Every Thursday during the pandemic, we’ll be checking in on members of the jewelry trade in an attempt glean shareable tips and tricks for a better and more productive quarantine.
Today we hear from Hayley Henning, chief commercial officer of Greenland Ruby. Henning, a South African native, is mainly based in New York City but has been quarantined in her apartment in Amsterdam with her husband, banker and consultant Erik Jens.
JCK: Hi, Hayley. Hoping you’re well and safe. Where are you and Erik based in Amsterdam?
Hayley Henning: We are well and safe—and wishing the same for our worldwide gem and jewelry family! We are so lucky to be close to the center of Amsterdam, in the museum district, near the shut-tight Rijksmuseum, with all its magnificent Rembrandts and Vermeers, and the Van Gogh and Stedelijk museums.
What is your physical environment like?
We have a small apartment here, but it’s home! If our work calls are at the same time, one of us has to go into our bedroom and close the door, while the other works in the living room. Despite the close quarters, our apartment is cheery and always filled with flowers, especially now, as it’s tulip season in Holland, and flowers are considered as “essential” during the lockdown!
What does your day-to-day look like now? What’s your typical schedule?
We wake up early to get outdoors for our daily exercise and to do a little daily grocery shopping before anybody else is around. We sit down at our computers shortly afterward. Many of my colleagues are also in Europe—the U.K., Paris, Denmark, and Norway—so our current time zone is great for them. Our Greenlandic colleagues are just four hours behind, with my office in New York six hours away, so it can be a long day. But we make it work, and it’s nice to be in daily contact. I’m used to the long days anyway, because our team is really global. We want to stay in touch with each other despite the time zones.
How has the pandemic changed the way you work?
We were already using Microsoft Teams, which is a collaborative workspace where all our folders and files are updated in real time. We create a channel for each of our work streams and for our team calls. We were, for instance, supposed to have a two-day strategy meeting in mid-March in Copenhagen, and we managed to do it all via Teams! It was great.
My only regret is: My New Year’s resolution was to be on devices less. Now, that’s impossible, and I’m spending more time on my phone and computer than ever before!
We know that currently, Greenland has no COVID-19 cases—what do your teammates there make of what’s happening in the rest of the world?
Greenland is very remote under normal circumstances, but when they had a few cases at the beginning, they went on total lockdown until those people recovered. During that time, our mine workers had to stay at the mine, so that was tough for them—no people could go in or out. Now, however, Greenland is opening up travel between its small cities but will remain isolated from international travelers. But our team in Greenland is happy that things are under control and that everybody is safe and healthy. Sometimes being remote pays off.
How has business changed for Greenland Ruby in the pandemic—what challenges is it currently facing?
We’re still working with some very large partners, with whom we had planned big rollouts this year, but these are now a bit delayed, of course. But at the same time, business needs fresh and new ideas and to be ready when markets are opening up. We are very much involved in those conversations. Also, quite a few of our smaller brands are spreading the word about our responsibly sourced rubies and pink sapphires.
We’re also using our time productively to build a digital e-commerce platform for the b-to-b market, which is very exciting. We believe that online sales are going to be more important to our whole trade after this period—and for some time to come. We can’t be digitally illiterate when our customers are so far ahead of us. We must catch up now!
What are you doing to relieve stress during this time?
I’m about to throw myself into a canal! Just kidding! We take lots of long walks. I do virtual Pilates with my trainer in New York, and we try to practice mindfulness and mediation. These are all tools we know about—but usually don’t have time for. This is a perfect opportunity to “action” the things that have been on our to-do lists….
How do you think the pandemic will change how you do (or view) your business, even after it’s over? People will want to buy something, but what?
People will always buy jewelry for themselves as gifts and gestures of love. Fine jewelry is forever! I also believe that Greenland Ruby’s responsible sourcing message will continue to drive sales, as we all realize how connected we are to each other and how valuable our resources are.
We’re also working on an industry-wide initiative in which Greenland Ruby will be giving manufacturers, designers, and retailers a theme and a story, with a special gem shape that will connect them to the campaign. This specially cut gem, made with our gorgeous pink sapphires, will convey the feeling of togetherness that we’ve all felt since the pandemic started.
In what ways do you think this pandemic will change the gem and jewelry industries going forward?
Our jewelry will need to be meaningful, affordable, and cause-related, too, to meet the demands of Gen Y and Gen Z consumers. They will need a reason to buy.
And despite the fact we adore our gatherings, we may begin to realize that perhaps we’ve had too many, some of them duplicative. But events won’t go away! Out of bad times come new innovative ideas. We’ll value the remaining meetings and trade shows more, so when we do get together, we’ll all be more productive.
(All photos courtesy of Hayley Henning)
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