Designers Speak Out About Why They’re Cutting Out Wholesale



A feature article from JCK’s June issue inspired shares and comments online. Here we look at what got the industry talking.

A feature article in JCK’s June at-show issue took aim at a trend that’s inspired a heated debate in industry: designers eschewing wholesale in order to sell directly to consumers.

“Why Designers Are Cutting Out Middlemen in Favor of Direct-to-Consumer Sales” received recognition and shares for subject matter that’s both controversial and hard to fathom. Could the wholesale jewelry trade fade away like a dream, and is it the retail community’s fault that it’s happening?

JCK reached out to industry members who talked up the topic on social media and on JCK‘s website. 

Overall, most agreed with the premise of the piece, which suggested that retailer demands for memo and inequitable vendor-merchant relationships were an unfair burden to makers often expected to bankroll some retailers’ businesses. On the flip side, stores provide valuable services to both consumers and designers, and going direct isn’t always the best option, though it can be viewed as an efficient one.

Ceramic artist Etienne Perret finds the current landscape difficult to navigate. Perret knows retailers want to sell inventories, but slow traffic prevents them from doing so with ease. He also tires of constant requests for consignment, but knows that an absence from stores can hurt sales because of the infamous adage out of sight, out of mind. “Consumers see more designers online, so there is less reason to go into stores, so stores aren’t carrying as much designer inventory, and there’s less reason for customers to go into stores,” he explains what amounts to hamster wheel of frustration. His solution? Investing in an e-commerce website so he can sell direct to consumers.

“I’m afraid that what’s happened in the diamond industry with commoditized product is happening in jewelry,” says Perret. “I think in many ways the internet, Google, and Amazon have created a commoditization of retailers, so it’s easy to find out where to get your favorite shoes at the best price and you don’t have to leave your home to do it. I’m afraid that a lot of apparel and jewelry companies will head that way, too, and…it will be very difficult to get your share of the business.” 

Onetime retailer Sande Finkel of Sande Finkel Marketing Solutions is discouraged by retailer practices in recent years thanks to a three-year stint representing designers at her Collective showroom at Couture from 2011 to 2013.

“If you can’t reach retailers today with money, marketing, advertising, event, spiffs, promotions, and an ambassador, they are not interested,” she observes.

The biggest culprit? Marketing, or lack thereof. Everyone needs to market his or her brands. “No one is going into a store looking at someone’s jewelry unless they know the artist or unless an associate is getting a spiff or incentive to sell. “You have to fight hard for each sale,” she says. Marketing is key to reaching many audiences, and while many designers think they will get a return on show investments, those who have learned from trial and error know that money is sometimes better spent road tripping to stores nationwide.

Perret had a small presence at JCK Las Vegas this year as opposed to his booth at Couture, and Kerri Halpern of Madstone Design didn’t exhibit in Las Vegas at all this year.

For Halpern, the booth cost was better spent on sending a few reps on the road. “The cost of exhibiting has led to little to no financial support because buyers only look, then three months later want consignment and then three months later pay,” Halpern told JCK on social media.

Meanwhile, Doug Gollan of DG Amazing Experiences, a weekly e-newsletter that mails to private jet owners (and sometimes features fine jewelry), parallels what’s happening in jewelry with travel. “Fifteen years ago popular opinion was that independent retailers were going away,” he says. Today, that thought is changing.

“Premium and luxury market travel agents are seeing a big rebound and increased demand in part because consumers want a product—an experience versus a cheap room and a bed—that is hard to book online. Why? Booking travel isn’t as easy as many once thought.

“If you want to post 10 pictures of bracelets with prices, that’s really commoditizing products in the same way that listing 30 different hotels does,” Gollan says. Instead, retailers with their wealth of knowledge can share piece backstories to draw in clients. “There’s a deeper story that needs to be told because most people buying don’t understand the product,” he notes. “Telling a good story can effectively engage consumers.”

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Necklace in black ceramic and 18k gold with 3.67 cts. t.w. diamonds, $12,975; Etienne Perret