By Michelle Graff
Jean-Christophe Bédos is the president and CEO of Birks Group Inc., which operates jewelry stores in the United States and Canada.
Montreal--Everybody has a different path that leads them into the jewelry industry.

For some, it’s essentially a birthright. Jewelers can have generations before them in the business as bench jewelers or retail store owners.

Others take a less direct, and seemingly more random, route into the industry, as was the case for Birks Group Inc. President and CEO Jean-Christophe Bédos.

Bédos, who holds degrees from the Nottingham Trent University in the UK, France’s Toulouse Business School, and London Business School, was finishing his law degree at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris when he got his first job in jewelry.

He needed to secure a business internship before graduating and found what he was looking for at Cartier, working for the iconic jewelry house during the morning while attending law school in the afternoon.

“My family was not in the jewelry industry,” Bédos explains. “Of course, I knew Cartier--the prestige of the company and the brand. And I was extremely proud to be accepted as a student intern.”

After he completed his law degree, Cartier offered him a job and Bédos didn’t hesitate to accept.

Like so many others, one job was all it took to fall in love with the industry. He started working in product development for the company’s international watch division at Cartier in London and nearly three decades later, he’s still in the jewelry business.

After accepting that initial job, Bedos spent the next 16 years at Cartier and its parent company, Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, before leaving to head Boucheron International for seven years.

Then, in 2012, he and his wife decided it was time for a change for their four young children. They moved their family across the Atlantic to Montreal, after he was offered the job at Birks.

The Canadian brand has been around since 1879 and, today, is a publicly held company operating a chain of 59 jewelry stores. Slightly more than half of those stores (34, 32 Birks plus two Brinkhaus stores) are in Canada but Birks also owns the 24 Mayors stores in Florida and Georgia, along with the Rolex Boutique Mayors in Orlando.

Bédos said the Birks job intrigued him for two reasons.

First, it gave his wife and him the chance to raise their children in Montreal, where they would be exposed to international experiences and a bilingual culture. The children have spoken both French and English since they learned to talk, and the languages share official federal status in Canada.

Secondly, it put him on the other side of the counter, so to speak.

After years on the supplier side of the business, the Birks job gave Bédos the chance to lead a retail chain with a long history, and to develop fresh, innovative product lines that were exclusive to, and branded as, Birks.

These include the gold-focused “Muse Ribbon,” the edgy “Rock & Pearl,” the diamond clusters of “Snowflake,” and the philanthropy-focused “Bee Chic.” Ten percent of the sales from a silver pendant that’s included in the bee collection goes to the Honey Bee Research Centre at the University of Guelph in Ontario, one of the many institutions studying the decline of the honeybee population.

Since Bédos came on board, he’s also made store renovation a priority.

2017 Birks storeOne of the locations the retailer has remodeled is this Birks store in Yorkdale, Ontario.
According to the company, since 2012, it has remodeled or relocated seven stores, and opened three new doors in Canada, while moving or remodeling five stores in Florida and opening one new one.

While there are no guarantees in retail today, even for those who seemingly make all the right moves--revamping product lines and marketing campaigns, and overhauling stores to make them look more modern and experiential--the changes Bédos and his team implemented have produced positive results so far.

In a holiday season in which Tiffany & Co. stumbled and Signet Jewelers disappointed, Birks posted a 16 percent jump in comps for its U.S. stores and 3 percent for its Canadian operations.

‘He Gets It’
After moving to North America to take the Birks job five years ago, Bédos was invited to join a group of executives of larger jewelry retailers who regularly get together to exchange ideas.

There, he met and befriended both Alan Zimmer, the longtime head of Reeds Jewelers Inc., and
Ben Bridge Jeweler’s Marc Bridge.

When asked about Bédos, both mention the way he has used his innovative approach to retail to enliven an old brand that needed refreshing.

“He’s done what I consider to be a masterful job of changing the nature of their stores, remodeling stately, older guild stores into very modern-looking jewelry stores with shop-in-shops for all the major brands,” says Zimmer, who is also a Retail Hall of Famer (class of 1992).

“I think he’s the real deal. He gets it.”
“Those who are successful today are those who are humble about the fact that they might not have all the answers.”  – Jean-Christophe Bédos
Bridge has visited with Bédos’s team in Montreal, and the two spent time together at the SIHH watch show in Geneva as well.

He says from his perspective, Bédos took a really smart approach to running the 138-year-old jeweler: He identified what Birks does well and what its customers want, and figured out how to deliver it to them in a manner that’s consistent with current expectations.

“We need to have more smart and creative people trying different things,” Bridge says. “That’s how the [jewelry] business is going to be successful over time.”

While Bédos would certainly not disagree with that statement, he has another thought about what makes for success in retail today--the willingness to acknowledge that change is needed and the modesty to admit that you might need help navigating it.

“Those who are successful today are those who are humble about the fact that they might not have all the answers,” he says.

“Recipes of the past might not work anymore.”

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.