Issues Keeping the Industry Up at Night

One thing members of the jewelry industry don’t get enough of is sleep, judging from a panel discussion March 2, part of The Plumb Club Forum @FIT.

The panel, titled, “Things that are Keeping You Up at Night,” was moderated by Mark Smelzer, publisher of JCK magazine. The forum was held March 2 and 3 at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. It turned out to be one of the most boisterous gatherings during the two-day event.

Beryl Raff, new chair and CEO of Helzberg Diamond ShopsBeryl Raff, JCPenney Company Inc. vice president and general merchandise manager of Fine Jewelry, discussed the importance of creating and sending messages that a brand operates in an ethical manner. She said the ethical issues that are revolving around the jewelry trade, from the Blood Diamond movie, to the complexities of revealing gem treatments, to “dirty gold,” are placing consumers in a bind. And the pressure to keep prices low is putting the industry into a corner.

“It is no longer good enough to have great product, promotion, and pricing,” Raff said. “No one wants to force customers into mental turmoil.”

She said the industry was prepared when the Blood Diamond appeared, so that it did not deter shoppers from buying diamonds. However, she noted, “Kill one danger, 10 more will appear.”

She added that retailers and manufacturers “have no other choice but to opt for quality.”

In response to those pressures, Raff said JCPenney has formed what she calls a “corporate responsibility team.”

“The golden rule is with us all. Brands are not exempt from the golden rule.”

Cecilia Gardner, president, chief executive officer and general council of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, may get the least amount of sleep of anyone in the industry. Things keeping her up at night includ the selling of Burma rubies that are substantially treated in Thailand (which are legal to sell now in the U.S. but may change by the end of the year, she said); PATRIOT Act compliance; and deceptive advertising practices involving gemstones, alloys, and base materials for precious metals.

But what is really keeping her up at night is what she terms as the industry’s lack of regard when adhering to legal and regulatory compliance.

“The industry does not have a culture of compliance,” Gardner told the gathering of some of the world’s largest jewelry, diamond, and watch companies. “It’s been two years that every dealer of precious metals and stones had to have anti-money-laundering regulations program in place. When I ask them about PATRIOT Act compliance, they look at me as if they have no idea of what I’m talking about. Who’s listening? Who’s putting this on your agenda?

“It’s a little disconcerting. It keeps me up at night.”

She said because of this, her office receives more than 400 consumer complaints per year.

“The industry as a whole has not taken this (compliance) to heart and put it on its agenda,” she said. “They need to integrate it into their jobs.”

Peggy Jo Donahue, Jewelers of America director of Public Affairs, in vivid description, talked about a fantasy scenario some time in the near future where a jewelry retailer named Starling Jewelers only dealt in fair trade jewelry and promoted the positive impact it is having in developing nations.

As important of the ethical connotations, she noted that in the store of the future, “The jewelry is amazing.”

She talked about how this futuristic jeweler uses the latest imaging technology to create a beautiful store environment that attracted far reaching clientele. She spoke about how this jeweler had advanced CAD/CAM systems in place that would allow customers to work with bench jewelers to custom design their jewelry.

She also discussed how this store would promote jewelry for non traditional buyers such as “power jewelry” for working women; and prom jewelry, “princess” and “queen” brands for girls. “Introducing girls and young woman to the jewelry experience,” she said.

Doug Hucker, executive director and chief executive officer of the American Gem Trade Association, said that the industry isn’t doing enough to attract young people to the industry

“Our people are probably the most important resources,” he said. “We are not investing enough in people in the business.”

He said when he was young in the industry there were programs in place that helped young people grow within the industry. Today, he doesn’t see the same mentoring programs.

“We must find ways to attract people with a passion for our business,” he said. “We need to make models of transitions. … Nothing is being done telling people how exciting this business is.”
He added, “We’re losing ground to sexier industries electronics…. I’m hard pressed to find any industry sexier than ours. Kids don’t see it that way.”

During questioning Donohue mentioned that according to JA’s “Cost of Doing Business Survey,” retailers are spending less on marketing than De Beers and other people think they should.

Raff said the industry is at a “tipping point,” and again talked about the need to sell quality jewelry.

“In the 1980s we were selling real jewelry,” she said. “We changed the face of the industry. You can’t ask a customer to buy a piece of junk. The time has come to start selling real jewelry again.”

One audience member said she couldn’t understand why the jewelry industry wasn’t sponsoring the recent Hanna Montana concert tour.

Liz Chatelain, co-founder and president of MVI Marketing, said it was time for the industry to create a consumer advertising campaign similar to the successful “Got Milk” campaign.

“As an industry we can do the same type of thing,” she said. “They (consumers) need to see something more dynamic. The tone needs to be more dynamic. The product needs to be more dynamic.”

Martin Rapaport, chairman of The Rapaport Group, said the industry still needs to focus on the bridal market and on the luxury consumer.

“Fashion is cute but the diamond engagement ring is the foundation. We’re not losing them,” he said. “We should sell expensive products to wealthy people.”