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Jewellery boss John Lunn: ‘Our number one focus is to provide the best customer experience’

John Lunn speaks about taking over the famous family jewellers, selling watches worth 300k, and how they managed to weather the storm of recession

By John Mulgrew

Published 20/09/2016

Christine Bleakley models over £1m worth of jewellery from Lunn’s
The Lunn’s shop at Queen’s Arcade in Belfast. The family business has been located there for 60 years
John Lunn in his flagship Belfast jeweller shop
One of the luxurious Patek Philippe timepieces available at Lunn’s

Those with pockets deep enough can walk into luxury jeweller Lunn's tomorrow and walk out with a £68,000 watch on their wrist.

The top-end watch and jewellers has been in business in Belfast for more than 60 years, and now it's in the hands of the third generation of the Lunn family.

John Lunn (34) has been at the helm of the Belfast-based retailer since 2012.

His grandfather John Lunn started the business off as a small unit at Queen's Arcade - where Lunn's is still based today.

"My father (Peter) then got involved in the business, just over 50 years ago. Thankfully for what my grandfather achieved, and what my dad continued on and expanded on, it's gone from strength to strength," he said.

Watches only formed a small part of the business back in the 1960s, but have now become a big part of the company's revenue.

"Brands have become much more prominent. There were brands then, but the strength of the brands has increased... particularly the big brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Cartier, TAG Heuer and the like," John said.

Lunn's now has three stores, including its Londonderry branch - which is celebrating 20 years in business - and Victoria Square, employing around 80 staff.

It opened the store in 2008, just as the financial crash began to take hold.

"I think Victoria Square, if you consider the economic downturn, and the timing of when Victoria Square opened. The potential for Victoria Square going forward is massive," he said.

John is a former Royal Belfast Academical Institution pupil, and went on to study business and Spanish at Sheffield.

And moving in to the family business wasn't a career path he had initially considered.

"As part of that, I spent a year in Madrid... when I took up a role in a jeweller business, that's when I started to get passionate about it, and to get more of an understanding of what's going on."

Following that, he studied at the Gemological Institute of America in California, and then worked for Christie's auction house in London. Four members of the Lunn family sit on the company's board, including John, his father Peter, sister Suzanne and aunt Jacqueline. He's been married to wife Kat for eight years, after meeting her at gemological school in the United States, and has a young son, Tom (2).

"We've been back here for around nine years now, and she's involved in the business as well," John said.

He began on the sales floor, followed by two years managing the Victoria Square store before taking over the reins at managing director.

Speaking about sales, he said the company has managed to "evolve" over the years to weather the economic downturn. "You can see, with the economy, that things are starting to improve in the business, which is good," he said.

"(As with) all areas of local business, the economic downturn brought challenges, but also brought opportunities.

"There is growth. You can see growth in the market."

But he said, like with almost every business in Northern Ireland, there was a slump following 2008's crash.

"I think it changed peoples' buying habits locally and it was something that made us think about the business, and what was the best way to focus on the business.

"I think there is more confidence out there, and it's going to take more time in Northern Ireland. But there is more confidence."

And Lunn's, like countless other companies here, was also directly hit by the crash, and in 2012 it let go around 11 staff.

"The economic downturn for local businesses was a real challenge. It's very difficult for a family business, to make those decisions.

"But we have to do everything we can do... it's a difficult thing to go through as a family business, but we have to make the right decisions for the business."

One area Lunn's began to expand on was the Portfolio of Fine Diamonds line.

"That started a few years before the economic downturn started," he said.

"That is our number one brand in the business, and it's our own brand. Watches have also lifted a lot."

The Queen's Arcade store is still the company's flagship shop, and boasts a glimmering array of engagement rings, gold jewellery and the world's most expensive and luxurious Swiss watches.

Among them, a £68,000 Patek Philippe. However, the boutique firm's catalogue can see the timepieces reaching as much as £300,000.

Jewellery also ranges from a few hundred pounds, right up to tens of thousands.

Aside from its sales staff, Lunn's has three dedicated watch makers, and six after-sales staff.

It also works alongside a Belfast firm to design its top-end custom jewellery.

Speaking about competition from cheaper high-street jewellers, he said:

"I think there's a lot of jeweller businesses in Northern Ireland, some great independents and strong multiples."

John says the rise of the Apple Watch has not hindered sales, but helped spike the public's interest in all things horological.

Outside of work, he spends a lot of time with his family, and is also a director of the Belfast Improvement District.

"I do quite a bit of running as well. I just completed the London Marathon, and was racing in a triathlon. I did the Ironman in Majorca a couple of years ago," he said.

John says "providing the best" experience for the customer is the biggest single focus for the business. And while he's building the company's online business it's "the bricks and mortar" stores which remain a big focus for the company.

Speaking about Brexit, he said the short term had created a spike in sales, as the value of the pound plummets.

That includes customers from the Republic and from elsewhere outside the UK.

Belfast Telegraph

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