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2018 Hot Topic: Has same-sex marriage changed trends in wedding jewellery?

In late 2017, same-sex marriage was officially legalised in Australia. COLEBY NICHOLSON looks at whether this historic legislation has expanded wedding sales.

The issue of same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia was always a hotly debated topic – often getting sidelined for silly issues such as wedding cakes – however, polls continually showed most Australians were in favour of marriage equality.

Aside from being a human rights issue, most jewellers would have been quietly hoping for a ‘yes majority’ vote prior to the poll that concluded on 9 November 2017, because it would create a market for wedding rings among the LGBT community.

Following the historic vote, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced that, of the eligible Australians who voted, 61.6 per cent responded ‘Yes’ and 38.4 per cent responded ‘No’. Nearly 80 per cent of eligible Australians voters participated, with all states and territories recording a majority ‘Yes’ response.

The Australian Parliament then passed the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 on 7 December 2017 and it received royal assent from the Governor-General the following day. The law came into effect on 9 December, immediately recognising overseas same-sex marriages while the first same-sex wedding under Australian law was held on 15 December 2017.

Retailer’s support – a timeline
Worth & Douglas
Worth & Douglas

While the matter is now history – with many people asking why it was such an issue at all – many jewellers were well ahead of the ‘controversy’.

For example, in September 2015, Sydney based jeweller Mondial Jewellery Group launched an advertising campaign titled All Love Is Equal, which promoted a newly created range of SSM wedding and commitment rings, using imagery of two real-life Australian same-sex couples.

At the time Nadia Neuman, creative director of Mondial, said she believed the business was the first Australian jeweller to feature genuine same-sex couples in mainstream advertising.

“All love is equal, so I see no reason why marriage is not an equal right offered in Australia. I am hoping the All Love is Equal campaign will strike a chord in the hearts of Australians and have them further recognise that a couple in love is not always made up of a man and woman,” Neuman said two years before SSM became legal.

Tiffany & Co surprised the industry in January 2015 when, in an early sign that the engagement and wedding ring market was starting to evolve, it unveiled a new advertising campaign that featured a same-sex couple.

According to Tiffany & Co at the time, the international Will You? campaign took a “truly modern” look at love, proposals and marriage. It included a number of advertisements depicting seven couples whose situations were selected to reflect the diversity of the brand’s engagement and wedding rings.

Indeed, Australia may have been ahead of the US when marketing directly to same-sex couples. Local wedding ring manufacturer Peter W Beck developed an advertising and marketing campaign called We Make Love that targeted the LGBT community in September 2013.

Industry research
Twin Plaza Metals
Twin Plaza Metals

In November 2017, ANZ Research released a report which predicted, “Marriage equality in Australia will bring economic benefits to the tune of at least $A650 million, in the form of additional expenditure related to weddings alone in the first 12 months following successful legislation. While the macroeconomic implications of this sum are minuscule, for some sectors the impact will be more meaningful.”

According to ANZ senior economist Cherelle Murphy, the gains would come from money spent on weddings, with pent-up demand driving gains across “retail trade, hospitality, arts and recreation and professional services.”

In predicting a sharp spike in wedding activity, Murphy told Business Insider that the example of the ACT in 2013, where same-sex marriage was legalised for 35 days before the ruling was reversed by the High Court, 31 same-sex couples registered to get married which represented 12 per cent of the total.

“This was clearly an over-representation of same-sex weddings,” Murphy added.

Although the report highlighted other positive flow-on effects, the analysis showed that benefits from weddings alone would likely meet the $650 million estimate. It should be noted that ANZ’s analysis assumed that around half of that total would choose to marry if legally permitted to do so.

Looking ahead
Creations Jewellers
Creations Jewellers

So, six months after the law being passed, and two and half years after Mondial released its first SSM collection, what has changed and has the market expanded in line with predictions?

Neuman certainly thinks so: “We have seen an increase in same sex couples enquiring about wedding and engagement rings. Even prior to when the legislation was passed, we had couples enquiring about styles and designs on the basis that they were optimistic the laws would change.

“Since the positive outcome from the marriage equality vote this has gained momentum and there has been much more interest, as LGBTQI couples begin to explore proposal, engagement and wedding band concepts together.”

There’s no doubt that since SSM legalisation, many other jewellers have attempted to tap into the market. Sydney-based retailer Max Diamonds is one that has targeted the category with success.

Managing director Maxwell Lane explained that although the business had added a range of LGBT wedding and engagement rings to its website in 2016, there has definitely been an uplift in sales since last December.

“There’s definitely been an increase in enquiries and sales since the legislation was passed,” Lane says. “We’re getting a lot more enquiries from SSM couples wanting to get a feel for prices and designs; perhaps they hadn’t thought about proposing until the SSM legislation came in.

“It’s early days but people are getting quotes and deciding on their styles and budget. It’s a brand new thing so people are deciding what they want to do and how much they want to spend and are starting to plan.”

RJ Scanlan & Co
RJ Scanlan & Co

Max Diamonds operates under private appointment and Lane added there has been a noticeable increase in the number of SSM couples visiting the business to discuss designs and options. He added that there was no major difference between male or female couples: “It’s pretty much 50/50.”

Some suppliers have also seen an increase in the market.

Victor Donovic, managing director of Twin Plaza Metals noted, “There is no doubt legalisation of same-sex marriage has given a boost to our wedding ring sales. A popular choice is matching bands in 18ct white, yellow and pink combinations. For the first few years we will see elevated sales that will then taper off to a steady increase moving forward.”

Chris Scanlan, marketing manager of RJ Scanlan & Co echoed similar sentiments.

“Yes, we have seen a slight increase in two rings of the same style being sold in the same order,” Scanlan began. “We are obviously not dealing with the public so we don’t know the sex of the couples buying these matching rings, but certainly there has been an increase in these types of purchases since same-sex marriage was legalised.”

TWM Co’s chief operating officer Roberto Ulas is another who says that because his business does not deal with the end consumer, it is difficult to know exactly to what degree sales have increased; however, “I am sure some portion of the growth we had was due to this.”

Isaac Jewellery
Isaac Jewellery

Annet Atakliyan, director of supplier Isaac Jewellery offers her take on the matter:

“The LGBT market is rather steady however, more collective marketing that takes place by brands and manufacturers will increase demand,” Atakliyan said. “In the mean time, there are avenues of online outlets being set up to meet demand in the market.”

She also points to the LGBT community wanting designs that are non-traditional.

“Our experience from the current market is for the LGBT clientele needing more individualistic and special custom-made pieces. Diamonds and colours are popular,” Atakliyan added.

Not all jewellers have seen a marked increase in demand since the Marriage Amendment Act came to fruition.

Queensland–based jewellery designer Michael Dransfield has had some experience with the LGBT market. Having worked in the industry for more than 40 years, he moved from the UK to Australia last year and established Burgundy Bespoke Jewellers, which specialises in custom design pieces.

The business has targeted same-sex couples and promotes the category on its website with: “Symbols of your love shouldn’t be symbols of other people’s love. Same-sex marriages are going to be special and unique and we believe that that means same-sex couples are going to want to be unique in their choice of rings. After all, you don’t find love on a shelf in the supermarket, surely you want to make certain that your rings can’t be found on a jeweller’s shelf either?”

TWM Co
TWM Co

However, Dransfield says that, unlike the UK, he has not seen any increase in demand since the new legislation. “When the laws changed in the UK in 2013 it was quite different. We had quite a lot of same-sex couples come in for wedding rings and commitment rings over the years.

“They were very good customers and they liked something that was very personal and were quite involved in the design process.”

Six months after the historic change it’s still early days; however, there can be no doubt that the introduction of SSM will expand the entire market, not only for rings and jewellery but all wedding services. Therefore, like any other consumer category, a jeweller’s share will be determined by their marketing focus.

And in a few years time, there will probably be no differentiation between ‘traditional’ and same-sex marriages and most people will have forgotten all the fuss.

Two essentials of wedding and bridal sales

One thing is sure: people will always get married. Building bridal and wedding sales, specifically in diamond jewellery, requires a long-term commitment. With hard work and patience, retailers can make bridal sales an essential part of business; however, they need to consider two important aspects – inventory and staff – when developing a strategy.

First up, inventory is of prime importance. It might sound obvious but for the customer to buy, the selection has to be right. It is a fact that a good-selling item doing well in one store or market will continue to be a good seller elsewhere. There is plenty of data available about the best-selling pieces and their suppliers so retailers can use this information to their advantage.

Here are some important questions to ask:

  • What percentage of bridal and wedding sales does the store currently have?

  • What percentage does the store want to reach?

  • Does the store have a branded bridal line, an unbranded line or a combination of both?

The purpose of the last question is to gauge if jewellers have an adequate ‘strategic bridal plan’ – do they simply buy product because others say they should and then hope it sells or are they genuinely building their store into a bridal and wedding brand? Stores can position themselves as destinations by stocking well-known third-party bridal brands or by creating their own bridal brand.

Once the right product has been established, retailers need to determine whether they have the right staff. That is, not all staff are ideally suited for this category – retailers must put as much effort into selling their product as they do when buying it. If you find that some staff are uninformed then sales are destined to remain stagnant.

Consider these questions:

  • Which employees can sell bridal?

  • Are ‘turnovers’ – where the most qualified staff take over a large diamond sale from an inexperienced member – enforced in the store?

  • Which employees have the highest average retail in bridal and wedding?

What does the ongoing ‘bridal’ training program look like? Does it feature training in product knowledge, successful diamond selling techniques and how to build customer relationships?

Following through on these two aspects will help retailers shape their bridal and wedding business as an effective contributor of overall sales.

By David Brown

 












ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Coleby Nicholson • Managing Editor

Managing Editor • Jeweller Magazine


Coleby Nicholson is publisher and managing editor of Jeweller magazine. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than a decade and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.









Monday, 23 July, 2018 12:20am
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