MJSA’s Brand-New Vision

When Frank Dallahan took over as chief executive officer of Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America, he wondered why his new business card had three logos. If three logos were confusing the CEO, surely they would confuse the industry.

Dallahan, a highly respected industry veteran and a former publisher of JCK, took the reins at MJSA in October 2005. His vision for the association is simple: Bring useful, valuable business information to its members to help them become more efficient, profitable, and successful. A sensible raison d’être for any association, it’s critical for one whose members face intense competition from cheap offshore labor markets. For jewelry manufacturing to remain a viable industry in America, the manufacturers must offer distinct advantages to their customers. MJSA’s goal is to help them. But first, it has to get the message out that it can.

Dallahan’s foremost step at MJSA was to take stock of the group’s strengths and weaknesses. Though well respected, the organization was perceived by many as somewhat stale. That reputation, Dallahan discovered, was influenced more by poor communication than poor content. MJSA actually had a lot to offer: AJM magazine, the only publication geared specifically to manufacturing jewelers; Expo New York, a successful trade show focusing on tools and equipment; and a solid, albeit underpublicized, education program. The group’s diverse membership—ranging from old-line manufacturing companies to individual bench jewelers and designer/goldsmiths—was also an advantage.

“We had a magazine with one name, a show with another, and the association with yet another,” says Dallahan “How could we communicate one message?” That was the easy problem to fix. “The industry has been focused on branding ever since De Beers’ emphasis on it,” says Dallahan. Now MJSA also is communicating a single brand message. Beginning with the June 2006 issue, AJM magazine was renamed the MJSA Journal. Expo New York has been renamed MJSA Expo; education is under the MJSA Jewelry Academy; and membership, simply MJSA membership.

PUBLISHING AND A TANGLED WEB

Of the organization’s four main “product lines,” Dallahan felt the magazine was most in need of an overhaul. Its editorial was high quality but narrowly focused on nitty-gritty manufacturing topics such as casting, alloys, and finishing—all very important, he says, but not broad enough. The best jewelry maker in the world will fail if he or she can’t run a business and sell the product.

The new MJSA Journal will continue its monthly discussion of manufacturing topics but also will include sales and marketing and financial information critical to running a successful business.

AJM had some of these topics already, but the idea of adding business articles to every issue is new,” Dallahan explains. “We don’t want to lose our core audience or our core strength of manufacturing and technical articles, but we wanted to add to it.” He says most managers come up through the manufacturing ranks and aren’t geared toward business topics.

“People weren’t quite clear what AJM was,” says Rich Youmans, the magazine’s publisher. “We did a major redesign in 1999, when we shortened the name American Jewelry Manufacturer to AJM (with a tagline “The Authority on Jewelry Manufacturing”). But the new name [MJSA Journal] was well received when it was proposed.”

The magazine’s broader focus should also help it grow along with its readers, says Youmans. Everyone wants to reach CEOs and decision makers, he says, and he’s hoping the broader-based content will attract more service providers, such as banks and Internet providers, to advertise. He also hopes it will attract more members.

“We get requests for subscriptions all the time, and we try to convert them to members,” Youmans says. “We tell them about the association’s benefits and try to convert them, but they can subscribe alone and become members later.”

MJSA also suffered from multiple personalities online. Its Web site, which Youmans is whipping into shape, had three URLs and three home pages—for the show, magazine, and association. Now one home page will provide access to any of MJSA’s products. The rest of the site—which includes articles from the magazine, a buyers’ guide, an events calendar, and a search engine—will be streamlined and made easier to use.

Finally, also under Youmans’s direction, is MJSA Press, which produces specialized manufacturing books. Past titles include Working With Gemstones: A Bench Jeweler’s Guide, by Arthur Anton Skuratowicz and Julie Nash; 101 Bench Tips for Jewelers, by Alan Revere; and Making the Most of Your Flex-Shaft, by Karen Christians, part of the Orchid in Print series published in cooperation with The Ganoksin Project. The Orchid in Print series also publishes discussions from Ganoksin’s Orchid e-mail forum.

IT’S SHOWTIME

MJSA Expo, a small show of about 350 exhibitors, needed little refurbishing beyond unifying its name under the MJSA brand umbrella. (The “Expo New York” name was a holdover from the days when MJSA also produced an Expo Providence and Expo Los Angeles.)

It’s a good niche show, with a loyal following, says Paula Esposito, director of trade shows. Some exhibitors have been with the show for all 40 years it’s been running. The New York event, which moved to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in 2004, began as a show for casters, with no finished goods or foreign exhibitors. Today, MJSA Expo features a wide variety of machinery, tools, equipment, lighting, and services; allows some finished goods; and admits foreign exhibitors, a potential growth area. Esposito is especially targeting Italian and German equipment makers.

MJSA is launching a new trade event Sept. 27–28 in Rhode Island at the Providence Convention Center. It’s designed to serve small jewelry makers and cottage shops—designers, gem and crystal artisans, beaders, etc.—rather than big manufacturing companies.

Esposito says it’s a $1 billion part of the industry that has been largely ignored. This show will be geared more toward the fashion end but will feature findings, equipment, and tools for fine jewelry as well. It won’t be as technical as Kraftwerks (an annual manufacturing conference held in California in late summer or early fall), but Esposito says there’s nothing like it. There are bead shows, but they’re geared to consumers and crafters, not small manufacturers. This show essentially combines the two.

“Response has been great! The phone is ringing off the hook,” she says. The target for the first event is 76 manufacturers, 100 booths, and a focus on drive-in—rather than fly-in—buyers.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Corralling multiple personalities into one cohesive unit was the easy part. The real challenge MJSA faces is helping its members adapt to a new paradigm and thrive in a world where America is no longer a leader in manufactured goods. It’s an often-painful road that many other industries—from automobiles to apparel—have walked; a road littered with the remains of companies that couldn’t adapt fast enough or cleverly enough; a world where the price war isn’t winnable and innovation is the only salvation.

MJSA’s diverse membership is an advantage. An organization made up only of old-line jewelry companies would see its membership decline as more companies merge, convert to offshore manufacturing, or close. An organization made up only of small shops and individual designer-goldsmiths wouldn’t have the resources MJSA does.

“I think the biggest opportunity [for American jewelry companies] is the luxury-goods market,” says Esposito. “The rich are always rich and can always buy jewelry. The better we get at managing business practices, the better off we are. Lean manufacturing, getting more profitable, that’s the key.”

Even now, only a limited number of big American jewelry companies are manufacturing in the United States, says Dallahan. Goods are set and assembled overseas, then brought back to be packaged and marketed here.

Helping manufacturers rise to meet these challenges is part of MJSA’s education program. While the core of MJSA’s education remains technical, it has expanded to include better business practices and innovation.

Teresa Shannon is the director of the MJSA Jewelry Academy, which produces a variety of programs, including the “At the Bench Live” series of technical demonstrations that MJSA presents at all major national and regional trade shows. It’s been moderately successful, says Shannon, and typically attracts bench jewelers.

Less publicly known is MJSA’s series of customized programs for manufacturers and its training curricula for buyers. Both fee-based, the custom manufacturing program focuses on whatever specific skills a client needs. For instance, a current client is a major Providence-based manufacturer (who requested anonymity) that needed a polishing course taught in its facility. The retail buyer program, on the other hand, is designed to familiarize buyers—especially those working for the majors—with jewelry manufacturing techniques and quality-control issues. Buyers from both Zale and Sterling, for example, have been participants in this program, says Dallahan.

The association also offers a full day of seminars and classes, most fee-based, in conjunction with the New York show.

“There is [technical] innovation out there, but new technology isn’t easy, and people are intimidated by it,” says Johnna Beckmann, marketing and public relations manager. “It’s good for them to see demonstrations and hear from people who are using it, to learn what it can and can’t do for them.”

THE NEED TO BE DIFFERENT

“The only way to compete with low-cost labor markets like China and India is with differentiated product and fast delivery,” says Dallahan.

Innovation is critical, and MJSA encourages it through its annual Designer Day, a program done in partnership with Cindy Edelstein of Jewelers’ Resource Bureau. Designer Day, traditionally held on the Saturday just before MJSA Expo opens, is a full-day conference focused on business strategies, technologies, and artistic resources for jewelry designers. Past subjects have included sales training, marketing, public relations, and technical issues as well as presentations such as “The Artist as Shaman,” a spiritual journey navigated by designer Robert Lee Morris at the 2006 event.

Another Designer Day highlight is the presentation of MJSA’s annual American Vision Awards, which recognize design innovation (see sidebar).

Separately, MJSA’s Innovation Awards, now in its second year, celebrate innovation of all kinds, whether in large machinery, small tools, metal alloys, or silicon molding rubber for CAD-CAM manufacturing. Innovation, plus good business practices, are what MJSA believes will keep the American jewelry industry vibrant.