‘We were probably forced to make changes sooner because of Brexit’
Brexit Proof Q&A: Martin Commins, Perfectring
Martin Commins, the owner and managing director of Perfectring: ‘People seem to think that, if sterling drops, you can go up North and get a ring cheaper but you don’t get more ring for your euro because you’re buying in sterling.’
A qualified chartered accountant and former Enterprise Ireland finance manager, Commins established his business as a price comparison website, www.perfectring.ie, in 2009. Some years later a second website was established, called www.bespokediamonds.ie, to facilitate the creation of custom-made engagement rings for clients.
In 2014, Commins opened Commins & Co Jewellers in the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin. The store stocks about 600 items of jewellery at any given time, mostly engagement rings.
Bespoke Diamonds continues to create custom-made rings to order for clients in Kildare Street in Dublin, combining traditional goldsmithing and stone-setting techniques with the modern process of 3D printing.
What was your reaction when you heard the UK had voted to leave the EU?
“Slightly shocked. There was also an element of denial for the first few months and then a consideration about what we needed to do to prevent it affecting our business. We would have had a lot of dealings with the UK – a lot of the rings we were getting from suppliers were coming from the UK so we needed to consider what to do.”
How is your business likely to be affected?
“There are two possible impacts. One is the sourcing of raw materials from the diamond dealers and metal detailers. The second, indirect impact, and the one that I have less control over, is the wider economic impact.
“If there is a hard Brexit, the ripple effect could mean a customer base with less money to spend. To counteract this, we are looking at facilitating more affordable options for clients with the introduction of certified lab-grown diamonds that look identical to natural diamonds, almost indistinguishable even to experts, but which are 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than earth-grown diamonds.”
When did you begin preparing for Brexit and what contingency plans have you put in place?
“In the first year, nothing – due to a little bit of denial and the assumption that it would all fix itself. Then after the first year we began to ask: ‘What would happen if it actually does go through?”
“We started to put steps in place such as acquiring our high-quality 3D printer and looking at other diamond dealers. Essentially, [if there is a hard Brexit] it will be like getting supplies in from the US. It’s not as though we won’t use our UK suppliers ever again but I want to make sure I am not over-relying on any one country or one supplier. I have to plan for the worst-case scenario and over-plan.”
Are you examining new markets/suppliers?
“We have chosen to look at sourcing more from our diamond dealers in Antwerp, Canada and Australia and less in the UK. The upgrading of our equipment also means that we aim to make the vast majority of our rings in-house so that our business won’t be impacted by Brexit.
How much do you rely on raw materials from the UK and customers from north of the Border?
“We are no longer relying to such an extent on raw materials or finished items from Britain. However, we do have customers who come from north of the Border, particularly for our custom-made rings, as the option to design something from scratch doesn’t seem to be as readily available in Northern Ireland.
“People seem to think that, if sterling drops, you can go up North and get a ring cheaper but you don’t get more ring for your euro because you’re buying in sterling. All assets are bought in dollars, so a jeweller in Britain or Northern Ireland will simply adjust their prices. Producing more of our rings in-house reduces the amount of people in the process and therefore the risk. We wanted to do this anyway but Brexit gave us a bit of a kick.”
Does Brexit present any opportunities for your business?
“We were probably forced to make the changes to our business sooner because of Brexit. It forced me to get a designer, a goldsmith, a stonesetter... it’s more work but it’s far better quality.”
What’s your best-/worst-case scenario?
“Best-case scenario is if Brexit went away or there is another vote and the status quo returned. Either way, if Brexit doesn’t happen, my customers are happy so I’m happy. If Brexit does happen, my competitors are unhappy so I’m happy.
“A lot of my competitors are less well prepared than I am. I am fairly insulated so I feel that they will suffer more. That’s not to say I want a difficult Brexit because I am aware of the possible impact for my customer base. I’m conscious of how everyone else will survive – the farmer who comes up from Cork to buy a ring for example – but from our side we’ve done everything we can.”