It’s Time to Run Faster and Jump Higher

Other industries and businesses transform nascent ideas to products on the shelf far more quickly than the jewelry industry does. To compete effectively for the consumer’s discretionary dollars, retail jewelers need to trade in their old business model and replace it with lighter, more efficient versions. Speed and agility are critical.

Consider the product life cycle of the Apple iPod. In just four years, Apple went from a simple MP3 player the size of a pack of Virginia Slims to the iPod Shuffle, a music player half the size of a box of matches. In the same four years, the jewelry industry went from the Circle of Life pendant and earrings to circles within circles with diamond accents. That’s hardly running faster and jumping higher.

In business, you must innovate or die. Look at Ford and Chrysler. Despite the modest success of the Ford Fusion and the Chrysler 300 series, competition from Toyota and Honda continues to erode their market share with such cars as the Prius, Camry, Civic, and Accord—never mind their upscale divisions’ four-wheel drives, Lexus RX350 and Acura MDX. Faster product development cycles, closer relationships with their dealers and service facilities, reams of cutting-edge consumer research (which they actually read, digest, and use in their product planning and consumer marketing), and a healthy willingness to take risks and push the envelope are all common elements in their success.

The Ford 500, while a perfectly functional vehicle, may be the most boring, overweight, underpowered, gasoline- thirsty, middle-of-the-road, “offend nobody” example of a product from a company mired in its own corporate culture and stifled by its own rules and codes of behavior.

In the jewelry industry, the gorgeous new one-off preproduction designs shown in the display cases of Vicenza and Las Vegas are a sad indictment of the sclerotic jewelry pipeline. We are unable to get product to market before the counterfeiters e-mail cell phone pictures back to factories in the Far East, which then get the knockoffs on shelves before the real stuff hits the open market. You must continue to innovate, or at least jump on a trend with both feet and be willing to take a risk.

Work with your suppliers on getting new styles and request that they keep you in mind when they want to test new product. Subscribe to WWD, the daily fashion newspaper, and read InStyle magazine. Tear out items that catch your attention and put them in a folder. Every couple of months, flip through what you have and try to determine if any trends or themes are emerging. Pay attention to colors and shapes and note whether white or yellow metal is adorning purses, shoes, and other women’s accessories. (Warning, shameless plug: For specific jewelry trends, nobody does a better job than Carrie Soucy in editing JCKstyle, because she spends her life on a plane going to trade fairs and fashion shows, sorting through piles of press releases, and scanning the Internet for the best and brightest from the world of the fashionistas.)

To compete with products like Apple’s iPod and iPhone, you need to innovate and stretch traditional boundaries. Other brands, including Motorola, Samsung, and BlackBerry, have created an It factor that devours a huge percentage of the discretionary income that used to go into jewelry.

So, what will you do to compete? Can you inspire a Toyota Prius mind-set about your store’s merchandise among your customers and salespeople? Jewelry can and should be fun, hip, and on trend but still be well made and priced fairly. You just have to run harder and jump higher to keep from selling the jewelry equivalent of the Ford 500.