John Greed: Working like a charm

They say diamonds are forever, and in jewellery tycoon John Greed’s eyes the appeal of a timeless product is the key to success. With a booming online enterprise and enviable prowess as an innovator in retail, he must be doing something right — as his Lincoln-based company is looking at a turnover this year of £12 million.

John Greed Jewellery Ltd, which stems back to 1991 when John arrived in Lincoln with £100 and a pushbike, now employs 50 members of staff and sells 4,000 units a day at its Firth Road warehouse in the city. The company is one of the biggest jewellery retailers in the UK with a flagship Lincoln store, coupling in-demand brands with iconic in-house designs.

This feature interview was first published in issue 53 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine, now available to read at Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.

Read issue 53 of Lincolnshire Business magazine now.

Read issue 53 of Lincolnshire Business magazine now.

With further expansion on the horizon, 48-year-old John describes his online operation as a “fairy tale”, and he thanks the virtual world of the internet for the rapidity of his business’ growth. Savvy initiatives in marketing brands like Pandora have seen the firm outsell even the retailer itself. But the products of John’s designer eye weren’t always accessories.

Brought up in Twickenham, John went to boarding school at Christ’s Hospital in Horsham. He then became a student in product design at Central Saint Martins University of the Arts in London. On finishing his degree he became a model maker in London before taking his skill across the continent, all the while holding on to a trusted bicycle as a semi-professional.

“I met some amazing people,” he said. “I cycled across Europe twice, hitchhiking at night and living hand to mouth.” Coming into contact with some of the richest people in the world, John learned some motivating outlooks. “If you live in the Mediterranean and you want to commision a billion pound boat, you’re not going to see anything for two or three years, so what you want is to show your mates a model. Making models for extremely rich people, I would be invited to lots of parties. What I picked up was there was an attitude of ‘anything is possible. Just do it and send me the invoice later.’

“So I thought ‘I’ll do a bit of that’. Even now I don’t see anything holding me back. I just do it.”

An appetite for innovation

John Greed in his workshop in Lincoln. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business.

John Greed in his workshop in Lincoln. Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business.

Without hesitation, John names Pandora as his biggest competitor, despite getting his big break from the brand. “We have a strange relationship. They rely on us, we rely on them. I buy the stock from them but they are our closest competitors, we are their closest competitors. I’ve still sold more Pandora online than they have and yet they are Pandora. What’s key though, is I don’t want to become my competitor.”

It was John’s skills in creative solutions and data mining that led to an idea that he says is his solution to the next “big thing in jewellery” – personalisation. “Not on the High Street have come from nowhere in the last five years. Why? Because of personalisation. Personalised products sell well because someone parts with their cash when that product is worth more than their cash. It’s an enhanced product, and it makes business sense because it doesn’t cost the producer much.

“Twenty years ago I’d have sat here hand stamping bracelets, but for my business now I need quantities of thousands a week to make it work. I have a lot of experience in machines and making things work, so we designed lasers, got them made in China and imported them back here. I designed and created the tooling and the work flows, so now for example I engrave Pandora beads and our own stuff using lasers on a scale that you just couldn’t imagine.

“Others have tried it. My competitors have wasted lots of money having a go, and I’m sure they will, but I’m not standing still either. By the time they manage to do it I’ll be another milestone down the road.”

Read the full interview in issue 53 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine and find out about John’s one big career regret.

All previous issues are now available to read at Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.