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One to One: The job of a lifetime

After almost eight years at the UK helm of one of the world’s biggest jewellery brands, Peter Andersen will say goodbye to Pandora on October 31. He shares with Ruth Faulkner his reflections on his time with the brand

As a journalist, you always feel a hunger to break a big story. It never goes away, and regardless of how far you progress in your career, you always want to be first with the news that you know is going to get noticed.

News like that of Peter Andersen’s departure from his position as president of Western Europe with Danish jewellery giant Pandora. Whatever your personal stance on Pandora or indeed Andersen – and in this industry, opinions vary wildly – there is no escaping the fact that this was a very big story.

Here is a man who has led the Danish jewellery company from a small family-run charm bracelet business to become a major high street player here in the UK, with 220 stores (207 of which are operated by franchise partners), irrevocably changing the face of the UK jewellery industry in the process. There is no denying that the landscape of the UK jewellery market is a very different place to 10 years ago, and that is in no small part down to the role played by Pandora.

Danish-born Andersen joined Pandora on January 6, 2009 from another Danish company, clothing brand house IC Companys [now IC Group], where he had held the position of sales director for the UK and Ireland. And, as he explains, he had limited knowledge of the jewellery industry or indeed the Pandora brand at that time.

Peter Andersen

Peter Andersen

“I didn’t actually have any clue what the product was,” says Andersen. “I was only made aware of it because one of my old bosses was involved, and I was a very big fan of his, and he was saying I needed to join him on this adventure.

“It was only when I visited the US with him, and I saw first-hand the reaction of people there to Pandora, that I was persuaded. When we visited stores in the US, they were begging for products and it was only then that I got the feeling that this could be something big.”

Andersen was no stranger to working with fast-growing brands. When he was with IC Companys, the brand house boasted 11,750 doors in over 40 countries worldwide, including 480 accounts in the UK and 200 in Ireland, for which he was directly responsible. That said, and even in spite of seeing the reception Pandora was receiving in the US, Andersen says he could never have predicted the brand would be quite so big in the UK. “If I’d known that, I might have bought a few more shares,” he jokes.

Joking aside, Andersen shares with Retail Jeweller a handwritten note taken from his old FiloFax on which he had scribbled a budget for Pandora back when he first started in 2009. It’s a far cry from the corporate global machine that the brand is today, with arguably one of the best, if not the best, grasp of its sell-out data compared with any other jewellery brand in the world. And that, Andersen believes, is one of the main reasons for Pandora’s success.

“Working with figures is a big part of what we do,” he explains. “That is definitely something that Pandora has introduced. If a brand doesn’t know what is going into stores and what is going out, how can you plan your next collection?

“One of our big advantages is that we have been aware of our bestsellers and we have built on those. Also, if something hasn’t worked, we have taken it out again. Some retailers have stuff that sits in the box for five years and Pandora has taught the jewellers that it is not necessarily how you run a business.”

But, don’t just take Andersen’s word for it. Arguably, this way of working, implemented by Pandora, has created a culture of independent retailers that think and operate in a very different way to those that existed in a pre-Pandora world. Speaking to most other jewellery brands in the UK, they will tell you that working with independent retailers that have had, or still have Pandora, means working with professional businesses that really understand things like sell-throughs and making every inch of floor space work effectively.

And, go back 10 years, and the shop-in-shop furniture – which is now commonplace in a huge number of high street jewellers – was pretty much non-existent. Brands, with a couple of notable exceptions, such as Links of London and Swarovski, barely existed in the jewellery world in the UK. Now, however, the high street jeweller tells a very different story.

This explosion in brands, according to Andersen, has been the biggest change he has seen in the industry over the past eight years and, with that, he says, has come a change in the mindset of many jewellery retailers.

“People have adapted their businesses to work with brands. Previously, jewellers could run their stores exactly as they wanted to, but with brands there are certain guidelines that have to be followed and certain ways of working people have to adopt,” he explains.

While there will be those – and rest assured there are many – who say that the explosion in brands has spelled the end for the traditional jeweller, there are others who will tell you that what Pandora has done is put money back into the industry and allowed jewellers to invest not only in Pandora, but in other areas too.

“Pandora hasn’t simply taken turnover away from other jewellery brands,” says Andersen. “Pandora is also competing with chocolatiers, florists and fashion brands, and so I think, in that sense, we have managed to bring more money into the industry and that is being invested in better stores.

“We see first-hand how our franchisees are also developing their own brand names again with new facades, new interiors, opening in new premises and dabbling with bigger watch brands because they have been able to invest, and that has benefitted the industry; there is no doubt about that.”

When questioned about what the future holds for Pandora without him, Andersen remains optimistic, but even he concedes that the meteoric growth of the past eight years is unlikely to continue at quite the same pace.

“There is no doubt that the growth figures that we have seen cannot continue at the same level,” he says. “But we have built a very strong brand and consumers are still enjoying it, so I think Pandora will be around for many years to come. It has also reached the size where we can invest in new innovations and categories.”

Andersen’s successor has already been announced in the form of Brien Winther. Currently president of Pandora Australia & New Zealand, Winther will not directly replace Andersen as president, but will take up the slightly different position of managing director of Pandora UK as of January 1, 2017.

And what about Andersen’s future when he closes his office door for the last time on October 31? “First of all, I am going on holiday,” he says. “Then, I would like to not work again, but anyone who knows me says that won’t be possible and I will be bored after two weeks. I am not sure yet.”

On one point, however, he is sure. “Whatever I do next,” he says. “It won’t be in jewellery. I do not want to be standing across from Pandora at another company trying to compete with it.

“I genuinely believe that the product and the whole phenomenon around Pandora does not exist anywhere else. I have been saying for the last eight years, there is nothing like this and there probably never will be again, certainly not in my lifetime.”

As for what he will miss most about Pandora, and indeed the industry, Andersen’s response is simple. “The people,” he says. “No one can go on a journey like this alone and I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people who have all played a part in this, both here at Pandora and also some of our franchise partners.

“This is a nice industry and I will miss them all very much.”

This interview also appears in the November issue of Retail Jeweller, out now.

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