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Jewellery branding: how has it evolved?

The shift towards brands has been swift and some jewellers have yet to catch up. Naomi Levin investigates how industry relationships are evolving.
You can imagine the scene: the gleaming jewellery shop is filled with displays of magnificent artisan pieces. Wearing the apron of an old-fashioned tradesman, the elderly man, Ern, gets up from his jeweller’s workbench and downs his tools to greet his new customer.

Sighing when asked if he stocks one of the popular jewellery brands and glancing around his store as if to admire his craft, “Not here,” he replies to the young woman. He has recognised many times before the ‘disconnect’ between his business and the new customer in his store, so he immediately returns to his bench.

It wasn’t that long ago that the bench jeweller was a regular fixture in many jewellery stores on high streets. Plying a unique craft, the jeweller manufactured hand-made bespoke jewellery pieces, remodelled and repaired other people’s work and stocked his store with generic jewellery product, supplied from a range of specialised local wholesalers. It was another era, and yet ironically, not another ‘time’. That is, the shift in the jewellery industry has been swift compared with most other retail categories. As recently as only five or six years ago, the visitor to Ern’s store looking for a gold bracelet was his customer. They relied on and respected his work and although most jewellers did not understand it, they themselves were a local brand.

Fashions came and went and the jewellers and suppliers responded to new trends, but customers would always return looking to purchase product based on the materials. They might likely ask for a heavy gold bracelet, a sapphire-set ring or a 9ct gold, solitaire diamond ring. Almost never would a customer refer to the item by a brand name. Yet in the space of just a few short years, times have changed and while highly qualified and respected traditional jewellers still operate today, they are, sadly, the exception rather than the rule.

The explosion of jewellery brands can be traced back to around 2004 when Danish jewellery company Pandora launched its charm bracelets into the Australian market. Of course, there had been popular brands before 2004, but nothing like Pandora. Through savvy advertising, affordable build-your-own pieces and an incredible amount of buzz, Pandora quickly became what is arguably one of the most widely recognised jewellery brands in the market.

While many have tried – with varying degrees of success – to follow in Pandora’s footsteps, taking lessons from its marketing book and cashing in on the craze for jewellery brands, the truth is that Pandora’s product was nothing new.

In fact, when you think about it, how many true innovations have there been in the jewellery industry over the last decade or two? Certainly charms were not new but Pandora never said they were, it just marketed them differently. And along the way, Brand Pandora was created.

It wasn’t the first jewellery brand – think upmarket companies like Tiffany, Cartier and Bulgari – and it probably wasn’t the first attempt at mass-market jewellery branding in Australia either, but Pandora was the first one to get it right. Others quickly followed and at that point Ern, still sitting in his high street store, was in a new world. A world where the brand ruled supreme; a world where the customer’s relationship with the product was with the brand and not their local jewellery store.

But how come no one predicted this, given that all other retail categories were brand-driven? How come the jewellery industry, worldwide, has lasted so long without mass-market jewellery branding? Times had, indeed, changed not only for the retailer like Ern, but it had also changed for his local wholesalers.

Jewellery suppliers who had, for a long time, gone about building their business with generic, unbranded product were suddenly being asked by retailers what their marketing strategies were. For most suppliers, their business strategy was as simple as – “we make the stuff, you buy it” – but retail buyers began to demand more.

Savvy retailers began to ask for a consumer strategy and pushed more responsibility onto the supplier to not only provide branded product, but to market it too.

Last year, as if to signify the old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them”, South Australia-based wedding ring manufacturer Peter W Beck decided to spread its wings and market its products directly to consumers. To do this, the company believed it was imperative to build a retail brand. Marketing manager Laura Sawade says the decision to launch a Peter W Beck retail brand was part of a desire to increase demand for the Australian-made wedding rings.

Confidante Dolls
Confidante Dolls

Peter W Beck was already a recognised brand within the industry, but it had no presence with consumers – the end users. Under the branded product model it’s argued that the consumer is the customer of the brand (not the retailer, who is the facilitator of delivery to the consumer).

“Branding has taken off in the jewellery industry as consumers now want a story and an identity behind the companies they buy from,” Sawade explains. “Peter W Beck has a 35-year history, so we have a lot of experience we can share with the consumer.”

One change for Peter W Beck in transforming itself from a generic supplier to a branded range has been its relationship with its stockists. The company has to rely on salespeople it has never met to spruik the benefits of a Peter W Beck wedding ring. “We ask our stockists to look after our brand image in their store,” Sawade says. “It’s so important to keep the brand looking its best for the consumers; we heavily rely on our stockists to maintain this with our assistance.”

While some retailers are often disappointed with the demands made on them by suppliers, particularly for retail space and order sizes, there is general acceptance from stockists that their relationships are mutually beneficial.

Iconic Jewellery’s Maria Vella calls it a “win-win” situation. “We have strong personal relationships with our retailers and a fully supportive team working for them behind-the-scenes,” she explains.

James Temelli, marketing manager of award-winning Victorian-based retailer Temelli Jewellery, agrees. He says his stores enjoy good relationships with suppliers, which include Pandora, Thomas Sabo and Hot Steel. “We go out of our way and help organise promotion of these branded products to our customer database,” he says.

Temelli staff are also encouraged to follow what James Temelli describes as the “rules and image of the brand” when selling it, but within the boundaries of what is acceptable in the store. “Selling a branded product as opposed to a generic range can be easier in some situations, but the level of service needs to remain the same regardless of the product.”

Graeme Jackson from Queensland’s Loloma Jewellers has had equally good experiences with suppliers, saying most reps tend to be flexible. “You hold their hand, they hold your hand and you walk together,” he says of his relationships with his brand reps.

Suppliers have different demands, particularly large international ones, but Temelli argues this is understandable. He does make one observation though: “Suppliers need to have an efficient ordering process and management of promotions and marketing, and store assistance so their products increase in sales and retailers are able to sell and promote the brand and product with ease.”

Clear and comprehensive communication between retailer and supplier is paramount too – even when that communication is uncomfortable. Pandora was well aware of this when the brand announced it would close the accounts of up to 100 stockists in Australia and New Zealand in February this year, causing a storm among some retailers that had supported Pandora since the company’s early days in Australia but who were told they no longer fit in with the future plans of the jewellery brand. For managing director Karin Adcock, an individual consultation for each affected stockist was a key part of the restructuring process. “This is something we are doing face-to-face,” she told Jeweller at the time. “We will not just be sending a letter.”

Brand piggybacking

While many retailers either missed the first ‘branding boat’ or still misunderstand the seismic shift in the market, Showcase Jewellers has demonstrated that it clearly understands the benefits for the 250 members of its buying group.

Showcase members were some of the first to begin stocking Pandora and today they support other brands, including Thomas Sabo, Najo, Georgini, Skagen and more. These brands give the shops “pulling power” to attract new customers, according to Showcase spokesperson Antonia Kratsas.

“Stocking well-known brands can add value to your business as you’ve got customers who tend to regard the retail outlet with the same passion as they have for the brand itself,” Kratsas points out.

It is for this reason that Showcase markets its stores not by spruiking a particular approach or philosophy, but instead by piggybacking on popular brands.

“Usually a strong consumer demand already exists for the brand – as suppliers, distributors or wholesalers start to generate interest via the media – however, what is usually not known by consumers at a local level is where they can buy it,” she explains.

Georgini
Georgini

The strategy is working, Kratsas reports, with jewellery customers following what she sees as a more general trend for shoppers preferring brands. “The brands that they interact with most are the ones which allow them to tailor their own look or offer a range of looks, such as Pandora and Thomas Sabo.”

This would hardly surprise Phil Edwards from Duraflex, the distributor of Thomas Sabo. He says the group works hard to build relationships with stockists and maintain the brand’s integrity. This has resulted in a solid growth in sales, which he attributes to unique design, high quality and broad appeal.

“The other key is the extensive marketing and communications to consumers,” Edwards explains. “Building brand awareness and demand from consumers never ends. The marketing plan now has to involve every form of communication available to continually build your message.”

One challenge for jewellery retailers who have adopted the brand route is; how many brands is too many? And even if the number is not an issue, with products that are often quite similar, how do brands cut through and stand out?

Temelli believes shop counters can quickly become too crowded with brands. “The market seems to be saturated at the moment and I think some brands will slowly die,” he predicts. “If a product is not selling as it should, or there are too many stockists of a product, this will force retailers to discontinue stocking such products as they do not generate profits.”

In the watch market, branding has long been firmly entrenched and Nils Rasmussen from Jarass, which supplies Skagen Denmark watches, agrees with this view of survival of the fittest.

“The marketplace itself will determine how many brands there will be and brands that succeed will be those that operate ethically, understand and engage their customers and build relationships with retailers in a way that bonds them to the brand,” he says.

Worth & Douglas’s Chris Worth concedes more and more jewellery manufacturers are jumping on the branding bandwagon, but he sees this as a positive. “Time will always weed out the really good brands from the rest, increasing the perceived value of the long-lasting brands.”

Recently, in order to grow his New Zealand-based company, Worth has pinned his products to well-marketed names, including Tahi Jewellery, The Lord of the Rings and TVNZ’s Kiwi and the Cat. One of his particularly successful partnerships has been with prominent New Zealand fashion designer Karen Walker.

“The success of Karen Walker Jewellery continues to grow as the brand grows globally,” Worth explains. A true symbol of that success was the recent decision by prestigious London department store Harrods to stock Karen Walker’s best-selling heart and star pendants.

Garth Lidbetter, a spokesperson for Pastiche, a company with almost 30 years’ experience, says one industry concern is the number of “fly-by-night” companies claiming they have been around for years. He says this is confusing for retailers, who are struggling to differentiate.

Jewellery brands can work for everyone – customers, retailers and suppliers – but the industry needs to understand that there is a lot more to it than just slapping a name on a dime-a-dozen ring, bracelet or pendant. Branding is about sticking around, building relationships, creating a covetable product and most importantly, developing a selling strategy that will cut through the growing number of brands in the jewellery market.

But crucially, successful jewellery branding is about marketing and more marketing. And when that’s done, there’s more marketing – and that’s what Ern never really needed to do because in another era, the customer came to him for his expertise and advice and because he was local.

Local brands can ride on the back of international brands with their enormous marketing budgets and resources, at the same time as maintaining independence, but it requires a new set of skills and a new approach. Some have decided to go down that road and other’s haven’t.

The unique thing about the jewellery industry, unlike most other retail categories, is that there’s room, and a need, for both approaches.










ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Naomi Levin
Contributor •

Naomi Levin is a journalist who knows a little bit about a lot of things. She has worked as a sports journalist and is currently a political and general news reporter, in addition to writing for Jeweller.
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Tuesday, 10 December, 2019 09:34pm
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