LAING, the Edinburgh-based jeweller, is seeking to expand its high street presence after its profits broke the £1 million mark.
The firm, which celebrates its 175th anniversary next year, has two stores in Edinburgh, along with outlets in Cardiff and Southampton, and owner Michael Laing said he was “always looking for the right opportunity” for growth.
“I’m a great believer in not expanding for expansion’s sake, and I don’t want to get over-stretched in some egotistical drive to get loads of extra shops, but I do see lots of opportunities emerging in the future,” he said.
Pre-tax profits at the retailer jumped to £1.03m in the year to February, compared with £729,000 in the previous year, on turnover 19 per cent higher at £12.9m.
As well as “buoyant” demand for diamond jewellery, Laing said the firm has enjoyed strong sales of luxury watches from brands such as Breitling, Omega, Patek Philippe and Rolex, despite the gloom afflicting much of the wider retail sector.
“Everyone is aspirational and watches are enjoying big growth,” he said.
“I reckon it’s because people used to change their car every couple of years – they now run them for five or six years but treat themselves to a good watch in the meantime.
“Years ago, people may just have had one or two watches, but now they build up a collection of five or six. That’s definitely a growing trend.”
Not everyone wants to pay for their bling, however, and in April three watches were stolen from the firm’s Frederick Street store. Laing said such incidences were an “occupational hazard”.
Laing regularly travels to Antwerp in Belgium, the centre of the diamond industry, where more than 80 per cent of the world’s precious stones are traded and cut. The jeweller buys its diamonds direct from the cutters and employs its own craftspeople in Edinburgh and Southampton.
The firm has also been embracing new technology to drive sales, launching an online store at the start of the year and investing in an iPad-based training and development system for its 64 staff.
Laing said: “We cannot generally recruit from the mass market. It’s a bit like a Michelin-starred restaurant trying to recruit from Burger King, but we want to help people grow to help deliver the best customer experience.”
Last year the company appointed former Goldsmiths and Mappin & Webb operations director Jonathan Payne as its first managing director from outside the founding Laing family, and Charlotte Farish, formerly of Turnberry owner Starwood Hotels & Resorts, joined as head of marketing at the start of this year.
Maintaining good working relationships with key brands was “vital”, Laing said, because luxury watchmakers are exerting their power on the retail sector and reducing the number of outlets they supply.
“Instead of one brand having 200 retailers in the UK selling their products, they’re reducing that to maybe 130,” he added.