Even though the pandemic has barely grazed Greenland—the country has had just 17 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths—its most important gemstone miner, Greenland Ruby, was forced to pull back on its expansion plans for 2020, like many gem and jewelry businesses around the world. One of the company’s biggest initiatives for the year, however, continued, more or less on schedule: As of this month, the miner’s stock of cut and polished rubies is available online through a virtual showroom known as RubyCloud, a proprietary version of inventory management software developed by Bangkok-based GemCloud.
“From my experience people only buy gemstones through touch and feel,” says Hayley Henning, vice president of sales and marketing for Greenland Ruby since March 2017. “What we’ve been able to do with RubyCloud is create imagery of each and every stone. Everybody’s computer is different, everybody’s light is different. It’ll be an interesting learning curve for us all. But certainly, people will be able to make a purchase from the comfort of their couches.”
Below, Henning tells JCK about how RubyCloud works, why the miner has been busy cutting heart-shape cabochons, and what her biggest hope is for 2021.
How are things at the mine? Did it have to close this year during the lockdowns?
Greenland, as you know, is a very isolated island, and they had a couple of COVID-19 cases in the early days and they pretty much shut down. It’s very difficult to go there, it’s very difficult to leave there, so in the early days of the crisis it was quite hard shipping material, but nothing changed at the mine itself. The staff are naturally in self-isolation so it didn’t affect our production at all.
But, of course, it’s been traumatic for everybody from a business perspective—ourselves included, as we were really looking forward to using this year as a launch pad for our company and obviously things have been a little bit postponed. We were planning to engage with large-scale retailers who’d bring the product to the market in a much larger way.
What have you done this year in place of those larger efforts?
We have managed to digitize each and every gem, and we are getting ready to launch our RubyCloud. It’s a business-to-business website where each and every gem is not only photographed up close and personal but featured in a 360-degree video cam that is the ultimate in digital imagery.
GemCloud has digitized our inventory to make it available to people who sign up and register to be an account holder. It allows us to partner with other digital retailers and integrate with their websites, making it available to their customers, which seems to be the thing a lot of people are doing these days. It means one doesn’t have to jump on a plane to Bangkok every time you want to make a purchase or see something.
The way it will work is you’ll go online, you’ll make a purchase, and then it gets shipped to you, and you’ll have five days to approve your purchase or to return it. Like when you buy something from any website, we’ll generate a label, and you’ll use your original packaging and ship it to the office in New York, where it will be inspected and your refund will be processed.
Who is the target customer for RubyCloud?
Whoever wants to go online and purchase. Our industry used to be that if you sold to so-and-so, you couldn’t go and sell to so-and-so, but the digital marketplace has changed all that. But it’s not consumer-facing. You have to have an account to see pricing, and pricing is determined by your relationship with us, depending on how many stones you buy or your arrangement with us.
Is Greenland Ruby’s entire inventory available online?
We’ve got 5,000 stones online at the moment. We have a much bigger inventory than that, but getting everything up on the website is a huge undertaking. There’s a great selection online. The bigger special pieces are certainly on there. We’re trying to make this as customer friendly as possible. If someone’s looking for something they don’t see, of course they’ll contact us. It’s not going to be the answer to everything, but at least we’re making our gems available where they’re currently not.
Was this in the works before COVID?
It was. We were moving in that direction—that’s the future—but of course the last six months have elevated and escalated our need to get this up and running as quickly as possible, and to perfect it.
As we head into 2021, are there any other big initiatives at Greenland Ruby that we should know about?
A couple months ago, as we started to lock down and everybody started to go into this huge panic—how do we contact our customers to sell something? How are we going to keep ourselves afloat?—I came up with a campaign of my own called “This Is Love.”
In April and May, I was in Amsterdam and seeing white T-shirts hanging from people’s windows with hand-painted heart shapes on the front, a symbol to front-line workers saying, “We love you,” and I started thinking, what can we do? So we went to work cutting heart-shape ruby and pink sapphire cabochons.
I would like to make 2021 the year of love. I’d like for us to be able to give our customers something to buy that celebrates this time of coming together. Not that we want to remember COVID—not that. But when they want to go into a jewelry store and buy something warm and fuzzy, a ruby or sapphire heart shape could be an interesting purchase and not terribly expensive.
How big are the cabs?
They’re calibrated and range in size, from 4 mm to 7 mm. They come in a range of colors from deep, dark red to icy pink. Imagine them as little ear studs or a little pendant. I’m waiting for the retailer that jumps in and says, “We want to do something.” In the meantime, we were afraid the factory in India would shut down, so we started cutting like crazy. We have 70,000 hearts ready to go.
Will Greenland Ruby do a campaign around the hearts, or will that depend on who buys them?
I always say, we’re just flour in the cake. Who’s the retailer? Who’s the designer? My idea was to put these heart shapes in front of somebody who has an idea for a collection that symbolizes whatever they want to symbolize. Then it becomes not really about the heart shape but about the story behind it. I don’t know exactly what that symbol is, but we wanted to put the idea into the hands of a marketing department that will take it forward from there. And then a percentage of each heart sale goes to a fund that’s for a joint organization beyond our Pink Polar Bear Foundation, our CSR [corporate social responsibility]. And that would depend on the partnership. Maybe it’s COVID related, or it’s UNICEF. It’s not for me to decide but for our partner, whoever they are. I do think if somebody is prepared to put their resources and energy behind it, it could be hugely successful.
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