Nikolay Piriankov, founder of Taylor & Hart tells us about custom made wedding and engagement rings.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Nikolay Piriankov: We’ve certainly been fortunate–both my wife and I are healthy, and so are our newborn baby girls. We continue to be in employment and are not in a position of lost income. I really don’t feel it’s appropriate to complain about the little challenges of reduced mobility from lockdown, given the fact that a lot of people have suffered from a health perspective. A lot of people have lost family members, and a lot of people have lost income. If anything, I would even say that having our girls born in the middle of the pandemic and lockdowns has been a joy. We got to spend more time at home with them and have more time to deal with the challenges of childcare.
I used to work four to five days a week from the office, and now it’s one day a week. I’ve been able to be equally, if not sometimes, more productive by working at home, and being around our girls as they grow up is a blessing. We try to look at the positives that have come from this pandemic, not only the negatives. Of course, there’s a lot of anxiety around when this will end and when things will get back to normal.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Taylor & Hart.
Nikolay Piriankov: I’m the co-founder and CEO of Taylor & Hart, a disruptive, omnichannel jewellery brand specializing in custom design engagement and wedding rings. I’m extremely passionate about all things related to jewelry, transparency, ethical sourcing, diamonds, customization, technology, innovation, space travel, entrepreneurship, eCommerce, and empowering young people.
I was born in Bulgaria, grew up in South Africa, and moved to Manchester to pursue a Bachelor’s & Masters’s degree in Business in my early 20s. During my studies, I developed a passion for marketing and have successfully started several affiliates, eCommerce, and social marketing start-ups.
In 2013 together with a couple of my childhood friends, we decided to launch an eCommerce business which was the start of Taylor & Hart as we know it today. Our mission was, and still is, to disrupt the market for bespoke jewelry products. It all started when a friend of ours wanted to design a ring for his girlfriend. He was looking for something entirely one of a kind—just like his partner. After careful sourcing, sketching, and plenty of meetings, the company’s first bespoke ring was created—beautifully unique and deeply personal.
Today Taylor & Hart operates globally with offices in five countries, three showrooms, in-house production, a workshop, and more than 60 employees. With the growth of the company, my role has changed as well. I’m now navigating a global brand with a bespoke approach to retail and working closely with the board on strategy, leading teams, deciding on the long-term vision, and representing the brand in the media.
How does Taylor & Hart innovate?
Nikolay Piriankov: Our innovation lies in the unique way the rings are designed – by the customers themselves and online. Our disruptive business model delivers a vastly improved luxury shopping experience via omnichannel touchpoints and by cutting out the middlemen, a price-point up to 50% better than the high street. Taylor & Hart is here to unite the best of both online and offline worlds – transparency, the ability to design your own ring, and a personal touch. As a tech company, we’re able to offer this service globally, making custom design accessible and affordable to more people than ever before. We offer a bespoke design service through specifically developed technology online and in-store as well as “customer first” personalized service.
Our customers can choose to meet an expert in our London or New York showrooms to get advice, perfect their design, receive a 3D printed replica, and touch and feel the product before buying. Alternatively, customers from around the world still receive highly personal service via email, phone, video calls, and even WhatsApp consultations.
We’re also very passionate about transparency, and some time ago, we teamed up with Everledger to create the UK’s first engagement ring set with a blockchain diamond. This means that the provenance of the diamond was digitally tracked—every touchpoint of the journey is logged so that customers are fully assured there has been no data manipulation on their diamond certification. This serves as a huge reassurance to customers.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Nikolay Piriankov: To be perfectly transparent, it has been a hard period. Buying fine jewellery is a discretionary purchase, and when there is so much long-term uncertainty, people don’t have confidence in their income and wealth, so these types of purchases automatically decrease. So that has taken its toll on the company and its finances.
We reached out to our existing investors, and knowing that this is a short-term, macroeconomic situation, we have had their support. Financially we have raised additional capital from existing investors and from new investors to support the company through these challenging times. But on the positive side, we thought things would be much worse when the lockdown was first announced last March. Although demand decreased, it didn’t end up being bad.
This could have been down to the fact that we’re very much a digitally-led company. We’ve been connecting with our customers from a distance for a long time, unlike many other jewellers who are reliant on a retail store. It’s clear the demand for engagement rings is still there, improving day by day. I think that while we’re living in times of uncertainty, although one thing remains true–love conquers all and people still want to get married. Individuals all over the world are re-evaluating what’s important to them. Times like this bring life-affirming moments where people realize what they value.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Nikolay Piriankov: Yes, of course, difficult choices have been made. To give you some visibility, there were some people that had just joined the company when the initial lockdown had been announced, and it was the worst possible time for this to happen. With all the uncertainty in the world, we realized that we didn’t have the capacity to properly onboard them and secure a job for them, but fortunately, it was a very small number of people.
For the most part, around 96% of the people in the company before the lockdown are still the same people now. I feel really proud of our ability to stick together as a company, as a team. Of course, we did have government support for some of that. I guess the hardest part of the human resource and the biggest challenge over the last 12 months has been the constant uncertainty. It has been hard to plan anything, and it was a huge challenge communicating not only short-term messages but also long-term vision. It’s also been difficult to be transparent and honest while keeping morale levels high.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Nikolay Piriankov: From a CRM point of view, the situation has been quite interesting. In the beginning, everyone everywhere was just over-focused on sending out emails and publishing messages on the website and how well prepared they are for the pandemic. I think people just got really fatigued from these messages. I think what they really wanted, and we managed to adjust to that quite quickly, was an acknowledgement that they may take longer to buy while still offering them the same level of service. That was an investment on our part, knowing that it’s possible and very likely that a lot of people won’t buy soon, but that they’ll come back when things return to normal. Taking a longer-term view of the sales process was very important. Of course, taking away the showrooms from the equation and focusing our efforts on our virtual consultations was key. We were very quick to do that. Over time we’ve made that a core part of the business, and we believe that it’ll continue to be a big part of the company going forward. We no longer think that virtual consultation should be a compromise on real consultation. From seeing our engagement rings on a consultant’s hand to discussing and viewing a selection of diamonds, our consultants’ goal is to ensure the online experience replicates the physical showroom experience.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Nikolay Piriankov: As with most retail companies, we did benefit from the furlough scheme. It’s good that it exists, and it did help us. It was a great initiative, although quite difficult to navigate around initially. When launched, there was a lack of clarity on most areas connected to it, like duration. For example, some aspects could have been handled much better in 2020, although this improved as we went along.
We also took advantage of the government loan scheme called CBIL. This was a great scheme for lending and essentially acted as a lifeline for SMEs in the UK. It’s important to highlight the disappointment in banks during the pandemic. They made it virtually impossible for SMEs to get access to loans, so if it wasn’t for some commercially oriented alternative lenders, a lot more SMEs would have gone under.
Your final thoughts?
Nikolay Piriankov: One way or another, many of us will emerge from this crisis with new ways of doing things — especially when it comes to consumption. Perhaps one of the most notable changes is in-store habits. Consumers will want to avoid touching things and be more protective of their personal space. Everyone is going to have to recognize that the environment has changed and adapted to it. I believe consumers will be looking to buy from brands that were sensitive to the crisis as well as an increase in localized shopping–this will help small businesses survive as well as maintaining variety on the market. I strongly believe that the COVID-19 pandemic showed us how important it is to have an omnichannel approach to retail. People no longer think of it as online/offline, but they think of it as seamless integration between the two. One thing’s for sure; retailers are going to need to get creative.