Shop Local: St Albans jewellery stores owner reveals: ‘This Christmas is essential’

Jago Jewellers in St Albans.

Jago Jewellers in St Albans. - Credit: Archant

Personal contact is at the heart of the jewellery trade, which means the coronavirus restrictions have hit hard for local retailers.

Galio Jewellers in St Albans.

Galio Jewellers in St Albans. - Credit: Archant

Sarah Gillow, owner of Galio and Jago Jewellers in George Street and Market Place respectively, explained how they have had to change the way they work in the wake of the pandemic.

“Jago previously had an open door policy. We now have to have a buzzer to control numbers and ensure social distancing. It’s hard to enforce as it is not what our clients are used to. Also because we have to quarantine repairs for 72 hours before doing anything it’s hard to manage expectation on lead times. People have to wait for everything including watch batteries and straps.

“Some clients feel anxious wearing a mask and serving someone for period of time is difficult for us and them. Typically at Galio we are with people 90 minutes and it can be hard to develop a connection with people without seeing their faces.”

With their stone suppliers unable to travel internationally, the availability of new products is also affected.

She says consumer uncertainty is the biggest challenge both shops are facing this year.

“People feel like the Government‘s goal posts are continually changing. They don’t know how the future will pan out financially and health wise.

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“Business has been very unpredictable and it’s hard to plan buying as we don’t have any way of knowing if there will be another lockdown.”

Christmas is always the most important time for the jewellery trade, with 40 per cent of their annual trade in the last quarter, but with businesses having been closed for three months during lockdown this year’s performance is essential.

“Last Christmas trade was affected because of the General Election, add to that three months with no revenue at all and our cash buffers are greatly reduced. Christmas this year will be key for everyone, and make or break for some local retailers.”

Sarah has joined in the Herts Ad’s call for local customers to support their independent traders over the coming months.

“One of the things that makes St Albans unique is the breadth of choice on all things retail - the mix of independent and chains. Unfortunately this year as any other it will be a case of use it or lose it, except this year the indies particularly may not be able to weather the storm if the locals don’t support them.

“Our independent shops offer essential services you can’t get on the internet.

“They are an intrinsic part of the local community, making connections across the generations. But if the community doesn’t use buy local these shops will be replaced by another coffee shop chain.

“The personal service and local knowledge you get from a local specialist is second to none, and in a year where personal contact has gone down so much, it’s even more important to make that connection to your local economy. Also it’s safer than travelling into London and a lot greener!”

Like many businesses, Galio and Jago are able to offer online shopping for those customers wary of venturing out: “Galio has a transactional website for our silver collections but would also be delighted to offer clients a personal shopping experience via Zoom or WhatsApp.

“Throughout lockdown we tried to maintain this kind of relationship with our clients. They pre-selected designs then either came in to collect or we delivered it to them. It was a new and great fun way of working!

“Jago doesn’t have a transactional website as many of its items are one-offs and often preowned unique items, but it does offer Zoom consultations for repair advice, initial valuation consultations and personal shopping.

“Action plans can be put together through this medium and clients can then drop off or pick up their items.”