5 minutes with Nikolay Piriankov, CEO, Taylor & Hart

From humble beginnings in 2013, online jewellery retailer Taylor & Hart has grown from start-up to scale-up and also dabbles in a "clicks-to-bricks" approach to retail. Retail Gazette spoke to co-founder Nikolay Piriankov to learn more.

From start-up to scale-up: A chat with Taylor & Hart CEO Nikolay Piriankov

Tell me a bit about Taylor & Hart.

I started the business after looking for the perfect ring myself, and had to choose between a traditional store where I had very little input into the design, or online jewellers where I had trust issues and no ability to see the ring before I purchased it.

We were founded in 2013 because we felt that the diamond industry had failed to innovate in response to changing customer demands for greater transparency in both the supply chain and in the products they were looking for.

For instance, the industry was still much centred around telling customers what they had available and forcing them to choose from a fixed selection. In a world where people are getting used to both buying journeys and products that are more personal and specific to them, it seemed strange to us that the jewellery industry was still stuck in this old way of thinking.

We combine an online outlet with a physical showroom, so customers can start the design they want on our website, and then come into the showroom to talk to our consultants in person and even get it 3D printed first before they make their final purchase.

What makes Taylor & Hart different to other online jewellery retailers?

We are known for trying to build a “jeweller for life” relationship with customers. The market isn’t crowded when it comes to going that extra mile, so this is why our customers feel we try harder.

We are known for trying to build a “jeweller for life” relationship with customers”

Only Taylor & Hart has a tech-enabled customer journey, sales process and the manufacturing capabilities to work with customers hand-in-hand and every step of the way, to create a high-quality personal piece of jewellery at their price point, in their way.

We take the time to listen first, seeking to understand before offering advice or guidance. The jewellery our customers buy and wear acts as a talisman, an anchor that helps them recall fondly the memories of the special moments in their lives. We also believe that expertly crafted custom jewellery that symbolises your style and story should be accessible to everyone who wants to declare their love.

Another big differentiator is the freedom we offer to our clients in the way they shop and in the products they can purchase – freedom to shop online or visit a showroom, freedom to choose a pre-designed ring or start from scratch and create a unique bespoke ring, freedom to communicate in the way you prefer and get a 24/7 client-lead shopping experience.

What does your role as CEO entail?

My role is multi-faceted and always evolving given our business is transitioning from a start-up to a scale-up. Initially my role was very technical – I would “do” a lot of the work in several roles while also planning for the future of the company. As the company has grown, I’ve had to often raise money from venture and angel investors to accelerate and finance our ambitions.

“Failing to adjust to the needs of the modern customer’s needs is the biggest risk for retailers”

During these times my role would often completely change as I spend 80-90 per cent of my time meeting investors, working on our presentation and scheduling introductions and follow-ups to new investors. I had over 100 meetings in the most recent investment round.

One of the greatest journeys in developing a company is the personal transition you go through as entrepreneur. It’s something that not a lot of people realise. Your role changes so much. My title was chief executive when I started as it is now, but my tasks and skillsets through the different periods have changed.

Going forward my role is mostly about ensuring we preserve our company culture as we scale, bringing on the right people and communicating our vision and values internally with employees and partners but also with customers and the wider public – building a brand we can be proud of.

How is Taylor & Hart addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?

The main area of focus for us is creating a brand that our customers trust, particularly when the jewellery people wear is personal and often associated with personal or shared stories. Engagement rings are obviously really emotive, so we want to make customers feel that we’re here to guide them every step of the way and on hand to answer any questions they might have.

We look to do this by combining a personal design service with the value and convenience benefits of ecommerce. This “clicks and bricks” approach enables us to offer the best of both – giving customers face-to-face interaction, the ability to try on rings and learn about them, as well as the option of discretion, convenience and variety that online options provide.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector?

“Customers now want and expect more than ever before”

Failing to adjust to the needs of the modern customer’s needs is the biggest risk. One example is technology disruption, and what pressure that puts on you to adapt your business model to be able to not only embrace technology but also use it build competitive advantages.

Another risk we have is in addressing and fulfilling consumer expectations. Customers now want and expect more than ever before. If anything, you could argue they’ve been spoilt by retailers like Amazon to expect an abundance of choice, to expect next day seamless delivery and now, to expect personalisation – something that we in particular are building our brand around.

The demands from customers around transparency and ethical sourcing is another pressure I think the retail sector is increasingly facing. Customers today want the peace of mind that the products they buy are made sustainably and contribute to an overall good in society, across the entire supply chain.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

It all started many years ago in South Africa where I grew up, but I was originally born in Bulgaria. In South Africa, I saw both my parents adapt, working outside of their fields of study, hustling and being entrepreneurial. This has been an influence on why I also chose to take that entrepreneurial path. At the age of 17, I got a job as a sales representative in a diamond store tailored for Chinese customers. That was the first time I developed an interest for diamonds.

After finishing high school, I headed to the UK to study digital marketing at the University of Manchester. While studying at the university I got involved in a number of affiliate and digital marketing projects. I wanted to run my company like Tim Ferris described in “The 4-Hour Work Week” and live on an island – instead, I dived into Taylor & Hart to build a company over the next few years working 80-hour work weeks.

“We knew that we had something, as long as it didn’t take 12 months to deliver each item”

As many people do, my first business partners were my friends from school. During this period, me and my high school friend David Sutton decided to start several websites and ecommerce businesses while studying. Together, we thought we could combine our skills and experience to sell diamonds and diamond jewellery online.

We completely underestimated how difficult it would be. Some teenage experiments and years later I reunited with David and we decided to start a real venture this time. That’s how the brand Rare Pink (the first name of Taylor & Hart) was born in 2013.

It was around this time that we were fortunate to have our first Rare Pink bespoke design customer. His name was Piers, and I knew him through friends at university. Piers reached out to ask if we’d be able to help him create a custom designed engagement ring. So we said yes. The problem was it took us almost a year. We knew that we had something, as long as it didn’t take 12 months to deliver each item.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

It’s a whole new responsibility to be a manager of people, to be a good listener, to inspire and get the best out of them. It has also a lot to do with emotional intelligence. It has been one of the greatest journeys within the company and I am still learning how to be good at that role. I see it as a wonderful challenge to further develop as a human being and as an entrepreneur. I like that you have to change as you grow and learn, both personally and as a company.

And the most rewarding?

Being able to enact positive change in very short burst of effort and the sense of fulfilment that comes with is very rewarding for me. I have also really enjoyed the ongoing learning that I continue to experience. Initially the learning was around how things work and more recently it has become increasingly about how people work and what motivates them. I feel like scaling is about unlocking the potential of people and then helping them unlock the potential in others and while I do not consider myself an expert on this subject, or even close, the pursuit of excellence in improving my emotional intelligence and empowering people is deeply rewarding.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Always think about the smallest possible feedback loop possible in learning what customers want and care about. Too often founders obsess over their own ideas and forget to put them out for testing quickly.

I would say for every feature or “great idea” we’ve had, more than half didn’t lead to customer excitement or adoption and had we spent a year building Taylor & Hart on top of these features, more than half the time would have been wasted.

Quick feedback loops also reduce the initial risk and cost of getting started, so for someone thinking about a retail start-up, the ability to test assumptions and build upon successes, rather than personal beliefs, is a shortcut to growth and success.

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