CEOs discuss key issues at JCK Forum

A panel of chief executives in the jewelry industry on Friday discussed a list of key issues during the conference program at the JCK Show ~ Phoenix.

Led by JCK publisher Frank Dallahan, the panel included Jeff Corey of Day’s Jewelers, a regional chain based in Maine; Bill Sustachek of Rasmussen Diamonds, an independent jeweler in Wisconsin, industry analysts Ken Gassman of the Rapaport Report and Russell Shor of the Gemological Institute of America. Tiffany Shlain, CEO of the Webby Awards, was featured speaker and also part of the panel.

The session began with a presentation by Shlain. She identified the myriad of ways that the Web has changed the way we all live and work, and identified the ways that jewelers can make the Web work for them. Whether it’s simply an informational “brochure” for the store or they actually conduct commerce on it, it’s essential that jewelers have a Web site, she said, because customers expect it. They will think a store that doesn’t have at least a home page with contact information is not “with it.”

“Look at any major crisis in the world and see how people view it. During the Civil War, people got their information from photography, which was brand new. In World War II, people crowded around the radio. During Viet Nam, it was network TV news. During the Gulf War it was CNN 24 hours a day. Now, it’s the Internet.”

She also identified some issues arising with the Web, including abuses of email and the social contract. But to do business online, a site must have humanity, trust, access, mobility, and simplicity. She showed the Cartier home page, with “welcome” in many languages, as an example of a good site.

Dallahan began by asking each of the panelists “what keeps you awake at night?” Corey said it was making the shift from being a small jeweler to running a large organization to stand the test of time. Sustachek said it was the knowledge that 75% of all small businesses in America fail and his determination to not become one of them. Gassman said it was the frustration at seeing how many jewelers don’t truly understand the opportunities the industry faces over the next 10 years, and Shor said it was the fear of having a TV crew come crashing through the door with questions about anything from treated stones to terrorism ties.

“How do you choose your suppliers? Do you ask your suppliers who their suppliers are?” he asked. All the key issues that are currently troubling the industry, from conflict diamonds to allegations of terrorism ties to synthetic diamonds and treated corundum, all can be addressed by knowing who your suppliers are.

Dallahan next asked each of the panelists to define competition. Was it Wal-Mart? Other independents? The Internet?

Sustachek said any jewelry store, no matter how low-end it is, is taking money away from his store. Gassman said it’s more important to look at share of wallet than specific stores. Jewelry, he said, is a luxury product and other luxury goods are growing far faster than jewelry. Shor said he viewed Wal-Mart as an add-on to the overall jewelry market, and suggested jewelers treat it like grade school—something consumers begin with but graduate from. And, he said, the Internet is something that jewelers need to join, not fight.

Other topics discussed during the course of the session included employee hiring and retention, customer service, managing growth, branding, and effective advertising and marketing.