As Australia's oldest jewellery house celebrates 165 years, MD Irene Deutsch reveals lessons in managing the heritage brand from cashflow and manufacturing to partnerships and managing teams.
To put things bluntly - managing an iconic heritage brand is a unique and challenging endeavour. The challenge is the delicate balance between honouring the brand's legacy while adapting to the ever-evolving demands of the modern market.
Lesson 1: Starting amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
The first lesson presented the challenges of working through the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking on the management of the business during the Covid-19 pandemic presented unique and valuable learning opportunities! Navigating through the uncertainties of a global crisis required adaptability, resilience, and resourcefulness. It taught the importance of contingency planning, staying agile, and finding innovative ways to connect with both my customers and my team.
I mobilised the sales and marketing teams and very quickly ensured our e-commerce offering was up to scratch. I then decided to have a full storewide sale – unprecedented for our brand, but at this stage I was unsure how long this pandemic would last and I wanted to ensure we had enough cash in the bank to last us if that was what was needed. We emailed customers and advertised in the newspapers (which everyone was reading whilst locked down at home!). Of course the sale was really well received and we sold the majority of our jewellery in a short period of time!
Lesson 2: Learning about the intricacies of the jewellery industry
I had never worked in the jewellery industry and had no knowledge about gemstones, precious metals, manufacturing processes, or the overall design operations. Of course I was surrounded by an experienced and knowledgeable team, however it was very important that I personally developed an understanding of the nuances of jewellery craftsmanship, quality control, and industry trends as this was crucial for maintaining the brand's reputation and delivering exceptional products to customers. Continuously expanding knowledge about the industry helped me make informed decisions and stay ahead of the competition.
Lesson 3: Transferring skills
When I took over Fairfax & Roberts, I had just completed a 25 year career working in some of the largest investment and trading banks. Fortunately, for the majority of my career I held roles managing Sales and Marketing teams, so I trusted my gut and leveraged all of my transferable skills. I saw that applying financial acumen to retail operations and customer-focused strategies led to improved efficiency, profitability, and customer satisfaction.
Lesson 4: Managing a smaller team and running a small business
I think working in a small business was the most difficult transition to make. Not only did I have to become intimately involved in all aspects of the business, with a smaller-scaled support network than I was used to, but the mindset of changing from ‘large corporate’ to ‘small business’ is an enormous one. It teaches the importance of effective delegation, wearing multiple hats, and fostering a collaborative and cohesive team environment. While I felt and continue to feel a huge sense of responsibility to make it work, I am so grateful to work alongside a small team which I now call my ‘family’.
Lesson 5: Know what you don't know
Being new in so many ways, it was (and still is) crucial to recognize and acknowledge the areas where you may lack expertise. Being aware of what I didn’t know allowed me to seek guidance, advice, and support from industry experts, consultants, and mentors. I learned that embracing a humble and learning-oriented mindset opens up opportunities for growth, skill development, and making informed decisions.
Lesson 6: Build a team of experts around you
I have always been of the belief that it is essential to surround yourself with a diverse team of experts who bring different perspectives, skills, and experiences to the table. I have most of the original team still with me, with a couple of additions – and I lean on all of them to help me make decisions. We act as one, we solve problems together and manage the business as a team. This helps me make the right decisions more often, but it also provides the team with a sense of ownership which I hope is rewarding for them. Collaborating with outside specialists in the areas where we need them also ensures a well-rounded approach to managing the brand and enables innovation and growth.
Lesson 7: Cultivating constant curiosity
My personality style presents a continuous thirst for knowledge. Being constantly curious encourages exploration, experimentation, and embracing new ideas. It allows for staying ahead of the curve, adapting to changes, and identifying opportunities for the brand's evolution and expansion.
Lesson 8: Authenticity is paramount
When managing a heritage brand, authenticity becomes the cornerstone of success. Customers are drawn to these brands because of their rich history and the values they represent. It is crucial to stay true to the brand's heritage and maintain its core identity. By preserving the authenticity of the brand, we ensure that it remains relevant and resonates with both existing and new generations.
Lesson 9: Balancing tradition with innovation
An iconic heritage brand often faces the challenge of staying relevant in a rapidly changing world. While tradition and heritage are vital, embracing innovation is equally necessary. It is crucial to strike a balance between honouring the brand's roots and adopting new ideas, and strategies. Embracing innovation enables the brand to remain competitive and appeals to a wider customer base without compromising its heritage. Finding this equilibrium ensures the brand's longevity and continued success.
Lesson 10: Listening to the customers
A brand is nothing without its customers, and their feedback is invaluable. Engaging with customers, understanding their needs, and listening to their opinions is vital for managing an iconic heritage brand. Customer feedback provides insights into evolving preferences and helps identify areas of improvement. By actively incorporating customer input into our decision-making process, we strengthen the bond between the brand and its loyal patrons. It also allows us to develop products and experiences that align with their desires, ultimately driving brand loyalty and growth.
Consumer behaviors and preferences evolve over time, and managing an iconic heritage brand demands the ability to adapt and respond to these changes. It is essential to stay informed about market trends, consumer insights, and emerging technologies. By embracing digital platforms, e-commerce, and social media, heritage brands can reach wider audiences while maintaining their core values and unique offerings.
Lesson 11: Storytelling is a powerful tool
An iconic heritage brand has a wealth of stories to tell. The brand's history, the people associated with it, and the unique craftsmanship behind its products all contribute to its narrative. Telling these stories in a compelling way not only reinforces the brand's heritage but also fosters an emotional connection with customers. Through storytelling, we bring the brand to life, captivating audiences and creating lasting memories. By leveraging the power of storytelling, we forge deeper connections and foster a sense of pride and loyalty among consumers.
Lesson 12: Collaboration and partnerships
Collaborating with other brands, artists, and influencers can breathe new life into an iconic heritage brand. Strategic partnerships offer opportunities for creative synergies, innovative product developments, and captivating marketing campaigns. By aligning with like-minded entities, heritage brands can tap into new markets, expand their reach, and generate fresh interest in their offerings.
Leadership is a constant challenge of navigating complexities and embracing change. Heritage brands have the added responsibility to honour history whilst adapting to ensure a bright future. It’s a constant work in progress, however it’s a real career privilege - and there’s many lessons that I’ll certainly never forget!