For years, the Jewelers Board of Trade was best known for two things: being the jewelry industry’s main credit cop and having a huge mailing list and reams of data and statistics.
Both are still true, but JBT president and chief executive officer Dione Kenyon says that under her tenure, JBT is becoming a much more dynamic, forward-thinking operation, and the time has come to let the industry know all it has to offer.
Prior to its rebranding campaign, JBT suffered from one of the maladies that also afflicted the recently rebranded Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America: logo mania (see “MJSA’s Brand-New Vision,” JCK, August 2006, p. 104). But whereas MJSA had three different logos to reconcile, JBT had 50!
“Our collateral materials were just all over the place,” says Kenyon. “We’d done [printed] things on desktop and through freelancers for years, and it showed.”
If JBT’s look was outdated, its technology was wildly outdated. That was the greater concern for Kenyon. “I didn’t want to change [the logos] until I felt we really had progressed and adapted,” she says. She spent the first two years of her tenure working on the technology infrastructure, migrating from mainframe technology to client-server technology with database-management capabilities.
The changes were not merely for change’s sake. In 2005, JBT hired an outside firm to survey its members and find out what they liked and what they didn’t. The results formed the basis of a strategic planning meeting held in fall of 2005, which laid out the framework for the next five years. Four main goals emerged: develop a new look and feel for the organization’s materials, including a clear, modern logo; reaffirm its mission to promote the welfare of the industry through credit services; be a good industry citizen in terms of ethical and social issues; and act more like a credit manager for its clients instead of just a credit cop.
“JBT’s ads always had a negative slant to them, like we’re here to protect you from the big, bad wolf,” says Kenyon. “The board wanted to turn that [image] around, and not just warn about people to stay away from but also to show new opportunities.”
JBT also has significantly enhanced its famous rating system, eliminating blank, unrated accounts in its Confidential Reference Book of the Jewelry Trade—better known as the Red Book. “If we can’t assign a capital rating, we now have 10 three- letter codes indicating why,” says Kenyon. Reasons include “too new,” “not enough information,” and “filed for bankruptcy.” Every company receives some kind of rating or code.
The rating system also now allows for stand-alone payment ratings, a change reflected in the March 2006 edition of the Red Book. Prior to the change, if a company didn’t supply its financial records, it wasn’t assigned a rating. Now it’s assigned a payment rating from one to four, or zero if it has insufficient trade information, a track record of monitoring by JBT, and/or bankruptcy or receivership. In the universe of jewelry companies, 40 percent now have a payment rating—a significant improvement from the 23 percent that had one in January, says Kenyon.
JBT is also fulfilling its promise to do more with the data it has, especially in regard to its goal of acting as a credit manager for its clients—creating customized alerts and so forth—and moving toward being a personal credit portal.
“We’re trying to move to the Web, but we still fax a lot,” Kenyon says. She estimates only about 10 percent of JBT’s 3,000 members are truly sophisticated Web users. Even so, JBT has to be at the cutting edge, she says—it can’t be the lowest common denominator. But progress is still moving in small steps. “We don’t mail credit reports anymore, but we do fax them,” Kenyon says.
One might think nobody could compete with the big Red Book. Not so, says Kenyon. While there’s no other jewelry-specific credit bureau, other credit bureaus do look at the jewelry industry. For example, an agency called Global Credit Services, which focuses on the garment industry, might consider expanding its reach as ties between fashion and jewelry increase.
“We can’t sit around and say, ‘We have all the data, we’ll change when we feel like it,’” Kenyon says. That data, in particular, is a gold mine—no pun intended—and it’s the next focus for Kenyon. “We want to take this information, do more analysis, and develop an early warning system,” she says. For example, a firm generating frequent inquiries—be it from heavy buying, rumors of trouble, or simply hitting the inquiry lists more than five times in a week—would indicate a reason to dig deeper, she says.
“We have a lot of things in place already, but we have to pull them together to see what the true story is,” she says. The risks go both ways: There’s a chance of hastening a firm’s demise when it could be averted, or of people using only good top-line data and not digging deep enough when they should.
Part of JBT’s strategy for the early warning system includes the ability to customize alerts. Though not yet available, the concept is that customers would supply JBT with either their full account list or just those they want to keep a close watch on, and their weekly bulletin from JBT would alert them specifically to inquiries or potential problems within those companies.
What if a retailer doesn’t want to be listed with JBT? “That’s not an option,” says Kenyon. “If a retailer has a concern [about his or her rating], I’m very happy to walk them through it, re-examine it, recheck it, et cetera. Generally we find when we walk through it with them that they may not be happy with their rating, but at least they understand why.”
Every company listed gets an abbreviated credit report with an update form—which is their opportunity to try to change a rating—but only 30 percent usually return those forms, Kenyon says. JBT follows up with phone calls, and makes it clear, when necessary, that it hasn’t been able to reach the party or that only limited information is available.
Indeed, communicating with retailers is one of JBT’s biggest challenges, says Kenyon. Most aren’t members, although a listing is free. She recounted a recent conversation with a retailer:
Retailer: How do I get listed?
Kenyon: How long have you been in business?
Retailer: Five years.
Kenyon: I bet you are listed. [He was.]
Retailer: I wish I’d known that. It would have been much easier to get into The JCK Show—I wouldn’t have had to fill out reams of forms!
Still, more retailers are beginning to join, Kenyon says. Traditionally, only manufacturers—those who grant credit—were members, but now some larger retailers such as Tiffany and Whitehall are joining. Kenyon attributes the shift to the PATRIOT Act and the fact that some retailers advance gold to their manufacturers. They want to know more about their suppliers: Do they pass muster with FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), are they stable, are they going to be around?
“I don’t expect all retailers in our database to join, but I do think the top ones will for due diligence,” Kenyon says.
Offering an expanded menu of services is one of the top goals emerging from last year’s strategic meeting. JBT’s mailing list service is well known in the industry and, indeed, is a very strong and growing part of the organization’s business.
“We can slice and dice [lists] every which way,” says Kenyon, adding that enhanced ratings may result in additional breakdowns. One step JBT will take soon, however, is developing more communication pieces to not only let members know what services are available but also offer guidance on how to use them.
Finally, an area open to potential development is overseas business. Foreign membership is increasing, and the organization has already established links with foreign credit bureaus. A European credit report, for example, can be had at a discount to JBT members.
Kenyon isn’t fully sure how globalization of the industry will affect JBT, but the issue is one of concern. “Most credit structures in developing countries are primitive. There’s no transparency,” she says. An Enron-type situation would be child’s play compared with some of the scenarios she believes are possible. Which is all the more reason for JBT to stay ahead of the curve.