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David Wheeler, The Artist Goldsmith
David Wheeler, The Artist Goldsmith

Spotlight on benchies

There was much discussion last year regarding the plight of the jewellery industry and the challenges for brick-and-mortar retailers competing with internet sales.

I am the business partner of a German-trained goldsmith who resolved 40 years ago to only make one-off pieces by hand. This has meant low volumes, high margins and considerable demand on her creative mind. The end product, however, is individual, reflective of her personality and directed to a small, niche market – not exactly attributes I associate with online retailing.

It is from this position that I look critically at high street jewellers on two major points: the similarity of their design work in both high and low-end price spectrums; and their brand-centric approach to product offerings.

When retailers rely on such strategies, there is little room for one store to distinguish itself from another. I have long contended that Rodeo Drive and Bond Street fashion and jewellery store signage could be switched overnight and customers would be none the wiser!
Yes, one store may have an extra “0” on the price tag, but the designs span such a narrow band that no distinct difference is visible.

In the jewellery world, individuality relies all too often on the commodity value of the stones involved – a beautiful cabochon sapphire of x-carat, for example – and not on composition of the piece. If some ”extra design value” is added, it’s usually just a stone-setter placing hundreds of small diamonds in a given space to create the ”flower effect”. Seldom does the jeweller rise to the challenge of original creation.

This leads to my second point: product-centricity. If a store is offering finished goods that appear identical to those advertised on internet sites, either local or offshore, then price is really the only differentiator. Personnel costs, store rent, GST and other costs all add up to making this a difficult business equation.

When customers bring photos into our store of pieces they have seen in magazines or online, we are very clear that we can’t compete on price. The creative juices soon start to flow, however, and an alternative suggestion will often be presented that includes a genuinely individual piece. 

If jewellery retailers are looking to create personal connections then the on-site jeweller is the key. Why is it that this staff member is hidden “out the back” and rarely given any opportunity to create a point of difference for a store?

Some retailers do actually have their jewellers visible, even if behind a glass screen. This allows the sales staff to include them in the conversation where necessary and is another humanising touch, adding depth to the customer experience.

Stores able to offer a range of hand-made items that are singular to their business and noticeably different from competitors, give consumers another reason to cross the threshold; retailers have an opportunity to educate shoppers beyond the standard colour and carat of a diamond and to establish a real personal relationship. They may still purchase a ready-made item but will most probably purchase it from you because you have engaged with them and used your expert retailing skills.

The opportunity to offer added services is another reason to bring the jeweller into the spotlight. A substantial part of our business comes from the reworking of existing jewellery. For the customer to see where their treasured items are going and who will be handling them is important. Would you send goods to a PO Box jeweller?

Where it is not practical to have an on-site jeweller, why not host ”invitation” evenings for customers where they can meet and talk with your jeweller. This again brings the consumer through the door, cements a relationship and promotes loyalty.

The decision to be a ”full-service jeweller” or simply a ”jewellery retailer” is a crucial one. The former warrants a bricks-and-mortar model while the latter is increasingly a cyber-concept. If you are solely buying and selling finished product with price as the leading point of difference then costs need to be kept very low. If you are offering a full service, however, then the store window, retail space and staff will be major assets.

Bring the bench jeweller up front, and refer to them as your goldsmith – it has an added ring of authority!

Name: David Wheeler
Company: The Artist Goldsmith
Position: director
Location: Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Years in industry: 33

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Tuesday, 14 July, 2020 11:22am
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