POLYGON WEB CENTRAL

Do you have a site on the World Wide Web to promote your business? Does it feature well-designed consumer and product information?

The correct answer to both questions is probably yes, whether or not you know it.

In a move unique to any retail segment, Polygon Network Inc., Dillon, Colo., is putting most independent U.S. jewelers on-line with their own Web sites, their own logo and “pages” of professionally designed text and graphics.

And it’s all free.

Polygon (www.polygon. net) – the jewelry industry’s oldest on-line resource – designs and maintains thousands of Web sites for retailers if they belong to a participating industry organization. They include Jewelers of America, American Gem Society, Independent Jewelers Organization, Jewelry Information Center, Retail Jewelers Organization, American Gem Trade Association and Manufacturing Jewelers & Silversmiths of America.

“We’ve provided Web sites for virtually every independent jeweler in the country,” says Jacques Voorhees, founder and president of Polygon. In fact, Polygon operates about 17,000 Web sites for jewelers and 2,000 for suppliers, all grouped together on a password-protected industry supersite called the Jewelry Industry WebCenter™.

Polygon’s networking of the industry is so fast and encompassing that many jewelers are only now learning they have a Web site. The president of one major trade organization first saw his Web site after Voorhees announced at the group’s convention this spring that all members were already on-line. Luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co., which has been creating its own Web site, learned it already had another – as a member of AGS – from Internet surfers who saw it and called for more information about its jewelry. A jeweler in a small Texas town learned he had a site when a consumer used the Web to find local jewelers and came into his store to congratulate him on his interesting site – and then stayed to spend $2,000 on jewelry.

Once retailers realize they’ve got a piece of cyberspace, they can work with Polygon to tailor the site to their own needs, making it as elaborate as they wish.

Voorhees expects to have 75% of all U.S. jewelers on-line by year’s end and 50% of the world’s 100,000 jewelers on-line within three to five years. Polygon also is creating sites and networks for several foreign and international organizations.

This project isn’t selfless. Through it, Polygon dominates on-line services in the jewelry industry. The free Web sites comprise a sizable retail marketing base that Polygon offers to suppliers that want to promote their products on the Web.

Polygon’s project has several major elements, including the free sites, product information, a WebCenter and password security. Here’s a closer look at each.

A site of their own

The retailers’ sites resemble those of the association to which they belong. In some cases, jewelers who belong to more than one association have more than one Web site. Each site includes the member’s name, address, telephone number, logo, company information, news and consumer information from the association and educational resources.

Each site can be expand-ed, and Polygon provides tools to customize it. This may be done by one of Polygon’s designers, by a cyber-savvy jeweler or by a designer of the jeweler’s choice.

“Anyone can design Web sites,” explains Voorhees. “What’s important is to also create and provide tools to let the jeweler control his own site and its images, and to control the information he does and doesn’t want to receive.”

Product information

Virtual-Boutiques™ is a two-way product-information service for retailers and suppliers. It uses Polygon-created technology based on what Voorhees calls “the most powerful state-of-the-art database software on earth.”

Virtual-Boutiques give jewelry suppliers the opportunity to promote their products on the thousands of jewelers’ Web sites maintained by Polygon, while allowing the jewelers to choose which suppliers’ services and products they want to carry.

For the retailer, there is another plus: the suppliers make no direct sales to the public. All business is through the jeweler’s Web site, with the merchandise appearing under the jeweler’s name and logo. “Manufacturers can use the power of the Internet to reach out to consumers, while at the same time support their retail jewelers’ distribution systems,” says Voorhees.

Each Virtual-Boutique features a different manufacturer’s merchandise, has its own “look” and can be used for branded or non-branded merchandise. The latter appears under the manufacturer’s name, while non-branded goods appear under generic terms, such as “Engagement Rings at Value Prices.” Suppliers can change the information and content of their boutiques as often as they wish; the changes are seen immediately in all the sites that carry them.

While the Virtual-Boutiques program is free to retailers who have Polygon Web sites, manufacturers must pay $3,500 to participate. That covers to cost of building their Boutique and inserting it into the jewelers’ Web sites.

Participating suppliers include Stuller, Lazare Kaplan Inc., Key Items, Val Castings, PhotoScribe™, StarCraft® and TulipSet®.

Industry supersite

All 19,000 sites are grouped together on Polygon’s Jewelry Industry WebCenter™, the largest collection of Web-based jewelry industry resources. This includes not only Polygon’s pages for jewelers, suppliers and stone dealers, but almost all leading jewelry trade organizations, publications – including JCK OnLine (jck.polygon.net) – Polygon’s Trading Network and industry resources such as the JCK Directory and Jewelers of America and American Gem Society directories. The site has sections for consumers, members of the trade and international business.

Password protection

Possibly the most innovative Polygon technology is TradeLock™, a password protection system. TradeLock allows qualified jewelry trade members into any industry Web site hosted by Polygon with one name/password combination and prohibits non-qualified users from entering.

For the user, Polygon’s system eliminates the need to remember multiple passwords for various industry sites. Instead, one key unlocks them all. It’s like a trade show, says Voorhees. “Instead of needing a different badge to visit each booth, all the vendors put their booths inside a single ‘guarded’ building and you need to show only one badge to get in,” he says.

Creating the pass-word system was easier said than done. While the system must recognize one password for entry into all trade-secured sites, there also must be a provision for industry sites having not one but three levels of information: consumer (open to anyone), trade-only (open only to members of the jewelry trade) and trade subgroup (restricted to members of a specific group). For example, Jewelers of America’s Web site offers information for consumers about how to buy jewelry, news and information for the trade, and information for JA members only.

“Virtually every manu-facturer, wholesaler, trade publication and trade organization in the jewelry industry needs all or some combination of these three levels of password protection,” says a Polygon document on password-protection problems.

The password system depends on computer programming and detailed databases that can instantly “recognize” anyone in the industry – retailers, manufacturers, trade press subscribers, wholesalers, organization members – by their passwords, know who has access to what sites and information, and instantly allow or deny access.

Such software didn’t exist before, so Polygon invented it. In the past year, Polygon has spent an estimated $250,000+ to create and implement what Voorhees calls “the world’s most sophisticated merge/purge software.”

At the same time, Polygon collected and programmed lists of names and addresses of members, customers and subscribers from industry organizations, suppliers and trade press, as well as who has access to what information or sectors. (For example, only JCK subscribers have access to its on-line Directory.)

For the system to work effectively, it was necessary to create an individual name/password for everyone in the industry. Since early this year, Polygon has delivered these to tens of thousands of companies and individuals, primarily through industry organizations, associations and publications.

Qualified trade members who aren’t members of an organization or subscribers to a publication can get a free user name/password by contacting Polygon.

By year’s end, Polygon expects to have delivered some 20,000 WebCenter passwords in the U.S.

Rapid changes

Voorhees, a self-confessed “non-techie” who once dreamed of sailing around the world, now travels the world promoting his company and demonstrating its services on his Apple laptop computer.

He began Polygon – the name was suggested by his father – almost 20 years ago in New York City as a joint venture with Xerox to provide diamond investors with a trading network, software and terminals. The collapse of the diamond investment market in the early 1980s caused significant changes for Polygon and for Voorhees. He recast Polygon as a trading and information service for jewelers, becoming a pioneer in on-line marketing databases. He moved the company to Dillon, Colo., where operating costs were much lower, and began to build the Polygon computer network for jewelers.

The 1980s were a time of tumult and rapid change for communications technology. Polygon adapted, going through several transformations as it kept adjusting to new

technologies, including dedicated telephone lease-lines, satellite-band communications, packet-switch networks, and modem direct-dial bulletin board services. The Polygon Trading Network, the company’s oldest service, started in 1983. It now has 3,000 subscribers on six continents. It handles 4,000 messages daily, more than $3 million in transactions (mostly in loose diamonds, colored stones and watches) and lists almost $100 million in loose diamonds for sale on the network.

Polygon adapted and grew while competitors dropped by the wayside. “By the early ’90s, in terms of on-line service, we sort of owned the jewelry industry in the U.S.,” says Voorhees. The company’s on-line Trading Network alone – its primary product through much of its history – daily connected thousands of subscribers (retailers, diamond dealers, gem importers, estate dealers, appraisers, jewelry manufacturers) for buying and selling, discussion and information exchanges.

Rethinking the strategy

The explosion of the Internet in the public consciousness in the early 1990s changed everything. The advent of the Internet was “horrible news for Polygon,” says Voorhees now, and he spent much of 1995 “rethinking our place in life – who are we and where are we going,” he says.

His goal was to keep Polygon on top as the industry’s primary on-line services provider. But simply being an access provider or a Web site designer wasn’t enough. Both fields were crowded with competitors, and with little chance to dominate them, those fields didn’t excite him, says Voorhees.

What did spark his excitement was creating a network. “It would be an on-line, multilink environment where all industry resources would be available in one place,” he says. This was how Polygon could regain what he calls “extreme dominance” in on-line services for the jewelry industry.

“Only one dominant provider is possible,” Voorhees says, “because trade publications, organizations and certainly manufacturers are reluctant to give to more than one clearing house the access to their privileged customers, subscribers and membership lists that we need to make this work.

“But [these groups] know we’re the only one with the resources, tight confidentiality controls and trust of the industry, based on what we had previously created, to do this.”

So in November 1995, Polygon began to create its free Web sites, Virtual-Boutiques, offering password security and working with industry organizations.

National & global

Today, Polygon says it is the service provider for the jewelry industry. In addition to operating the Web sites for jewelers and suppliers, other services include:

  • Diamond Dealers Web sites, on which dealers can offer a list of inventory “sheltered” for the trade or specific clients using TradeLock.

  • New products, including Memo-Track™ and InventoryPower™ for gem dealers and InstantInventory™ for retailers, which puts inventories of diamond dealers on participating jewelers’ sites, with their markup built-in.

Now Polygon wants to replicate its success globally. Canadian Jeweller (canjewel.polygon.net), the official magazine of the Canadian Jewellers Association, is on Polygon’s WebCenter. The International Colored Stone Association’s ICA-Net (ica.polygon.net, a global communications system for ICA members created by Polygon) was launched at ICA’s Congress in Brazil in July. CIBJO (Congress of the International Confederation of Jewellery, Silverware, Diamonds and Pearls) – an international organization of trade groups of retailers, manufacturers, wholesalers and stone dealers who work to harmonize trade practices – hired Polygon in June to create sites for it and its national delegations.

Polygon/Australia and Polygon /South Africa – clones of Polygon’s U.S. network and services, developed in cooperation with those countries’ jewelry associations – are being launched this year.

Meanwhile, at home, Polygon is expanding. Last year, it began to apply its on-line expertise to the home medical-equipment industry. This year, it has opened a second office in Denver and is increasing its staff to meet growing demand. In 1995, Polygon had five full-time software engineers. Now there are 20. By year’s end, the company will have 50 employees, half of them software engineers.