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Kings of luxury
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Kings of luxury

John Bull drives Bahamas’ luxury retail market for 85 years

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 21, 2014
January 21, 2014
Tosheena Robinson-Blair

John Bull has mastered the art of exclusivity without being exclusionary and that is what has made John Bull the king of luxury in The Bahamas.

For decades John Bull has been the leader in the luxury goods retail market in The Bahamas. This year, The Bahamas’ most prestigious luxury chain celebrates its 85th anniversary.

Although slow economic growth has cast a shadow on the luxury retail market, John Bull’s partnerships with some of the world’s best luxury brands keep its customers coming back for more.

Rich history
It’s hard to believe that the John Bull Group of Companies, best known today as a purveyor of luxury products, began as a small tobacconist’s shop.

Asa H Prichard, later Sir Asa, opened his store on Bay Street in 1929, just as the Great Depression was beginning. He chose as its name and logo the quintessential image of an English gentleman–John Bull: a stout, country squire attired for a fox hunt with top hat, red tailcoat, white breeches and black knee-high boots.

The name and the image remain, and the flagship store is still on Bay Street, although at a different location. However, the company itself bears no resemblance to Sir Asa’s original concept. Indeed, John Bull, now a fourth generation family business, has survived by paying close attention to consumer demand and continually reinventing itself.

Just as Nassau has metamorphosed into one of the world’s premier vacation and offshore investment centres, John Bull has become a sophisticated department store of high-end boutiques and a diverse group of companies.

“We see ourselves as a destination within a destination,” says Inga Bowleg, John Bull’s director of business development. “While The Bahamas boasts sun, sand and sea, it’s fair to say that shopping plays a big role … [it’s] an amenity for tourists once they get to our destination.”

Given the appeal of its merchandise, John Bull sets the bar high. Some of the company’s top selling brands include: Rolex, Cartier, Gucci, David Yurman, MAC Cosmetics, Pandora, Breitling, Patek Philippe, Michael Kors and Tiffany & Co.

“Due to the diversity of John Bull and the brands that we represent, it’s fair to say that we appeal to a great cross-section of persons,” says Bowleg. “We feature goods for children and for adults … everything from fragrances to jewellery and children’s watches, to the fabulous and luxurious [for adults], like your Rolex and Cartier.”

But beyond all that, it’s the store’s close attention to consumer demand–in both the local and tourist markets–that keeps the cash registers busy, says Rick Hazlewood, John Bull’s corporate director.

Tobacco to world’s most prestigious brandsLooking back, it’s obvious that John Bull remained relevant over the decades by shedding outdated products and acquiring new ones.

For instance, office equipment and supplies were added to the store’s lineup in the 1930s.

Sir Asa’s daughter, Macushla, and her husband Frank Hazlewood, took the reins as vice president and general manager, respectively, in the 1940s.

They introduced a variety of luxury products in the 1950s, including designer watch brands Rolex, Tag Heuer, Piaget and Mido as well as toys, china and porcelain gifts. John Bull has been the exclusive official Rolex retailer in The Bahamas since 1952.

It was in the 1960s that John Bull became known for fine jewellery; a camera department was also added, featuring such brands as Nikon, Minolta and Fuji. Today, brands also include Olympus and Canon.

The 1970s was a decade of expansion. The first store outside Nassau opened in Freeport, Grand Bahama. More top brands were added to John Bull’s jewellery and watch lines. Diversification continued in the 1980s as John Bull added La Parfumerie, a fragrance and cosmetics boutique. In these years, the Hazlewoods opened its “store within a store” concept with Gucci–a tastefully appointed boutique tucked into the flagship store. Meanwhile, expansion into the Family Islands followed.

Within the company, Sir Asa’s grandson Fred Hazlewood was named president of the John Bull Group in 1988. Under his leadership, the company welcomed more exclusive brands: Bulgari, Cartier, David Yurman and Tiffany & Co. Fine leather goods, such as Dooney & Bourke, also joined the family. In December 1996, the company moved into its spacious new headquarters at 284 Bay Street.

Two years later, John Bull opened four boutiques in the Crystal Court at the Atlantis megaresort on Paradise Island: Bulgari, Cartier, Gucci and John Bull. In 2005, John Bull was also part of Atlantis’s Marina Village launch with four additional locations: Dooney & Bourke, La Parfumerie, John Bull and Starbucks.

Growth continued for the John Bull Group of Companies with new stores opening in Dunmore Town, Harbour Island and the John Bull Business Centre on Robinson Road in 2001; Emerald Bay, Exuma in 2004; the Coach boutique on Bay Street in 2007; The Cosmetic Boutique in 2008; and the Pandora boutique in Atlantis’s Marina Village in 2012. The company further diversified its business interests when it obtained the Starbucks franchise in 2005, opened Party Land and Bijoux Terner in 2010 and acquired the Subway franchise in 2011.

Customer is king
The company’s founding principle, paying attention to customer demand, is still in place, says Bowleg.

“We position products in the stores based on what our customers request. In tourist markets there is a very high demand for brands such as Rolex, Cartier, Bulgari, Tiffany & Co and David Yurman.

“Our local market is extremely strong. We know that Bahamians love and enjoy the finest, so they are as attracted to these products as the tourists, but, as far as strategic placement, we have to ensure that the stores that have the higher end goods are accessible to both markets.”

Although affluent customers are not as troubled by the economic environment as the average consumer, John Bull has done much to appeal to its wide clientele by offering “accessible” luxury brands, according to Duane Roberts, chief executive officer of the John Bull Group of Companies.

“These are brands like Pandora and Michael Kors,” he says. “Very popular, very nice brands at affordable luxury price points.”

In fact, many of the brands carried by John Bull have globally unveiled less expensive versions of their high-end merchandise, perhaps with the thought that loyal customers will switch to the higher tier merchandise whenever their financial circumstances improve. For example, brands such as Cartier and David Yurman have released more moderately priced pieces.

“We’re selling more core products and new products at entry level price points,” Hazlewood confirms.

“We call them ‘everyday’ pieces.” Going forward, John Bull says it will continue to answer the call of the customers.

“We will respond to the needs and requests of the customer. It’s how we drive the business,” says Bowleg. “Our brands have made every effort to make luxury goods more attainable, you just then decide at what level you want to enter.”

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