The More Things Change

An excerpt from the May 19, 1886, issue of The Jewelers’ Weekly (a JCK ancestor) reads: “Among the matters discussed [at the Wisconsin Retail Jewelers’ Protective Associa-tion convention] was the issuing of illustrated catalogues by certain jobbers of watches and jewelry. In the course of the discussion the secretary stated that at least nine-tenths of the complaints brought to his notice of jobbers supplying consumers at wholesale rates are against those who issue illustrated catalogues. The convention thereupon resolved that the practice was injurious to legitimate trade, and recommended that the patronage of the retailers be withheld from all jobbers who refuse to recognize the protest of the convention against their use.”

Substitute “Internet retailers” for “jobbers” and “online” for “illustrated catalogues.” Good retail jewelers survived then, and they’ll survive Amazon.com, eBay, or any other e-tailer that sets up shop today.

A price customer will be your customer only until someone else has a better sale. So if you’ve got nothing to offer besides a deal, you may as well quit now, because players like Amazon and Wal-Mart can undercut anyone. The only way to win is to offer what they can’t: distinctive product, expertise in service, repair, design, and individual attention, in a shopping environment that’s sociable, inviting, alluring, and filled with tactile pleasures.

Each year in the June issue, this column looks back at the previous year. A year ago, we were celebrating the routing of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq and looking forward to a hasty end to the war. This year, we’re still there and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be leaving very soon.

Last year, we saw the first signs of recovery in the industry after several years of slumping sales. This year we’re celebrating a good 2003 holiday season, a strong Valentine’s Day, and successful spring buying shows and hoping The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas will continue the trend. We also observed a subtle but telling shift in Basel, as traffic in the traditional jewelry halls declined while the Hong Kong pavilion was crowded. Whether this is a reaction to the weak dollar or reflects a shift toward cheaper labor centers—or a combination of the two—remains to be seen.

Last year the debate about diamond cut grading had progressed from whether it can be done to whether it should be done. This year, we’re waiting to hear how GIA will do it, while the AGS lab already has been doing it for some time.

Last year DTC sightholders waited to hear if they’d retain their coveted status. When the list was released, there were big surprises. The addition of several Indian firms as sightholders, coupled with the busy Asian pavilions in Basel, signifies the growing importance of India and Asia as supply centers for both loose and finished goods.

The June 2, 1886, issue of Jewelers’ Weekly posed a question: “To What Do You Owe Your Success?” One reader responded, “I owe my success to … carrying the best of goods, keeping them clean and tidy … giving people to understand that I always have time and take pleasure in showing my stock, always speaking first when a customer enters the store, selling goods at a fair profit but at my price, and representing them to be just what they actually are …[selling] at no ‘cut prices’… finally, continually advertising my name and my goods.”

Some things never change.