Ports in a Storm

When I took over as JCK‘s editor-in-chief a year ago, senior editor William George Shuster offered a sage piece of advice: “Just keep bailing. Worry about making it to port later.”

My first month in the editor’s chair was a challenge, to say the least. We were frantically working to produce the largest issue in JCK ‘s history, two weeks away from moving our offices to King of Prussia, Pa., after 25 years in nearby Radnor, and four weeks away from the Las Vegas show that would also prove to be the biggest in history. Morning coffee came with cream, sugar, and the crisis du jour.

Bill’s words were instantly filed in my head under “Words to Live By,” along with some other classic proverbs from family and friends: “Be honest with yourself,” “Pick your battles,” “Trust your gut instinct,” and “Put sweat socks on your shoe trees to break in tight new shoes.”

While the word “crisis” has a negative connotation, there are actually five definitions for it in the American Heritage dictionary, and only one—”an emotionally stressful event or a traumatic change in a person’s life”—is specifically negative by definition. The other four refer to a sudden change or a critical turning point in a situation, illness, novel, or political affairs. A crisis is stress inducing, but it is not automatically synonymous with disaster. In fact, it can be the beginning of a much better circumstance. The first two articles in JCK‘s new “Family Business in Crisis” series, which began in April (“Coping With Calamity,” p. 108) and continues in this issue (“When Everyone Quits,” p. 258), are noteworthy examples of jewelers who faced adversity, dealt with it, and emerged stronger for it. In other words, they kept bailing.

Last June, the economy showed little sign of slowing down, and jewelry was riding high on a wave of luxury fever. The conflict diamond issue, although publicized, had not yet come to a head. The marriage of jewelry and the Internet was intact, if not exactly flourishing, and De Beers—still called De Beers—was strictly a supplier.

One year later, conflict diamonds are so much a part of our everyday vocabulary that we don’t have to explain the term. The once- unassailable De Beers bowed to the pressures of a changing marketplace. Enjewel, the homegrown Internet venture that launched with great fanfare in Las Vegas last year, didn’t last a year—despite its roster of industry movers and shakers. More announcements of mergers and bankruptcies tell a chilling tale of an industry that’s way over-mortgaged. Many who extended themselves to stock up for holiday 2000 are still carrying excess inventory, and Valentine’s Day didn’t do much to alleviate the backlog. At press time, Mother’s Day sales were still tracking a bit slow.

Is this a crisis? In the truest sense of the word, yes. Without a doubt, it is a turning point. But is it a catastrophe?

It doesn’t have to be. The sky is not falling, and jewelers can avoid much of the impending pain by prudent management and long-term thinking. Yes, slower times call for postponing nice-but-nonessential projects and taking a slightly more conservative approach to merchandising, as you’ll read in “The Morrissey Files,” (p. 112) a new JCK column by veteran buyer Jane Morrissey. You will have to work harder to get the returns you’ve been getting these past few years. And no, it probably won’t be as much fun.

But you will get through it.

On the home front, save for a temperamental HVAC system and people who still ask who the King of Prussia is, things at JCK have settled into a groove. We’re feeling the same pinch you are, and we’re working to help you—and ourselves—steer through it successfully. And so we offer you this piece of advice: Just keep bailing, and eventually you will make it to port.