In its first 18 months, Endless Jewelry has already made a lot of noise, and founder Jesper Nielsen says it’s just getting started. In this interview, Nielsen, the founder of Pandora’s Central and Western Europe division—and author of a book about the company—talks about his desire to join the ranks of global jewelry super brands, and how “affordable luxury” is now a permanent part of our business.
JCK: How do you see this brand as differing from Pandora?
Jesper Nielsen: I am trying to build a global brand that will have a full range of jewelry. We are trying to put a new dimension on it. Pandora has a silver bracelet. We have the leather bracelets with different colors.
With Pandora we just sold one or two bracelets. With Endless, I see not just repeat sales on the charms, but repeat sales on the bracelets. Rings are a huge market and will be our biggest thing to work with. You can also put charms on the necklace.
Our secret weapon is having Jennifer Lopez wear it everywhere. She has 100 million followers on social media. She adds a lot of value to the brand.
JCK: You have Pandora, Alex and Ani, now Thomas Sabo is coming into the United States. Do you see the charm market becoming saturated?
Nielsen: I don’t think so. It is just like 30 years ago, you could buy only Levi’s jeans. Now you can buy many different brands.
JCK: In your book, you were critical of the new direction of Pandora. Obviously, the brand had some tough times, but it appears to have righted itself.
Nielsen: What Pandora did for the last two or three years is they accepted their DNA. They are affordable luxury. Pandora for a while wanted to be a high-end brand. If you want to spend $1,700 on a ring, you don’t buy a Pandora ring. That was my disagreement with the new management. I knew the customers. If you want a ring for $1,700, you buy from Cartier and Bulgari.
I’m not selling to the upper class. The brands that are getting big in our industry say that even though you are buying a bracelet for $50, you are still treated like a VIP customer.
JCK: We hear a lot about the growing gap between rich and poor. It seems the jewelry business is going the same way, with high-end stores and affordable luxury brands like yours.
Nielsen: For high-end brands it will be difficult for new brands to find a foothold. They are competing with established names. When it comes to the affordable luxury, the industry has room for names for more mega brands. We see there are three big global brands: Swarovski, Fossil, and Pandora. And then there are local phenomenons like Alex and Ani in America, Thomas Sabo in Germany, and Links of London in the United Kingdom. We want to be a global brand. We think there is room for two or three more super brands. I hope Endless is one of them.
JCK: Is there still reluctance among jewelers to selling affordable products? It goes against their standard business model.
Nielsen: Ten years ago Pandora came out selling items for $30, $40. Now we have a jewelry brand that sells brass. That is not even fine jewelry, but it is what the customer wants. We have to adapt to what our end customer wants.
Some high-end stores should not touch brands like Pandora or Endless. They are just wasting their time selling a $30 or $40 brand when they can sell a product for $5,000. But there are less and less $5,000 customers out there.
Collections like Pandora and Endless and Alex and Ani get people into the jewelry stores. Then maybe they come back for a watch or something else.
JCK: You just opened a stand-alone store in Estonia. Do you plan any in the United States?
Nielsen: Within the next 12 months we will open our first concept store in the United States. We have to find the right partners. We will never run the store ourselves. We are brand marketers. Retail is detail. We need professional jewelers to do it.
JCK: Do you plan a television ad in the United States?
Nielsen: We are not that far. We need more distribution. I would like to do a Super Bowl commercial to push it to the next level. But I don’t know whether we can do it next year.
JCK: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment in your first 18 months of business?
Nielsen: We have opened up 3,500 partners throughout the world in 18 months. I don’t think any brand ever did that. We have 1,300 partners in North America. That is a very good start. We have really defined our DNA, we are trying to make the women out there love our brand. We have a long way to go, but we are investing like crazy. We are making a huge commitment.
JCK: Who is supporting this financially?
Nielsen: We have five or six guys behind this, all out of Denmark. I am a major shareholder, and these five or six serve as a good foundation. They all believe in the project. One of our shareholders is the owner of Saxo Bank in Denmark. Due to the success of Pandora, people in Denmark find it interesting.
JCK: Why did you appoint a CEO?
Nielsen: I did the same thing when I was running Pandora in Western Europe. As a leader and founder of the company, I want to travel around and make this brand happen. So I don’t want to deal with basic business tasks, like documents, as a CEO stuck in an office. I want to serve my customers.
I want to open up 15 new markets in the next year. Normally as a CEO you are not able to do that. I want to be the guy who meets with the customers. But then I don’t want to have to write all the contracts. I want to get to the next meeting.
[CEO] Paul [Moonga] is very strong in logistics. That is his specialty. I am not very strong in detail. I am strong in getting the big picture.
JCK: His background is mostly in telecommunications.
Nielsen: Executives don’t have to know the industry. I have that knowledge. I want someone who can put their hands on the inner structure of the company. To me it’s not important what he did before. My CFO used to be in windmills.
JCK: So what is your new title?
Nielsen: I am a major shareholder and the founder of the company. Jennifer Lopez is the face to the outside world, but I am the face to the business world.
JCK: You have been quoted as saying this brand will be bigger than Pandora.
Nielsen: It doesn’t have to be. Whether it is bigger or not is not important. It has the potential to be as big but no one knows the future. We have had a very strong start, and we think we can carry this a very long way.
JCK: Could you ever see going public like Pandora?
Nielsen: I don’t think so. I wasn’t a fan of that exercise. It meant we lost control of the company. It is not something that I am giving a half a second of thought to after 18 months. But you should never say never.
JCK: People who been involved in Pandora compare it to winning the lottery. Can you win the lottery twice?
Nielsen: When I talk to my distributors, I say, “Easy guys. We have to expect that things take time.” People think that Pandora’s success came overnight. I can assure you it didn’t. It was five or six years of hard work and then suddenly it came.
I live in a beautiful house in Majorca [Spain], and I have five children. There has to be a balance. I don’t want to work as hard as I did when I built Pandora but for now I am. Entrepreneurs always say we want to work less. I have tried many times. For now I have a full schedule.