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Articles from MEN'S JEWELLERY (162 Articles), STAINLESS STEEL JEWELLERY (156 Articles), TITANIUM JEWELLERY (11 Articles)


Tuskc's success is via the rebel road

Establishing a new jewellery brand is not easy, but building one from the ground up is no mean feat. Tuskc’s founders abandoned the rules when they plotted their Australian steel range and decided not to import a ready-made line, instead choosing to develop a home-grown brand.
In a world already flooded with globalised jewellery brands, it’s all too easy to secure distribution rights for overseas products and hope like hell that they take off in Australia and New Zealand. Sure, to unlock sales success with any new brand, retailers would normally need a hefty marketing budget, but when all advertising and marketing material – along with POS and packaging concepts – comes as part of the distribution rights, it’s easy, right?

Dave and Jacquie Randall, newcomers to the jewellery industry, are doing it differently, the couple dismissing the easy option in favour of developing their own brand from the ground up. It’s a tremendously difficult task but Tuskc, the stainless steel jewellery line started by the Randalls, is a good-looking rebel with more than a few aces up its sleeve – it has an 88 year-old family business to prop it up.

Keeping it in the family

Tuskc is an off-shoot of the aptly-named Buckle, established in 1922 at Summer Hill by Jacquie’s great grandfather, Alick Buckle. Originally dedicated to ladies’ corsetry and garters, the business shifted focus throughout the years.

“As fashion changed over the years, we followed the market into braces and belts,” says Buckle co-director David.

It is this adaptability, as well as an eye for contemporaneous trends, that led to Buckle’s heyday in the late 1970s.

“Menswear stores were in vogue, and so belts led to a whole raft of other accessories – things like wallets, ladies handbags and cigar cases,” Dave enthuses, adding, “We even produced leather covers for street directories. You name it, we sold it... in leather.”

The popularity of leather goods accessories meant that business was booming. 

Over time, men’s-only stores lost popularity. Buckle tightened its belt accordingly. “Men’s outfitters started dropping accessories because they took up counter space unless you put them behind glass, meaning that people couldn’t pick them up,” Dave explains.

Gradually the range was reduced until only core products like belts and wallets remained. In recent years, Buckle has begun to reintroduce some lines. Not content with reinvigorating Buckle in a market where the brand is king, the Randall’s decided to create their own.

A brand is born

Dave and Jacquie’s dream of creating a home-grown brand was realised when they first met Anastasi Dalton.

“We first met Anastasi in 2005. He was handling a store for Duraflex, and we just kept running into each other,” Dave says.

What followed was a meeting between Dalton, Dave and Jacquie where, in a café in Mossman, the creative sparks flew.

“He was so much on our wavelength,” Dave remembers. “It was like listening to a recording of an internal sales conference at Buckle.”

Over coffee, an idea was given form: all three understood how overseas brands were taking root in Australia as an emerging theme in the jewellery market, and all three were interested in turning that trend on its head.

“We decided that there was an opportunity for us to create a brand that would be proudly Australian, and that we could, in time, take it to the rest of the world, through innovative design and a very creative business model,” Dave says.

“The objective in the short-term is to create the brand and make it very strong in Australia,” Jacquie adds, stressing that global expansion is a long-term objective. “There is no point in going outside your natural area until you’ve already proven your strength.”

Dave and Jacquie Randall took the rebel road, launching their own brand for the Australian market
Dave and Jacquie Randall took the rebel road, launching their own brand for the Australian market

Establishing a new product in Australia can be a hit and miss affair; jewellery is a low-barrier-to-entry product and financial and time pressure abound without established support networks or existing relationships.

“Most home-grown ventures suffer because, if you start a company with no backing, you have no pre-existing accounts,” Dave explains.

A strong financial foundation and infrastructure allowed the Tuskc team to take their time getting the balance right before presenting to the trade. “The luxury of the parent company is the louder lap time,” says Dave, adamant that the correct retail channel is more important in infancy than sales. “Everyone in the jewellery trade knows you get one hit and, if we went to the jewellery trade prematurely, we were definitely going to short-change the long-term opportunities.”

In August 2009 Tuskc secured the services of Helen Hagerty, former Thomas Sabo brand manager at jewellery distributor Duraflex. After a new challenge, Hagerty joined Tuskc as director of operations.

She explains that the luxury of working from a pre-existing parent company allowed the team to showcase Tuskc at Melbourne Fashion Exposed as a litmus test for how the brand would be presented to the jewellery trade.

“We used our debut at Melbourne Fashion Exposed to test reaction to the brand, knowing that we weren’t really ready to present it to the jewellery trade,” Hagerty says.

A positive response encouraged the team to fine-tune the brand to be a complete offering in the category of stainless steel.

“We wanted Tuskc to be a complete range that speaks to the whole market, so time to work on the depth of the range was essential for us,” Hagerty continues, adding that Tuskc “evolved from a men’s story into a unisex label” in time for the Brisbane trade fair last March.

New product, old channels

Hard work and the presence of a pre-existing retailer network began to pay off for Tuskc when the team signed some 40 accounts by Christmas 2009, roughly half of which were Buckle contacts. 

According to Dave, Tuskc’s initially masculine theme was for the purposes of promoting the new label to existing contacts: “We were already distributing to two-thousand independent menswear retailers, so we needed to tie Tuskc into our existing channels.”

The leap from men’s leather accessories to jewellery did present some challenges, however. “A lot of men’s retailers aren’t set up for jewellery – even down to where it sits and its security,” Hagerty explains, stressing that Tuskc is by no means living in the shadow of its parent company, despite an early reliance upon Buckle’s distribution channel. 

“The Buckle connection has allowed us to test the brand but, in the longer term, there was never an intent to have the two brands work off each other. Buckle is sheer longevity, very traditional and classic, while Tuskc is about having fun and breaking the rules.” 

Part of differentiating Tuskc from Buckle was the conceptualisation of a younger and unisex target audience, aged up to 35, according to Dave. In line with this, Tuskc’s early range has been straightforward – women’s, men’s and an urban collection, each incorporating mini-ranges in adaptable, casual designs.

“As a lifestyle brand, Tuskc is going to take these consumers seamlessly from Monday to Sunday, work to weekend,” Dave explains, adding, “We wanted to be a complete steel jewellery destination for retailers and a good spread of price points allows the product to fit within every genre of the gift vine.”

Designer Anastasi Dalton and director of operations Helen Hagerty
Designer Anastasi Dalton and director of operations Helen Hagerty

According to Hagerty, the emphasis on steel has resulted in a sleek and contemporary look. “Steel is a clean and uncomplicated metal,” she enthuses. The unisex Urban Collection has a cheeky edge that ought to prove popular within Generation Y, where wearing a boyfriend’s t-shirt or a girlfriend’s scarf is the norm.

“It talks to a younger market and is probably our most casual collection, incorporating lots of leather and dog tags,” Hagerty says.

Tuskc’s range currently doesn’t include sterling silver – an attempt to keep the brand image focused on steel – but Hagerty acknowledges that there is room to move once the brand has been properly established.

 “It’s far too early to rule out sterling silver,” Hagerty says, “but right now, a clean message is important for retailers and consumers”.

What is also clear is the depth of Tuskc’s personalised support systems for retailers that take on the brand.

“We were aware that an offering to a retailer needs to be complete in every way, including POS support,” Hagerty says, adding that Tuskc comes with packaging, displays, graphics, posters, and a retail guide that identifies every aspect of the product, while account managers also do in-store training.

“Good branding is good servicing,” says Hagerty, “and we need our offering to be as smooth a transition as possible”.

Tuskc has also taken “Proudly Australian” one step further with an annual competition in which design students at the University of New South Wales submit designs for any element of Tuskc’s range as part of their course work.

“Entrants will receive an award, but those who show outstanding talent will have their designs introduced under their name as signature brands,” Dave says, adding that this might entail sending top entrants to China to oversee manufacturing – unlike most companies that wave the “Proudly Australian” flag, Tuskc’s products aren’t actually made in Australia.

“Historically, with Buckle, there was a long family tradition of Australian-based manufacturing. We want to pick up the same logic of being proudly Australian but can’t necessarily manufacture the jewellery here anymore, so its proudly designed by an Australian company.”

If its growth is anything to go by, Tuskc’s “Australian-owned” strategy is paying off – it currently has 67 accounts, and is aiming for 250 by the end of December this year. 

As for the brand moving into overseas markets, Hagerty says that will be a matter of timing: “Our first priority is to establish the brand in the Australian market, and there will be a natural flow on to New Zealand – we’re not in a hurry to follow-through on the global plan”.

Tuskc’s “slowly-slowly” strategy is indicative of a company backed by decades of experience. It may be a new brand, but Tuskc has been carefully constructed on the 88-year-old Buckle approach, and draws from management principles that are generations old. In that respect, the team still does things the long and careful way, and while it might be fashionable to develop someone else’s brand in Australia, the Randalls know full well that they will control their own destiny as long as they own their brands, and that successfully navigating Rebel Road is where the true riches lie.

By Coleby Nicholson and Laurie Crook

Arthur J. Gallagher & Co

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