Fine jewellery brand Birks, which has been in business since 1879, has implemented comprehensive measures for the reopening of its stores during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jean-Christophe Bedos, President and CEO of Birks, said the company, like every other retailer, was taken by surprise by the shut down of the retail industry when the coronavirus crisis hit the country.
“The industry was not prepared for that,” said Bedos. “It was unprecedented. We had to apply a general lockdown since March 18 essentially. In terms of impact, of course our revenue dropped from a nice level of business to zero for a majority of stores.
“We have kept our e-commerce operations open. They have obviously very nicely benefited from the situation. And we also maintained what we call the concierge service because our business is client-based. Birks is part of Canadian life in terms of celebrations, sharing, the topic of love, engagement, anniversaries, graduations. So we have had demand. Demand was maintained over the phone or email.
“The very first week of lockdown we created a concierge service in our flagship in Montreal, flagship in Toronto, in Calgary, and in Vancouver. What that meant, although the stores were closed, we made ourselves available for essentially going back to the old mail order. We did shipments from those stores. We could pick up the phone, we could answer emails, and we were available for our clients. That has helped to maintain a small level of sales and alongside that concierge service we have e-commerce.”
There are 28 stores in Canada from Victoria to Quebec City.
By the beginning of this week, Birks had reopened 13 stores across the country. Bedos said the reopening of the other stores depends on the direction each individual province takes.
He said the retailer has taken the time to learn from best practices abroad about the reopening of stores. It learned from U.S. colleagues in the jewelry industry and worked with the Retail Council of Canada.
“We built a very solid format where we have the list of best practices, the list of protocols, the what to do list before opening the store, the training sessions for every store, and we invested of course in purchasing all of the necessary protective equipment for both our sales professionals and our clients for when they are in the store,” said Bedos. “All of the investment was all written down and shared to every team prior to reopening on a store-by-store basis.”
In addition to masks and gloves, the stores will also have plexi shields. Each piece of jewelry touched by customers will be sanitized after it has been handled. A small number of items that can’t be disinfected will be put in a plastic pouch and placed in a vault for a number of days until safe to be taken out again.
In 1901, the eldest son, William Birks, became head of the company and Birks began to expand across Canada with store openings in Ottawa (1901), Winnipeg (1903), and Vancouver (1907).
In the 2000s, Birks was one of the first companies to offer diamonds mined in Canada. Each stone is engraved with a unique serial number associated with the mine of origin.
In 2019, Birks reinvented the retail experience through the renovation of the historical Square Phillips store in Montreal and the Bloor store in Toronto.