Open Letter

As of Sept. 30, we’ll have a new executive director at Jewelers of America. The new man, Matt Runci, is likely to get an earful of advice over the next few months so we thought it would be okay to add our own two cents. Here goes.

Dear Matt:

Congratulations on your new job. You had some high-class competition and it’s a tribute to your accomplishments that the JA search committee and board singled you out as their new leader. You’re also taking over from a man whom we saluted a few short years ago as one of the true jewelry industry greats. In his 20 years or so as the head of JA, Mike Roman has been a real leader and, even if not universally loved, beyond doubt universally respected for his determination and toughness.

Mike was a man for his time. Now it’s time for the Baby Boomer takeover. The next 20 years, at least, are yours, Matt, and you face a period of unprecedented change in the jewelry industry. Your vision and leadership will have a big impact on just how well the Jewelers of America cope with that change.

You face a couple of immediate problems, as I’m sure you are well aware. The first is internal. Why are jewelers so apparently indifferent to the well-being and support of their state associations? Let’s just look at three examples. California, which a decade ago could draw some hundreds of members to its annual convention, today doesn’t even bother holding one. New York, the other major jewelry state, still has a convention but is hard-pressed to attract a meaningful attendance. And Illinois, another one-time jeweler powerhouse, is struggling to keep even a modest show alive.

What is wrong?

Have jewelers become so apathetic that they no longer want the education, conviviality and networking that state get-togethers are designed to provide? Or are they so consumed with mere business survival that they have neither the will nor the cash to attend? Or is it that too many jewelers, either JA members, potential members or former members, ask of such conventions, “What’s in it for me?” and can’t come up with a satisfactory answer?

My best guess is that the third option is the real one. Put it another way and say that, for whatever reasons, many states are not providing jewelers with what they need and want. One of your biggest challenges, Matt, will be to correct that situation.

The other major challenge is external. It is to help independent jewelers, the backbone of JA’s membership, deal effectively with the explosion in competition which they now face and which almost surely will become more intense over the next few years.

Continuing and expanding JA’s excellent programs to make jewelers better businesspeople will help. But there’ll have to be new initiatives – in inter-association cooperation, in providing a strong voice to consumers, in embracing the highest ethical standards, in directing the industry’s resources at realistic, achievable goals.

JA can play a larger role in helping the industry police itself. This goes far beyond a working alliance with the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, though that would be a good first step. But to have effective policing, you have to nail the crooks red-handed. That means shopping the suspects and buying goods that may be misrepresented in content or quality or both and then facing down these crooks with real evidence.

JA also can play a larger positive role. Jewelers need to know more about why consumers do or do not shop with them. They need to know more about how and why jewelry appeals to consumers. They need more support in getting the jeweler’s message across to the consumer. You won’t want for challenges, Matt. Nor for voices which tell you how to allocate your budget!

Right now what the country’s jewelers most need is someone to listen. They don’t want high-falutin’ talk or position papers or strategy sessions. They want action on fundamentals, solid advice on how to improve sales and profits, how to combat competition, often unfair competition, how to build a better image in the consumer’s mind. Offer those basics and you’ll have no trouble rebuilding membership. There’ll be time enough for the think-tank stuff once the fundamentals are taken care of.

Good luck, Matt. You have an exciting, stormy prospect ahead. If you think we can help you in your work, we’re only a telephone call away.

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