Terry Burman’s Amazing Legacy

So much of being a reporter is writing negative things, so I thought I would switch gears and take time to salute Terry Burman,
who retired as chairman of Signet Jewelers last week after an incredible 15-year
record of achievement. 

Not much is known about Burman’s future
plans; Signet declined a request for an “exit interview” with JCK. But last summer, he told me he
planned to become more active in St.
Jude Children’s Research Hospital
, a charity that Signet has supported over
the years.

One thing that is always said about Signet,
and its U.S. division, Sterling, is that it isn’t really a pace-setting
company—just one that adheres, pretty fastidiously, to the basics of retail,
and does it well.  It has also
benefitted from a relatively stable corporate culture. A while ago, the former
head of Zale criticized the rest of the industry as a “sea of sameness” and
“boring.” No doubt, there was, or is, some truth to what he was saying. But
it’s safe to say that Zale could use a bit of that boredom in the last few years.

As one commentator said,
“Signet has never been perceived as a pioneer or innovator … [But] the company
[has] gained a reputation for thoroughness, crisp execution, and a mastery of
good buying and merchandising.” Or as Burman himself put
it eight years ago
, “There is no magic … Retail is about identifying a set
of strategies and tactics at which you can be the best, and then going about raising
your level of execution.” 

Deceptively simple, and yet Sterling has
prospered over the years, while so many of its competitors—including Zale,
Helzberg, and Burman’s alma mater, Barry’s (now Samuels) —have not found it
such smooth going. I have even heard it suggested that the industry may have
given up on the mall jewelry business entirely if not for Sterling’s example.
So there must be some magic there somewhere. 

And I would argue that Sterling has been a
somewhat more adventurous company in the past few years, introducing a number
of new “exclusive” lines, including Jane Seymour, “Love’s Embrace,” and “The
Leo,” most of which have turned into big hits. Yet, all these lines were
introduced in a very slow, conservative way.

Perhaps Sterling could get a little more
with the times–I was surprised to realize recently that neither of its brands
has a Facebook page. And I’ve seen its commercials, particularly this one, criticized as
sexist—most recently by a friend of mine on Facebook. 

But the company’s incredible run speaks for
itself, and it’s great that Burman is exiting on a high note, with yet another
set of impressive
sales figures
. I speak for many in the industry when I say Terry Burman
will be greatly missed at Sterling. 

JCK News Director