“We listen to the customer in everything we do”
Esteve and Jordi Rabat, from Rabat jewellery
The new Rabat jewellery store sparkles majestically in the latest space it occupies on Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia. Casa Codina, a Modernist gem built in 1898 and faithfully restored by the Rabat family, affords the best possible setting for the fantasy world that its jewellery pieces and watches speak to.
Two months on from the opening of the new store, the largest jeweller’s in Barcelona, father and son duo Esteve and Jordi Rabat tell Barcelona és moda about the start of this new project and the future of the store and the jewellery trade.
Rabat was established in Badalona in the late 1970s. It didn’t move onto Passeig de Gràcia until 2004 and now, 11 years later, has made the huge leap to occupying a new space, next door to La Pedrera, on this famous shopping boulevard.
The building covers 2,500 sq m and the firm’s own jewellery designs and pieces from the multibrand companies it represents are displayed on two floors. It also houses the production workshops, the fast repair service and all of the corporate departments. From the outside, it wins the customer over with an elegant and simple stone façade presided by the glass gallery that occupies the first floor and part of the second. “We have sited a commercial store inside an historical building. It wasn’t easy but we did it respecting everything that it contained and restoring each element in line with the canons of the period when it was built,” Esteve Rabat says. The space houses more than 45 people in the workshops and departments on the third floor, and 35 people in the store who serve local and foreign customers. “We have about a 50% mix of both. About half of all our tourist customers are Chinese and the other half are a mix of Europeans and people from other countries,” says Jordi Rabat. He is able to translate each of the firm’s movements and processes into an indicator and to use figures to explain a business which, as his father is the first to agree, must necessarily involve “always listening to the customer”.
You opened two months ago. How is it going?
Esteve Rabat (ER): It seems like just yesterday, but we’re surprised at how well it is going. These sorts of changes are scary but we are very pleased because we now have everything concentrated here, the design and marketing departments and the workshops. We can work in a team again and that allows us to be more receptive and to listen more to the customer.
Jordi Rabat (JR): It’s as if we’d been here for a couple of years. We no longer show anyone the store because we’ve got used to the new space. Now we are focusing once more on the most important thing, which is the customer.
How was the company organised before you took over this new building on Passeig de Gràcia?
ER: The workshops were in one place in the city, the marketing department in another and the offices in a third. Visiting them could take the whole morning. Now, you can check in on all the departments by 9 am and do it again at 11 if you need to. But the most important thing is that if a customer comes in and we want to show them our new designs, we can do so quickly. We are once again in a more spiritual place.
We sometimes get caught up in a frenzy too… but hey, it’s not a frenzy! It’s what the customers and suppliers wanted.
The family wanted you to grow, too!
ER: Yes, that’s him (he laughs, indicating his son). When he joined the firm we realised that two isn’t twice as good as one…it’s more.
JR: When a person carries out a project alone – my father and mother worked together – you only have 5% of the time to think. He (referring to his father) didn’t have any time to think or to strategise. It’s not that I do it better or worse, but now we have 10 times
more to think.
ER: We can take on a lot more projects now. They might not always go to plan but we can try things out and correct mistakes much more quickly. That’s why the business is doing so well.
Was it local customers – who you have said are the heart of the Rabat business – who were asking you to grow?
ER: The people in Badalona used to ask us to open a bigger store, then they wanted a coffee shop and so on. In Barcelona people also ask us to increase the number of brands. We listen to the customer in everything we do.
Is fantasy jewellery the Rabat signature product?
ER: Yes, that’s always been our distinguishing feature.
Did local customers continue to buy unusual jewellery during the financial crisis?
ER: Traditional jewellery is a sure bet and fantasy jewellery becomes more appealing in good economic times. That’s when people are more open to something new. During the downturn, customers were after more traditional jewellery, so we automatically cut back on everything that was superfluous and concentrated on more classic items.
JR: Also, people are better informed these days than they used to be. They have more of a jewellery culture.
Is that a new type of customer, the person who researches what they want?
JR: It’s the same customer, but now he or she wants to discover things and be advised. It’s like with wine…we all want a sommelier to help us discover something new.
Do your customers know what each stone conveys?
JR: Yes, there is a new layer in the purchasing process and the customer knows it.
Your aim with the interior design of the new store was to appeal to people’s emotions…
JR: Always! We have to get caught up in their celebrations. They are what matter. People come to visit us because they are getting married, or have had a baby, or have a graduation coming up…
ER: We want this space to convey peace, to be somewhere the customer can wind down and relax with a glass of cava or a coffee.
You are in a new building, Casa Codina. Is that drawing a new type of customer to Rabat Barcelona?
JR: What we want is for our established customers to keep on coming. And after that, everyone is welcome.
ER: We use the internet, social networks and so on to encourage tourists …in any case, the domestic market is recovering; people are starting to look to the future with optimism. They are starting to host more celebrations, the ones they had cut out during the crisis. Now small impulses and hope are appearing again!
You have stores in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Do customer tastes vary much from one city to the other?
ER: People who like to buy fun jewellery, something different to traditional pieces, share the common trait of being well-travelled, so they have more similar tastes than you might think. The Chinese used to have different tastes but they are increasingly beginning to like the same things as us. In fact I would even say that they are influencing us!
What type of purchaser is the Chinese customer?
ER: We all learn very easily when we want to. Chinese customers are interested in jewellery and watches and they read up on them. Sometimes a group of tourists can come in and the brands we represent had asked us to boost their visibility and he (pointing to his son) came up with a great way of doing it.
Did the brands want bigger spaces inside the store?
ER: Before, a brand could have a small stand, like at the other store. But now it gets a stand all to itself, with its own look and feel.
Is it important to you to be the exclusive distributor in marketing a given brand?
ER: It works very well for us, both in Barcelona and the rest of Spain.
JR: We try, but it’s not our main goal.
ER: No, it’s not our main goal, that’s true.
JR: It depends on the brand. There are brands that do it themselves. For example, if Tag Heuer wasn’t everywhere, it wouldn’t look good for us.
JR: We specialise more in our customers. We love it that they can come for anything from a first communion watch to one they can wear when they play sport.
And here they can find watches from €800 like the one you are wearing (a special edition Tissot dedicated to his brother, Tito Rabat, 2014 Moto2 world champion) through to …
JR: No! From €800, no! From €100! We don’t want to turn anyone off!
ER: There are things priced from €60. But what I would say is that the €60, €100 or €100,000 piece must be trendy. I can’t advise you to get something that is unfashionable or démodée.
JR: I would say it’s like a pyramid that represents a style. We have pieces from the base right up to the top. But I would also say that the most important thing is to remember the occasion the gift is for.
How do you choose the new firms that Rabat will stock?
ER: We look everywhere – at sector trade fairs, of course, but above all day-to-day trends, in store windows and magazines.
JR: Around 90% of our jewellery is own-brand, while all of the watches are multibrand. In terms of making the selection, rather than ‘discover’, I would use the word ‘analyse’. We have to be sure that in a few years from now we will still be happy having made the recommendations that we do.
ER: Regardless of what it costs.
Are your customers very sure about what they want or are they open to…
ER: … you can serve someone but if you want to do a really good job you must advise them. Transmit a style. Shops are increasingly about buying and selling but I would say that if you can provide advice as well, that is a great added value.
JR: As far as jewellery goes, we always try to show the customer different products, and in the case of watches we show them at least three.
Speaking about the work of the watchmaker and the jeweller…is it hard to find people trained in repairing watches and the different steps of the jewellery creation process?
ER: In Spain we have the great luck of having a watch-making school, located in Barcelona. The problem is that only around six micro-mechanics students graduate each year. They have to study a lot of mathematics, which is a limitation for people who like manual work and want practical training. They may get scared off because of the maths and physics. Only 25 years ago people owned 1.5 watches on average – now they usually have many more. That means that maintenance is needed and only six or seven new watchmakers a year is not enough.
So what can be done about this shortfall of specialised professionals?
ER: They can undertake stays in Switzerland, in Geneva, with our training courses. We have one or two watchmakers in every store, each of them fully qualified. In total we have 17.
JR: Some of them have been with us for 20 years; they were with us back in Badalona.
ER: We repair an enormous number of watches! It isn’t the most enjoyable thing because no-one appreciates it and it is costly.
JR: Everyone in the trade including ourselves has learnt to do repairs faster. We have had to learn to be faster and more consistent, both ourselves and the brands. The integration of the aftersales service means that we do everything here rather in Switzerland. So we can work much more quickly; we can keep in contact with the client at all times regarding the state of the repair and take decisions on the spot.
Rabat doesn’t have an online store. Why is that?
JR: We trust in our online service to connect with customers. We agree that there are many customers who want to buy online, but we could lose the meeting point we have with the customer if we expose ourselves greatly to that type of sale. Today we have the opportunity to meet our customers in the flesh and we really have to weigh up whether we can do away with that contact and the chance to explain things.
ER: Serving is easy and the norm in stores that depend on impulse buying, but the added value lies in providing advice.
But you say that online is the future.
JR: Is shopping the result of a need or of strolling around the stores and dreaming? If we only bought online the future would be a physical store. The online service might satisfy demand, but a store interacts with people’s lives and gets involved in their dreams. This is something that has to be considered and maybe everyone – or no-one! – has the answer.
What role does the Rabat website play in the purchasing process?
JR: We get 3,000 visits a day to our site and many of them include a query. Most want information and very few want to buy over the Internet. Around 40% or 50% of the queries end up being a sale in the physical store, while no more than 10% ask us to send them the item.
You don’t export Rabat jewellery abroad. If someone wants one of your pieces, they have to come to the physical stores.
JR: Yes. Many people have asked us about this, but we are cautious because we know that’s not our area of expertise. We haven’t dared.
ER: ‘More haste less speed’, as they say. Of course we have wanted to expand for years but we have always taken a ‘softly softly’ approach. We have thought long and hard before taking any step, drawing on conservative figures, and thanks to all that things have gone well for us.
What you are describing is a very Catalan way of doing business, typical of the Catalan family business.
ER: Yes, that’s true.
So you haven’t thought about opening more stores?
ER: No way! Let us get over this first and then we’ll see! But I’m not closing the door to it entirely. If something new crops up we might run with it. We’ll have to wait and see.
Your most important project from now on…
ER: … is to consolidate the new store. Of course it’s true that the steps can be consolidated quickly.