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Argento founder and chief executive Pete Boyle is flying the flag for retail evolution

Argento founder and chief executive Pete Boyle is flying the flag for retail evolution, with £1 million investment being placed in fresh retail locations and a fashion-forward concept for its estate of stores. He tells Professional Jeweller about his plans for new UK stores and giving customers what they want.

If you want a job done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself. In the very least, this has become the motto of choice at multiple jewellery retailer Argento.

Founded by Pete Boyle in 1997, Argento now boasts a fleet of 40 jewellery shops in Ireland and the UK, and more than 300 members of staff. It recently revealed plans to place £1 million of self-funding into seven new store locations, as well as the introduction of a fresh interior design concept to be rolled out across its stores, dreamed up in-house.

Speaking with Boyle it is clear that he is a man for whom only the best will do. When it comes to his business every decision is meticulously considered. The recent investment in seven new stores, for example, coincides perfectly with the number of Argento shop leases coming to an end. Boyle explains that a fall in rents means that Argento has the opportunity to upgrade many of its existing stores, even those that are already trading well where they are. “Many of stores that we’re in are about 300sqft, but upgrading them to 1,000sqft with the new concept we’re implementing is actually a much better deal [than some of the current leases],” he explains. “The new stores will be in a mix of mall locations and high street —we’ve just opened in the Kennedy Centre [in Belfast] and on the high street we are upgrading our store in Ballymena without paying any more rent.”

ROOM FOR MORE

Is Argento planning to take on more brands with its increased square footage? Boyle remains coy in his reply, but he does suggest that the upgraded space will create more room for Argento’s current portfolio of designer jewellery brands, alongside its own silver and costume collections. “Brands’ expectations have gone up and they want more space,” he says. “Our little stores are not suited to that multi-brand environment so now we can give these brands a much better split [in terms of presence].”

While Pandora and Nomination remain key brands for Argento (especially in Ireland), Boyle says he has certainly recognised a number of brands on the rise. The retailer has had a particularly strong start with US stacking charm bangle brand Alex & Ani, which offers spirituality-themed bracelets with RRPs upwards of £20.

Argento has also introduced a number of house collections, including costume jewellery brand Dirty Ruby – think crystal embellished bib necklaces; Karma, a collectible brass range of jewellery featuring engraved messages; and its own silver collection of pendants, earrings and intricate openwork rings. “Silver is coming back strong,” Boyle asserts. “We have been selling our own brand of silver very well, with Pandora encouraging silver sales in terms of men buying gifts.”

Interest in fashion-led jewellery has also encouraged Argento to widen its offer, with Boyle taking on Michael Kors watches in response to growing demand in Ireland in particular. “We’ve never really been a watch company to be honest as we find the margins too tight,” he says. “But there are really hot watch brands [out there].”

Michael Kors watches will join the line up at Argento’s Belfast store, with Boyle hoping that the brand will enter a further four Argento branches in Northern Ireland in the coming months.

THE ARGENTO PERSONALITY

If there is one element of this new retail push Boyle is particularly keen to focus on, it is the development of the Argento name and personality. He hopes that through presenting stores with the new layout and decorative elements, the Argento name will become as memorable and coveted by customers as the designer brands already held in store.

“With the jewellery brands’ furniture dominating our space we felt it was time to take our part of the store and make it stand out,” Boyle explains. “Clean floors and white ceilings and walls weren’t an option — we have added character to the bits of the shops we can control, adding the Argento stamp that we hope will be nice and strong.”

Part of this stamp of personality is a grey and yellow colour scheme, eye-catching personalised neon Argento signage, on-trend industrial lighting and moodboard-inspired cabinet displays, combining jewellery with fashion editorial images and colour swatches. The stores also pay homage to the company’s Belfast roots, with wood taken from an old gym hall in the city, Belfast red brick walls and cabinets in a statement yellow hue — the same colour as the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes dotted across Belfast’s skyline. “We hope the design sits in line with clothing and fashions stores,” Boyle says. “We’re pleased and very proud of what we have achieved.”

The decision to place more emphasis on the Argento name also comes as the brand evolves its work with Pandora. Argento operates a dozen Pandora franchise stores but with the Danish brand launching more owned and operated concept stores — some in the same towns as existing Argento jewellery stores stocking Pandora — a number of Argento premises are facing a future without the brand in store.

Boyle explains that in the next 12 months, Argento Doncaster and Leicester will be refurbished and will then trade without Pandora. This, he says, will be the true test of Argento’s power as a stand-alone brand of its own.

“For Argento to progress further we will have to find stores that will work without Pandora because ultimately we know Pandora has a strategy to go towards concept stores,” Boyle notes. “So, the first test will be to see whether we can make the Argento store work without stocking the Pandora brand. and to build on that foundation.”

While Boyle concedes that operating without Pandora will be a test, he says Argento will find out quickly whether or not its new store concept works. Pandora will of course remain a close partner of Argento, and Boyle asserts that the brand will still be very much a part of Argento’s offer.

GIVING CUSTOMERS WHAT THEY WANT

For Boyle, the secret to Argento’s success has been to move with the times and react to what its customers want, be that brands or costume jewellery, both of which it has embraced with collections designed in house and from up-and-coming jewellery brands such as Hipanema, Alex and Ani, DuePunti and Astra.

For Argento, moving with fashion trends has also impacted its online presence, and part of the £1 million investment will be spent on improving the Argento website in terms of its graphic design and functionality.

The retailer has already added fresh visuals to the site, a process driven by Boyle’s wife Ciara Denvir, who has joined the team as creative director; something Boyle says has helped boost its digital appearance in the past 12 months.

Up-coming are a number of photoshoots featuring jewellery sold by Argento, which Boyle says will help boost its fashion credentials even further.

The investment online will also be channelled into improving search engine optimisation (SEO), as Argento moves funds away from pay per click (PPC) marketing based on key brand names and into raising awareness of the Argento name, in line with its plans for its bricks-and-mortar stores. “We’re cutting back on PPC as we need people to be searching for Argento,” Boyle says. “So, if we’re doing anything in the next 12 months, it’s focusing on Argento as paying for someone else’s traffic using their brand name means a short term gain but has no long term value [for the Argento name].”

Of course, no retailer can be successful without making sales, and Boyle has recognised a clear development in what customers seek from his type of fashion-led, entry- to-mid-market level of jewellery retailing. The main thing has been a marked improvement in not only the amount customers are willing to spend, but the size of the pieces they want. “That’s why we do costume jewellery, as you can’t make big silver jewellery any more but people still want big [designs],” he says. One brand that Boyle and his team are particularly excited about is Hipanema, the trendsetting French brand that he discovered while on holiday in the south of France. It offers woven cuffs in the style of plaited friendship bracelets, embellished with shells, crystals, chains and coins. He forecasts big things for Hipanema in the UK, recognising that it has caught the attention of other retailers, alongside fashion stores such as TopShop and Asos.

While some retailers are daunted by the fast-pace of fashion jewellery and the changeable tastes of trend-led consumers, Boyle won’t let Argento sit still, even hinting at plans to open more stores in England in the coming years.

In fact, Boyle confirms exactly why his chain of jewellery retail stores continues to set the benchmark for others: “It’s about changing, all the time.”