The biggest challenge that any company faces is staying relevant to its target market.
But in the business of producing and selling jewellery, long known as conservative and resistant to change, how does a brand respond to shifting habits among a younger group of consumers known as Millennials - who have big spending power to boot?
For home grown jeweller Habib Jewels, with humble beginnings dating back to 1958, those changes represent fresh opportunities.
The key to staying above it all, according to managing director Datuk Seri Meer Sadiq Habib, is to have a firm grasp on the history and tradition of the target market.
‘Young people do buy from us,” says the fourth child of the late Datuk Habib Mohamed, founder of Habib Jewels. “This is because, if you really look into Malaysia, we are still quite traditional, even among the younger generation.”
“For example, if a young couple was to get married, they would still have their tea ceremony or ‘angkat nikah’ traditions. Similarly, they will also get engagement and wedding rings because it is in our tradition.”
“Having said that, we also come up with jewelleries that are more suited to the younger market. For example, we work with smaller diamonds (which are less expensive) and gemstones like garnet, topaz, or sapphire.”
While diamonds are far from losing its shine/rigour, he insists, younger couples have more distinctive preferences, some opting for precious stones to signify commitment as they are more affordable and individualistic than diamonds.
Meanwhile, there is also an increasing trend of jewellery purchase as self-gift - diverging from previous generations.
“You don’t really need an occasion (to buy jewellery) anymore,” says Meer. “We get a lot of self-purchase by ladies.”
Nonetheless, weddings and festivities remain the biggest revenue boost for Habib; Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day being the most important dates, he adds.
Why Are Young People Buying Jewellery Online
While the bridal opportunity still represent the major revenue source for jewellers, staying relevant will require brands to meet other needs associated with the younger consumers, such an a sense of uniqueness and individuality that are driving force in their decision making.
It was with this reason that Habib brought in fine jewellery brand Stephen Webster to Malaysia in 2018. The London-based jeweller is known for for its edgy, contemporary pieces and garners a strong following among celebrities.
“People no longer look at jewellery just as an investment, it is a fashion statement,” says Meer.
In 2011, the Habib Group started distributing Pandora, the Danish jewellery company known for its charm bracelets, in a bid to attract young shoppers - the most avid self-purchasers.
Last year, it also brought French jewellery brand Les Georgettes by Altesse to Malaysian shores.
Habib Jewels’s Brand Positioning - Engaging Wider, International Market
Jewellery sales, according to Meer, is increasingly taking place outside of showrooms too.
“We have started selling through e-commerce and home shopping channels like Astro Go Shop and CJ WOW Shop - and very surprisingly, every time we sell on TV, it gets sold out within minutes.”
“We also sell very well on e-commerce,” he adds. “This shows two things. One, there is a lot of trust toward the brand. Second, we found out that some online shoppers feel intimidated to walk into our stores. So, they are more comfortable buying online,” Meer explains.
The e-commerce route also allows the brand to reach a wider customer base as Habib does not have outlet overseas, instead participating in international exhibitions as means to increase its exposure abroad.
“We do wholesaling, where another jeweller will buy from us and sell it overseas. We also sell through international exhibitions and auctions.”
Despite not having any physical presence abroad, purchases from foreign customers make up about 20 percent of Habib’s total sales, says Meer.
“We have customers from China who come to Kuala Lumpur to buy our jewellery. We also get a lot of customers from overseas at our Kota Kinabalu outlet - there is a very big Chinese market there.”
Habib Jewels - We Want to Build A Very Strong Malaysian Brand
Habib has had a long and rich history, having evolved from a one-store family business from Pitt Street, Penang to become the country’s premier jeweller. Yet, he is saddened that there is still a perception that Malaysian brands are inferior to foreign ones.
“We feel that we are actually very well established and known overseas. But sometimes it's a struggle for us Malaysia.”
“People tend to think that overseas brands are better than ours; even when we want to negotiate for a good location in a shopping mall, the priority is given to a brand from overseas,” he says.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t deter Meer and his team to bring the brand to greater heights, including international expansion.
“We want to do it within the next five years,” says Meer. “But going international doesn’t have to be like how it was before, that is through having a shop. We can do it via e-commerce, which we are already doing. So we are not in a big hurry to go overseas.”
“But we are looking at places that share our values, and the way we run things. For example, Singapore would be quite an easy location to do.”
Having said that, he feels that a strong local demand presents an opportunity for Habib to ramp up expansion in Malaysia, before making a more meaningful stride into other markets.
“We want to make sure we fulfill every aspects of demand locally before going overseas in a bigger way.”
“This is because Malaysia is still one of the best places to buy jewellery. We have many talented designers. We have our good manufacturers. The overhead expenses to run a business in Malaysia is very low too,” says Ameer.
“We are very passionate about building a strong Malaysian brand that we can be proud of.”