From ‘oddball’ to awesome: The Michael Hill story

By on March 20, 2014
Simon Penrose, Kevin Stock, Simon Blowes from Imprint, William Elliott from MatchWorks

Simon Penrose, Kevin Stock, Simon Blowes from Imprint, William Elliott from MatchWorks

THE in-store experience should be something special, something memorable, when you buy jewellery and that’s the secret to success, according to Kevin Stock, the Australasian general manager of Michael Hill, when he addressed the Brisbane North Chamber of Commerce business breakfast at the Kedron Wavell RSL this morning (Wednesday, March 19).

Mr Stock has worked for Michael Hill for about 17 years, working his way up the ranks from the shop floor to general manager, and he shared his insights about the brand and its strategy for growth with more than 60 business leaders.

The Michael Hill story starts when Michael was young and working in his uncle’s jewellery story in New Zealand, and according to Mr Stock, Mr Hill was “a bit of a loser”.

See who attended the breakfast

“Michael was a bit of a loser, to put it mildly. He didn’t do well at school. He was a bit of a nerd, he liked the violin, wore glasses. He really was an oddball guy.

“He worked for his uncle (in his uncle’s jewellery store), and they did not see eye to eye. Michael could sell, however.

“At one stage he finally realised he had to get out from underneath the umbrella of his uncle’s shadow. And he offered to buy his uncle’s jewellery shop. and his uncle absolutely said there’s no way that’s going to happen.

“Michael decided to open his own store and secured a lease on a site right opposite his uncle’s store. He opened his first store in 1979.”

Thirty shops in seven years

Mr Stock said Mr Hill was a visionary, ahead of his time, and he immediately set about opening seven shops in seven years. He opened 30 stores in seven years and turned his gaze towards Australia.

The chain now has more than 200 stores in NZ, Australia, Canada and the US and Mr Stock said the key was how sales staff treated the customer.

“(We make them understand) that next person who walks through the door is the most important person in the world at that moment,” Mr Stock said. “It’s all about that experience, how it makes the customer feel,” he said.

One of the key’s to Michael Hill’s success was differentiating the brand and making it stand out from its competitors. He said people still remembered the “crazy” ads on TV that used to run in the ‘80s advertising Michael Hill stores and their upcoming sales.

Since then the chain has refined its retail outlets, most recently refurbishing stores in darker, richer tones. He said once a store was refurbished sales increased 15% automatically.

“So we’re madly working to get them all refurbished all over the world,” he said.

Dragged heels on data

Not everything was done well, however and Mr Stock revealed the company had been slow to act in the online space and with data capture.

“One of the things we’re really really bad at, at Michael Hill, is data capture. We have no central way of managing data of our customers and no way of doing anything with it.

“No matter what business you’re in, your existing customers are the easiest people to sell to, people who have bought with you before. It’s one of our big strategies this year, we’ve engaged several big companies who are having a look at how we can get better at that,” he said.

The entertaining American told the business community about the brand’s plans to achieve 1000 stores by 2022.

Watch your back Pandora!

The company is launching a new brand that will compete with the Pandora chain. The name is under wraps for another week until the major launch at Westfield Chermside. The store’s unique proposition will be to have sales staff on the same side of the counter as the customer. “Taking away the barrier between the customer and the sales person,” he said. “Side by side selling.”

“I think Pandora are very nervous, which is good,” he said. The bead, or charm, business is a very big trend in jewellery. “Customers want to design their own jewellery and that’s the whole bead thing that Pandora has been very good at unlocking,” he said.

The breakfast was the first of the year of the Brisbane North Chamber of Commerce breakfast events, which has traditionally been a well-supported and successful series of events.

For more information about the Brisbane North Chamber of Commerce, contact Tanya Penrose on T: 0409 564 179 or email:

See who attended the breakfast, hit Read On

About Felicity Moore

Felicity Moore is a journalist with 20 years' experience in Australia and the UK across newspapers, magazines, websites, television and radio. Felicity also edits and writes for the parenting blog.

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