Well, Why Not?

One of today’s most overused business clichés is the phrase “think outside the box.”

It simply means change—and for many, change isn’t easy. From the elderly lady who can no longer drive but still wants to do her weekly errands on the days she’s always done them, to the company that doesn’t want to buy new equipment, those unwilling to adjust on their own will eventually be forced by circumstance to adjust.

We’ve all heard the parables about resisting change: A ship at sea risks shipwreck, but a ship that stays anchored in port will eventually rot. The railroad barons of the early 20th century failed to recognize that they were in the transportation industry, not the railroad industry. And we in the jewelry industry are part of the fashion industry.

That, for many, represents a big shift in thinking. While jewelry is bought, given, and worn for emotional reasons, the bottom line is that jewelry is worn on the body—and that makes us a part of the fashion industry. The fastest-growing segment of jewelry sales is to women buying jewelry for themselves, and jewelers ignore this shift in the market at their peril. Bridal and other special-occasion gift purchases may always account for the majority of most jewelers’ annual profits, but the most successful retailers also market jewelry as a necessary accessory for every day.

Michael Roman, who passed away in December at age 84 (UpFront, page 24), was one of our industry’s biggest out-of-the-box thinkers during his tenure as chairman of Jewelers of America. In 1987, he moved the New York JA show out of its venue at the Hilton and Sheraton hotels and into the new Jacob Javits Convention Center. The hotels were hard to navigate, the elevators were a nightmare, and going between the two buildings meant getting cold and/or wet, but people still balked like crazy about moving to the Javits Center. After all, complaining about the hotels was as much of a hallowed tradition as the show itself.

But the first Javits show, in the summer of 1987, was a smashing success. No more squeezing into sardine-can elevators! No goods spread out on beds! Open booths instead of hotel rooms! By the end of the show, exhibitors and buyers alike were clamoring for JA’s winter show to move to Javits as well.

In 1991, Mike Roman did another unthinkable thing: He sold the JA show to the Blenheim Group. While the step shocked the industry, it helped secure JA’s long-term financial stability and enabled it to focus on education, lobbying, and other key initiatives. Today, 10 years later, JA chairman Matt Runci can take credit for his work on conflict diamonds and other issues that could have major implications on our industry’s future.

In 1992, JCK stepped out of the box by launching a show to compete against the JA show—in Las Vegas! When JCK‘s former editor-in-chief George Holmes announced to the staff plans to launch the show, a certain fashion editor exclaimed incredulously, “Las Vegas? But that’s nuts! We can’t have a show in Las Vegas! There’s no jewelry industry in Las Vegas!”

He replied, “There isn’t one in Basel, Switzerland, either.” (He had me there. I shut my mouth.)

It’s important to be able to get beyond one’s own barriers. It isn’t easy, but those who don’t try will eventually find that their self-imposed barriers have become prison walls, from behind which they are watching the world go by.

So the next time you or one of your staff has a wild idea, ask yourself, “Well, why not?” But instead of finding a million reasons why not, ask yourself, “Okay, how?”

hschupak@reedbusiness.com