It’s no secret that many suppliers are struggling – and not just because of the current parlous state of the general retail industry – for some it’s a longer-term issue. Sadly, the winds of change have been taking their toll on those who have not adapted to changing consumer demand.
An increasing number of manufacturing jewellers and designers bemoan consumers’ move away from handcrafted jewellery, preferring instead branded and ‘fashion’ ranges. Perhaps it’s not really a new issue and they’ve just become more vocal given the current decline in consumer spending.
I have written before about local manufacturers (suppliers) complaining about the shift to overseas products, criticising local retailers who don’t support local suppliers. Some go as far as saying that retailers should be ‘forced’ to support Australian or New Zealand jewellery manufacturers via increased tariffs and trade barriers.
This ‘buy Australian’ attitude has been around a long time, and it permeates across all manufacturing industries, but recently it has gained momentum after the dramatic impact of the bead and charm trend upon the jewellery industry.
While ‘buy Australian’ is a noble cause, all too often it’s hypocritical. The same suppliers who call for retailers to support them because they are Australian can be accused of wanting their cake and eating it too!
For example, a few years ago a supplier complained at length about competing with imported product. This supplier asked me to write a story about the need for retailers to support local manufacturers. After listening to him complain for an hour, I asked him to stand up.
Somewhat confused, he stood and I stepped behind and inspected the label of his lovely suit. It read “Made in Hong Kong”.
Of course, he offered a host reasons why he got his suits made in Hong Kong. They had a wider range of fabric (he was wearing a plain blue suit), it was quicker (how long do you need?) and the quality was better (it didn’t look like it!).
I added for him, “And it’s cheaper!”
He looked rather sheepish, so I asked him what kind of car he drove. You guessed it: it wasn’t a locally-made Commodore or Ford!
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the predicament local suppliers find themselves in trying to compete on an international stage, but I don’t accept hypocrisy.
Undoubtedly, local jewellery suppliers deserve our support, but in turn, they themselves must learn to adapt to a rapidly-changing marketplace in which consumer demand is shifting.
Consumers’ changing tastes – and the growing popularity of beads and charms – have also been making waves within the retail sector. Over recent months I’ve received a number of passionate entreaties from jewellers to protect ‘real’ jewellery from these lower-cost competitors.
One concerned reader recently wrote to tell me that the art of handcrafted jewellery had been “gutted by greed” since the government removed tariffs, thus allowing companies to “import crap.”
Another Kiwi jeweller called for a negative publicity campaign against the imported beads, asking; “When will the jewellery industry recognise that these silly little beads are not jewellery and should not be promoted? They are worthless pieces of silver junk that have no value as soon as they leave the shop door.”
He even agitated, unwisely, for others to support his endeavors to harm the reputation of a particularly successful brand while, all along, his store sold similar product to that which he described as “worthless pieces of silver junk”.
Hypocrisy is not restricted to suppliers; retailers can be just as guilty of saying one thing and doing another!
While I sympathise with jewellers’ concerns about how the industry has changed, longing for the ‘good ol’ days’ won’t change a thing.
Ridiculing successful brands for their popularity with consumers or agitating for government protection of traditional business models is misguided to say the least. If your business is struggling, the first place to look is in the mirror rather than across the road!
That said, manufacturing jewellers and designers play a vital role in our industry. Despite the importance of the sector, there’s very little hard data on how many manufacturing jewellery businesses there are and what’s concerning them.
Do we know how many “bench jewellers” are employed in Australia and New Zealand? No one really knows!
To rectify this situation, Jeweller is about to begin an in-depth study of Australia and New Zealand’s artisans and skilled trades people.
Would you like to help?