By Olivia Quiniquini
Thomas Sabo chalks up a number of firsts to maintain his brand’s edge in a changing market
For Thomas Sabo, it all began with silver. His enthusiasm for the metal led the Austrian citizen to complete an apprenticeship to become a precision mechanic. In the 1980s, he focused more intensively on silver jewellery, sourcing items from Asia and selling them in Germany, thereby laying the foundations of his company. His eponymous brand was launched in 1984, revolutionising the market by setting new standards in high-quality branded jewellery in sterling silver. A visionary who pursues his ideas in a single-minded and passionate manner, Sabo continues to push the boundaries of the jewellery business as founder, managing director and chairman of a global lifestyle company that creates jewellery, watches and beauty products. This year, the brand has been chalking up a number of firsts – opening its first flagship store outside Europe at the Westfield World Trade Center in New York, incorporating diamonds into its iconic designs for the first time, and actively courting greater wholesale business with the appointment of key executives in the US and the Asia Pacific region. Thomas Sabo (TS) shares with SILVERSTYLES (SS) his vision for the brand and his thoughts on the changing world.
SS: How did the Thomas Sabo brand come about?
TS: I have always been fascinated by jewellery, especially when styled by interesting people in a way that shows their character. My personal interest in jewellery was nurtured and manifested during my early years of travel. Filled with impressions and ideas, I decided to start selling jewellery; with a fairly small initial investment, I visited fairs and sold jewellery from a suitcase filled with products. I grew the business by firmly adhering to the principle of reinvesting previous profits, a strategy that has always proven right for my brand. Once I had established my company from scratch and built it into an international business, the next step was to introduce branding to the silver market. Back then, the concept of “high-end jewellery made from sterling silver with a dedication to the finest quality in design” was very new so it was both a challenge to establish the brand and an opportunity to create a new niche in the market.
SS: What is your vision for your brand?
TS: My vision for Thomas Sabo has always been simple but smart: work hard on good ideas as well as designs and offer products that meet our customers’ styling preferences and enhance their personal look, whether male or female, young or old, conservative or fashionable. In terms of the branding, product creation and development process, we are committed to delivering an exceptional degree of creativity and upholding outstanding quality standards at affordable prices.
SS: How do you position Thomas Sabo in the branded silver field?
TS: Thomas Sabo offers premium jewellery and watches, produced with a commitment and love for detail for every design or new interpretation of our iconic design codes. Above all, we are authentic. In launching new jewellery and watch designs twice a year, we also ensure we are aligned with the latest RTW trends. Our commitment to quality, innovative designs and product icons have helped establish our name in the branded silver field – upholding these has earned us recognition and acceptance. Our authenticity and innovation set us apart from the many brands in the silver industry today.
SS: What do you like about silver?
TS: To me, silver is a fascinating material. Its sheer facets are endless, depending on how the surface is being designed, moulded or handcrafted.
SS: What is the design language of Thomas Sabo and how has this evolved through the years?
TS: There is no one single Thomas Sabo style. The universe of Thomas Sabo offers a broad variety of styles through our individual collections serving different customers’ requirements for every occasion. The foundation of our brand though is the love for detail in every creation, the craftsmanship involved in the production of the pieces and the dedication to provide an emotional product the wearer can relate to. What has changed over the years is the way in which consumers shop. More men now believe in the power of accessories and, in the last few years, have become much more open to wearing jewellery. It is also more common now for people to buy jewellery and watches for themselves, as opposed to receiving these as gifts. In terms of materials, we have adapted to the times and introduced 18-karat rose and yellow gold-plating, gemstones and, most recently, diamonds.
SS: Your brand has several signature lines such as Glam and Soul, the Rebel at Heart range for men, the Karma Beads line of filigree beads and of course the ever-popular Charm Club. What are your greatest crowd-drawers?
TS: Fortunately, all our product categories and lines each have top sellers that are popular globally. These could be Love Bridge bracelets that can be personalised, our iconic Rebel at Heart skulls’ interpretations or bead bracelets, falcons, the highly emotional Together or Infinity series or the Country Charms. We have found that the best-selling items vary from country to country and depend largely on each market’s taste.
SS: You’ve rolled out a lot of new products these last few months, most of them sporting a Bohemian feel. Your Love Bridge series encourages personalisation through engraving while your Dreamcatcher collection is as free-spirited as they come. Is this your design direction moving forward?
TS: The desire to personalise special items and make memories last forever has become more imminent in these times of political, economic and social upheavals. To be able to create a truly personal and bespoke piece for our customers is to add extra value to their purchase. Giving or receiving personalised jewellery, which is by far the most emotional gift available, is so much more special. It adds value to the exchange, whether through a spiritual note or a meaningful personal caption. It is essential to provide customers with that extra bit of service. If you want to have loyal customers, you have to go the extra mile.
SS: The branded silver jewellery field is quite crowded with players such as Pandora, David Yurman and John Hardy among others. What is your competitive edge?
TS: We offer products of outstandingly high design and material quality. We constantly surprise the market with new ideas and are always service-oriented towards both our customers and our partners. Furthermore, we have the ability to move and act fast, and we really love to reinvent ourselves. We guarantee ultimately high levels of dedication and service as well as a diverse landscape of products that speaks for itself.
SS: Thomas Sabo currently has over 310 owned-and-operated points of sale and some 2,800 trade partners. What are your growth targets, particularly as other silver jewellery brands have grown much faster in shorter periods of time?
TS: As a medium-sized company, we focus on expanding in a healthy manner. Our objective is to always remain a stable player in the industry as well as to continue to be a trusted and well-respected partner for our jewellers. We are opening up new markets like the US, have relaunched our travel retail business globally and are concentrating on expanding in the Asia Pacific region as well as growing our business in areas we have not tapped into before, such as Italy and the Middle East.
SS: What markets are doing well for you and where else would you like to be?
TS: In terms of historic importance, our home market of Germany is essential. In terms of growth, both for brand awareness and for sales, the focus will be on the Asia Pacific region, the Middle East, continental Europe and the UK. The development of our own retail is an important element of our sustainable growth concept. It is the ideal place to test and verify a product concept, to understand a certain region and its customers’ tastes.
SS: What distribution channels are you relying on for growth?
TS: A thorough expansion strategy depends on a thorough understanding of our different sales channels. Our expansion strategy is based on a multi-channel distribution concept and our shops are critical components of this concept because they help to promote brand awareness. Aside from our Thomas Sabo stores and 2,800 wholesale partners, our online shop and travel retail partners are also important parts of our business. But ultimately, understanding the landscape of a market or region in which you wish to expand and acting accordingly is of the essence.
SS: The Thomas Sabo brand has been showing greater interest in the wholesale market of late. What are your plans for this sector?
TS: Wholesale has always played a major role in our multi-channel distribution concept. However, times are changing and it is now more than ever the time to set the right path for the future of our wholesale business. We have to identify the correct partners, work on a special branded environment and train the sales staff so they are the best representatives of our brand in whichever environment they are in. The ultimate goal is to offer products of outstanding quality but combine the shopping experience with outstanding service. For this purpose, we have created an online-based Wholesale Training Academy, which will support our wholesalers and their staff.
SS: How has business been this year?
TS: We are performing according to expectations. Business is good; it is specifically driven by the performance of our own retail and B2C business. In order to maintain this performance, we must constantly stay on top of trends in consumer behaviour and analyse ourselves as well as our partners. Looking ahead, the focus will be on expanding our reach in market segments such as travel retail and online retailers while also growing our existing business by achieving a very good conversion rate and increasing our ATV (Average Transaction Value).
SS: What challenges do silver jewellery brands face nowadays?
TS: The challenge is to understand consumer desires and provide the right kind of product for the right target group at an attractive price point. Ever since we started to build up the brand, our basic elements have always been great designs and largely handcrafted products made of sterling silver and adorned with zirconia stones and embellishments. The world has changed a lot in recent years. Our sales are affected not only by economic factors but also political developments such as the recent spate of terrible acts of terror. In such times of uncertainty and fear, it is even more important to offer comfort through value, whether through special materials or service to our customers. As a brand, we have had to overcome unusual obstacles these last few years. We had to deal with unstable economic environments such as the downturn in Spain and southern Europe. Retail has been affected by the Paris terrorist attacks in November that impacted negatively on urban shopping and tourism. There is also the challenge of reduced footfalls in cities due to growing online shopping demand.
SS: What are some of the most gratifying moments you’ve had as founder, managing director and chairman of Thomas Sabo?
TS: I am grateful for the career I am enjoying and I am still extremely passionate about what my colleagues and I are achieving every day for the brand. It is very rewarding to see that the initial idea of introducing branded sterling silver jewellery to the market paid off and that I have a great team of employees accompanying me on this journey. Having experienced the global expansion of the brand, the development of our iconic Charm Club, the introduction of new product categories is great and exciting, but it is best to know that we are all dedicated and committed to more. A truly great moment came about last year when we inaugurated the new international headquarters of Thomas Sabo here in Lauf an der Pegnitz, Germany. The idea was to offer a workspace where the creativity and energy Thomas Sabo stands for would be constantly nurtured by working more closely together – seeing this come to fruition is extremely gratifying.
SS: What is your advice to companies that are seeking to create their own silver jewellery brand?
TS: The development of our brand has been a long and sometimes also painstaking process. We didn’t enter the market with a “big bang” but did so sustainably, with dedication, motivation and ensuring we were always analytical and taking things step by step. The same strategy applies to our sales expansion and this is why Thomas Sabo is a healthy and independent company today. Diligence, dedication as well as a bit of luck may be the secrets of our success.
SS: What can we expect from Thomas Sabo in the years to come?
TS: We will continue to expand our business geographically, with a dedicated focus on the development of our international distribution channels. Product development or capitalising on our product category management will also play an increasingly vital role in this strategy. Personally, I am looking forward to several shop openings, be it shops in mainland China or the flagship stores in New York City and our home town, Nuremberg.
SS: If you weren’t in the jewellery business, what would you be doing?
TS: I have always been interested in furniture and interior design. I really like the Art Deco style of the 1920s. Maybe this is an area or opportunity I could look into, but only in private and on my own time.