Interview with the New Leadership of Stuller

Following the
announcement
that Jay Jackson has been named CEO of Stuller, the famed Lafayette, La.–based manufacturer, Jackson and founder Matt Stuller,
who remains company chairman, took some time to talk with me yesterday. Some
highlights:

What should we know
about Jay Jackson taking over as CEO?

Matt Stuller: What
I’ve said to everyone is: This has been earned. This has not been given to Jay.
For the past 14-plus years, Jay has demonstrated amazing leadership and vision
in every division he has managed. He has been incredibly successful. 

Not only did we make the CEO announcement, but we also moved
around and changed some of the corporate structure. When you look at all of it,
it makes incredible sense and brings great additional value to our customers.

Matt, you are now
chairman of the company, as Jay is taking over the CEO role. What does that
mean for your role?
 

MS: I am still
leading the business. But I wanted to be able to devote more of my time and
passion to better serving the customer. I really got to the point where I felt
like I was stretched too thin and involved in a lot of small business decisions
and didn’t have time to focus on the big things. I am still owner of Stuller. I
have made a substantial commitment to this organization.

Will you be a
full-time chairman?

MS: I am planning
to take a little more time off than I have been committing to the company. But
from a time perspective, I’m still full-time.

With this change of leadership,
where do you see the company going?
 

MS: There is a
lot going on. We describe it as a paradigm shift. The retailers are having to
deal with their customers in a new way. And our relationships with our
customers have had to change as well. 
Just being a vendor and selling product, that is how we did business in
the ’90s. That was the last century. Customers need more than we have given
to them in the past. And now we have the management to lead these changes. 

The retail jeweler today needs a new relationship with their
vendor. The vendor has to support them in all avenues, to really be an advocate
for them.  

Jay Jackson: Many
years ago, I heard a minister say, “People only grow old, when they stop
growing.” The same goes for companies. All strategies ultimately fail. If you
continue to do what you always did, the world will change around you.  The same thing that has made us successful
for the last 40 years is probably not sustainable for the next 40.

You are in touch with
a lot of independent jewelers. How do you see their business developing?

MS: We have all experienced
the worst recession since the Great Depression. The jewelry industry tends to
be the first that is affected in a recession, and the last industry to come out
of it. And then we had what I call “the perfect storm.” Not only do we have the
consumer not wanting more jewelry, but they have moved into alternative jewelry.
They want to spend less and have more to show for it. We have seen the
substantial increase in the metal market, not only of gold, but of silver and
platinum, and the substantial increases we have seen in gemstones and diamonds.
From an industry perspective, we are dealing with some monumental difficulties
in coming out of this recession. We here at Stuller have had to become very
proactive and develop new tools in order to help our customers.   

We are very bullish on the jewelry industry. We feel the jewelry
industry will always be based on a one-to-one customer interaction. Consumers
want to see product, they want to feel it. The Internet will be part of the way
jewelry is sold in our industry, but we still believe the average consumer
wants a personal relationship when they are buying jewelry.     

I have always said there will be jewelry sales as long as we
have lust, love, and guilt. I believe relationships are important in our
society today, and people will want to celebrate those relationships with
jewelry. We believe there is a need for customers to have relationships with
their customer, and we want to be that backbone. 

JJ: We believe
the future is bright, but it will only be that way for stores that develop a
model that can be just as successful with $1,500-an-ounce gold as they were
with $400-an-ounce gold. If a store is out there and they believe that they can
survive long enough for gold prices to come back down, those stores will suffer
and stagnate and ultimately go out of business. With $1,400-an-ounce gold, you can’t
have inventory in stock for every single transaction. 

Can you talk about
Stuller’s experience as a DTC sightholder?

MS: We have
been very fortunate to become a sightholder. It has been almost seven years
now. It has really helped to officiate that Stuller is not only a gold company,
but a diamond company. It has given us the opportunity to be much more consistent
in the types of diamond articles that we carry. It has been a very educational
process, and we have enjoyed it very much.

JCK News Director