The Mad Lords’ fiefdom is expanding its reach. The rich hippie bijouterie community-based store founded by husband-and-wife team Serge and Caroline Muller, cultivating a dedicated following for the past ten years with its discreetly hidden Rue St. Honorè flagship, is planning three more store openings in 2022. One will be the first international located in Belgium, a relatively understated and unexpected choice that demonstrates its unique business approach at the brand’s root since its inception.
Fueling the moves, including a store in Saint Tropez, Brussels, and another location on Rue Saint Honorè is the brand’s growth during and after the COVID-19 pandemic-induced retail lockdowns. The three new brick-and-mortar locations will be in addition to the flagship store, the piercing bar, and Mad Lords Deauville.
A Focused Digital Presence
In 2019 sales at Mad Lords were roughly 6M euros, and they are projecting 12M euros in sales for 2022. According to Serge Muller, in 2020, their numbers dipped 20-25 percent during the store closures but are rebounding 100 percent this year from 2020, thus marking 2021 at a 33 percent increase compared to 2019. He attributes the spike to brand strengthening through unique storytelling that conveys the store’s unique approach, primarily due to the beefing up of digital aspects of the business.
“We had the ingredients for digital since the beginning, but it was like a cooking show where we couldn’t make a three-star meal,” notes Serge. Recognizing that store closings due to this and future pandemics plus ongoing social protests in France made having a solid e-comm and digital communication strategy non-negotiable.
The digital team went from essentially one, Serge, to a team of eight people. He estimates he spent 150,000 euros (as opposed to zero previously) investing in paid social marketing on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram for promotion, with additional funds for salaries and content creation. He also utilized a virtually-free tool, newsletters. “Digital is a strategy that restarts daily. It tests new ideas, so we needed more brains and more money to succeed,” he notes.
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One member of the team is fluent in German by design, hand translating the website, newsletters, etc. “We are trying to develop the German-speaking market in Europe, including Austria, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Luxembourg; they are the richest and have the highest revenue. It’s a lot more than people realize,” he said.
In May, the physical return of foreigners such as the Americans and Middle Eastern clients to the French capital helped with the uptick along with the French entrepreneurs that the Mullers count amongst their’ tribe.’ Identifying this community was at the genesis of the brand.
The couple recalled the moment they decided to switch gears—he, a highly creative and successful investment banker of thirty years and she, in public relations at Louis Vuitton—on the slopes of Val d’Isères. “I thought about how the society is organized differently today. We are no longer defined by religion, social class, or employment. Groups are organized into tribes, and tribes always wear jewelry,” he commented.
Caroline admits the idea wasn’t fully endorsed then. “Our friends told us we were crazy—jewelry in a hidden space; like a club where you could go if we knew you, invited you, or had a membership—but we had been looking for men’s jewelry and couldn’t find anything great on the market,” Caroline recalls adding men wearing jewelry in France at that time was not common. Though an insider-y, destination-bound store in 2012 sounds more feasible than today’s retail climate.
It was challenging like any new business. The first store was about 20-square meters and in a second-floor apartment as if they didn’t want everyone to know it existed. “We are elitists, but we are not snobs,” Serge maintains. But a strong word-of-mouth reputation through friends and friends of friends helped grow the business. Being smack dab in the center of Paris’ most desirable shopping block near the former Colette boutique, luxury designer stores and in-demand hairdressers was also a plus.
It built the experience that still exists today. The founders continue to work with clients one on one, getting to know them personally and becoming friends, even vacationing together and having them for meals at their home.
“My wife and I (with the Mad Lords team) created a universe where we host our guests. It’s our place; we live here more than our own house; this is our furniture, music, and scent. By the way, people are crazy about this scent,” he says, referring to the ambiance spray custom-blended for the store. While the US has been pushing experience in retail, the concept is still relatively new in France.
Customers come to Mad Lords to live the adventures vicariously becoming jewelry store owners created for Serge and Caroline. “We like to introduce pieces and tell the stories of the jewelry designers we meet, the travels we took to meet them,” said Caroline. The store carries jewelry from across the globe made in far-flung regions such as Japan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Mexico, and even homegrown in France. “We want to meet the people we work with. If we don’t get along, we can’t work with them or be fake about it. If we wouldn’t wear it, we can’t sell it,” Caroline continues. “People come here not to look like us but to be a part of us. We are jewelry hunters,” Serge adds. Labels carried include Jacquie Aiche, Anita Ko, Colette, Hirotaka, Buddha Mama and Seven Bicakci among others.
Despite being on the way to opening three more stores, Serge has a pretty coarse view of the physical store. “Retail is dead; now it’s a shopping experience,” he asserts, noting the cold, distant salesperson or pushy one doesn’t fly anymore. “Why go there if you have a website; it needs to give someone an experience.”
The experience is felt even through the moniker. The name references the poet and dandy Lord Byron, his father, Mad Jack Byron, the proper initials of both Caroline and Serge, and the phenomenon of the bourgeoisie breaking out of a mold letting loose their inner wild child. “Our tribe includes classic-style French people who want to go a little crazy. I call it rock-n-roll bourgeoisie. Businesspeople wearing suits and Chanel come, and suddenly they go a bit mad,” he explains.
Location is Everything
The Mullers chose Deauville, aka the French Hamptons, full of old money, new money, and horse racing money for their first location besides Rue Saint Honorè. Not only did Serge spend time there as a young person, so do the bourgeoisie of the 16eme in Paris.
Opening a third Rue Saint Honorè locale may seem redundant (the piercing bar sits at the comer to the courtyard entrance of the flagship on the famous shopping street). But while the mood may be consistent, the offerings will focus elsewhere. “We see a demand for the pre-owned watch and vintage jewelry business,” he said, noting watch market prices are ‘crazy.’ The former financial whiz attributes that to zero percent interest rate and a hyper-leveraged economy. “Right now, money is ‘free,’ so investments in homes, arts, and valuable assets are high.” The pieces will focus on jewelry crafted from antiquities to modern vintage pieces from the 1960s and 1970s, refurbished watches from decades dating back to the Fifties, and current, non-modified watches dating to the Nineties.
The Brussels opening resulted from a strong relationship with a client in real estate that was passionate about the brand. It also marks a bridge between France and those German-speaking municipalities. The Saint Tropez location is in the heart of the French resort town’s toniest stores and caters to an international crowd. The stores will open between April and June 2022.
A recently redesigned logo will help cement the branding. It borrows from the Greek symbol Sigma indicating the sum of something and a sign denoting the difference versus the average contrast to the norm while discreetly displaying the address. “At Mad Lords, we are unifying differences but also a bit ‘mad’ too. We are anti-conformists for sure,” he added.
With digital growth also came essential services to clients with upswings in long-term financing via updated forms of payment such as Klarna, AfterPay, and cryptocurrency. However, Muller notes they convert it to euros upon receiving it.
Besides digital development and travel opening, he sees the sales boosts as a reaction to the post-pandemic optimism. “People suffered in their lives. Five million people died; it’s like after a war. Thanks to science and vaccines, things are returning to normal. People want to be happy and not just buy things they need,” he observes.