh. “It’s crucial our website ties in with what is happening in the shops. There has to be a seamless operation.
“We also recognise that many customers want to do research via the web, particularly when they are making an investment in something like a diamond engagement ring.”
Keogh’s wide-ranging skillset is likely to prove invaluable as Rox embarks on the next phase of its expansion, which is certain to involve a push south of the Border, perhaps even in London.
“We have been very cautious operators to date and don’t want to overstretch ourselves,” stresses Keogh. “But if this latest store proves to be a success for us, we plan to open a shop a year. Our long-term goal is to get to 20 stores.
“We could maybe manage one more shop in Scotland, but as we are essentially a city centre brand, the key locations for us would be Manchester, Leeds, even London. We have the infrastructure in place and the business is properly scalable.”
For the time being. Keogh is keen to talk more about the forthcoming Edinburgh store launch, which is set to bring a number of additional brands to the fold, including Hublot, described by the Rox co-owner as “one of the coolest watch brands in the world right now”. The new branch will also create 14 jobs.
“We had been eyeing a shop in Edinburgh for several years, but the key for us is getting the right location,” he says. “When we heard that the Assembly Rooms was being refurbished and saw what they had planned we decided to go for it – it just felt right. We are pushing for a mix of hospitality and retail, bringing something a bit more theatrical and different to the city.”
Since opening in Glasgow’s historic Argyll Arcade – home to more than 30 jewellers and diamond merchants – the business has built its reputation on diamond engagement rings. Mitchell had established the Lewis Grant/Antwerp Diamond Company in the same city centre location in 1993.
Rox has gone on to build up a portfolio of luxury brands as well as launching its own branded products. While some diamond rings sell for tens of thousands of pounds, simpler fashion pieces start at around a tenner.
The luxury goods market has proven more resistent to the economic downturn than many analysts had expected, with retailers operating in tourist hotspots such as Edinburgh cashing in on increasingly affluent Asian visitors.
Rox is taking on an international sales manager who can speak Cantonese and Mandarin to help maximise that Far East sales potential. “Some Chinese visitors will come over to the UK, stay in a budget hotel but spend thousands on a shopping spree,” he says.
Ten years on and Rox’s founders talk proudly about having built up a strong brand, one that can differentiate itself from a sea of competitors.
“Everyone asks why we launched into such a crowded marketplace,” reflects Keogh. “A decade ago, you had discount and luxury jewellery retailers but nobody really sitting in the middle.
“I once went to London’s Bond Street to get my wife a Valentine’s gift and wandered into a shop where the door almost creaked, everyone just looked at me, there was no music, no welcoming atmosphere. It was a very stuffy experience and I thought, ‘We can do better than this’.
“We spotted a gap in the market to create a contemporary, exciting shopping environment where the products were still affordable and the retailer could provide a great experience.”
And the name? “Grant’s mum came up with that one,” laughs Keogh.
“We were bouncing some ideas around and it was short and memorable and has that obvious connotation with diamonds. At the time every other jeweller comprised two names or the family title. It allowed us to stand out from the crowd. We feel proud when we see someone walking down the street with a Rox bag.”
Born: City of London.
Education: Berkhamsted School and De Montfort University
Ambition while at school: I always wanted to be a pilot.
First job: Chartered surveyor.
Kindle or book: Definitely book.
Can’t live without: Double espressos to keep me going.
Car you drive: BMW.
What makes you angry:
Poor customer service.
Best thing about your job: Beautiful diamonds, amazing luxury watches and meeting interesting people every day.
Favourite holiday destination: Mallorca – we spend time there every summer.
Favourite music: The Who.