RJ Scanlan – branding the future

33 years after selling their house to start a wholesale jewellery business, Robert and Rosslyn Scanlan are leading the way in branded jewellery.

The decision to start your own business is never easy and can be even more difficult if you don’t have ‘enough money”.

Fortunately, Robert and Rosslyn Scanlan’s lack of money didn’t stop them from pursuing their business dream.
In 1978, the couple, then newly married with three young children, took a bold stepto turn their dream into a reality.
“We sold our house, then packed our bags, jumped on a plane and headed off to the Vicenza Fair to look for jewellery to import into Australia,” recalls Robert.
At the time, Robert had already spent eight years selling jewellery for “several well known Australian jewellery retail and wholesale companies” and was looking for the opportunity to buy and sell his own products.
“I just thought it was about time I did something on my own and was really confident in my ability to choose the right products and sell them,” he says.
“I believed there was scope for me to start my own wholesaling company specialising in good quality European jewellery.”
After purchasing stock in Italy, Robert and Rosslyn began trading as RJ Scanlan & Co from their home in Hampton, a south-eastern suburb of Melbourne.
“We made a reasonable living out of it but didn’t make a fortune,” says Robert.
“There were good years and bad years…
“Like most in the jewellery trade we found the Keating years and ‘the recession we had to have’ particularly tough to survive.
“The up-market European jewellery pieces we were selling at the time were certainly not ‘bread n butter’ items and it was touch ‘n’ go for a time.”
Nonetheless, 20 years after opening for trade Scanlan & Co finally moved out of Robert and Rosslyn’s home into separate business premises.
Change of direction
Auspiciously Scanlan’s business direction then took a dramatic turn two years later in 2000 when Robert “spotted” a collection of men’s multicoloured gold plaited wedding rings at the Vicenza Fair.
Impressed by the “look of the rings”, which were manufactured by Dora International in Turkey, Rob decided “to give them a go” and was thus appointed the Oceania distributor for Dora wedding rings.
“The rings proved popular so when, five years later in 2005, the owner of the company asked if we would like to brand the range ‘Dora’, we immediately said ‘yes’.
“Dora recognised the future of branded products in the jewellery market and so did we.
“When we launched Dora there were no other branded wedding rings in Australia and there were only a few other brands of jewellery.
“Quite a few people warned us that we’d never be able to successfully brand a wedding ring, but we had tremendous faith in the product and believed consumers would embrace the Dora brand”
The skeptics were proved wrong as Scanlan and its retail partners quickly discovered that “branded Dora rings were easier to sell than the non-branded Dora rings”.
“We knew it was the best product as did some of the best retailers in Australia, so we advertised in wedding magazines. All of a sudden people were going into retailers’ shops and asking for Dora rings – and a lot of jewellers who had never done business with us were ringing us up to get Dora into their stores.”
The successful launch of Dora cemented Scanlan’s place in Australian jewellery industry history – Dora was the first branded and widely advertisedwedding ring in the Australian market and one of the first branded jewellery products in the Australian market.
Since then, Scanlan has increased its branded presence even further with the launch of TeNo stainless steel jewellery in 2004, Soho men’s silver rings in 2009, and Omnia Classic Wedding Rings and Venetian Lace jewellery in 2010 – and now Trollbeads
sterling silver and gold beaded jewellery.
Although the Danish beaded jewellery line is “totally different” to Scanlan’s existing brand range, Robert is confident that it too will be a success for the company.
“We are hoping to take a few percent of Pandora’s marketshare,” he laughs, explaining that the company will be doing “a lot of advertising in consumer magazines as well as supporting retailers with POS, window displays and packaging to build the brand”.
It is this emphasis on branding that Robert believes will be the key to Trollbeads success – in the same way strong branding has been key to the success of Dora and other Scanlan brands.
In fact, Rob argues that branding is now critical for retail success in the jewellery industry.
“Nowadays it is getting harder to sell generic jewellery with consumers driving the push to brands through demand and retailers recognizing the benefits and support brands offer.”
“I strongly believe in good quality well positioned international brands and it is for this reason that we have taken Trollbeads on board.
“I think branded jewellery’s contribution to jewellers overall profitability will continue to grow.
“It is becoming harder and harder for individual stores to have a presence in the market and at the same time customer loyalty has diminished. This means that jewellers require brands to position their store and attract consumers.”
Indeed, he argues that the rise of branding is one of the two major changes that have occurred in the industry since he and Rosslyn first boarded that plane for Vicenza looking for jewellery to import in 1978.
“It wasn’t so ago that the only true branded jewellery with consumer recall that I can think of was Mikimoto Pearls while now there are jewellery stores with nothing but branded product”
The other major change he cites is “technology”.
“It seems only 10 years ago that we were all saying that we couldn’t live without a fax machine and now the internet and email communication are indispensible,” he smiles.
Robert is not sure what changes the next thirty something years will bring for the jewellery industry but he is confidant that Scanlan & Co will still be part of it.
Although Rosslyn (the company’s finance manager) is planning to retire this year, Robert plans to continue at the helm – with a little help from the next generation of Scanlans.
Robert and Rosslyn’s son Christopher, who has been “the company’s Number 1 salesman for the last 10 years” is buying half the business, while daughter Leah will continue in her role as office manager.
“Over 33 years we have built up many strong relationships and friendships in the jewellery trade,” concludes Robert.
“It’s a great trade to be in with the vast majority of jewellery people reasonable and helpful when problems crop up.
“With my son Chris in the business I would like to think R J Scanlan & Co will be around for the next 33 years.”