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Soapbox & Opinions

Accept change or flounder

My career in this industry started 17 years ago as the co-owner of independent jewellery store Galleri Jewellers in Westfield Hornsby and Westfield Parramatta, Sydney.

During our first seven years of business, we specialised solely in 18-carat gold fine jewellery and used to scoff at sterling silver and branded jewellery.

“No, that’s not for us,” I would say. “How much does that weigh?” and “Why would I want to sell fifty pieces of that when I can sell one of these?” were typical responses to sales reps and during other industry-related discussions.

I’m sure this was also – or still is – a typical reaction for many readers of this column.

During the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), we experienced a substantial downturn in our business – our customers no longer wanted our bread-and-butter diamond tennis bracelets and were wearing fashion jewellery. Albeit slowly, we recognised that our customers’ demands had shifted from 18-carat fine jewellery to branded jewellery.

It was during this time that the charm and bead phenomenon began dominating the market via brands like Pandora and Thomas Sabo. Unfortunately, these brands were quick to secure retail stockists and, like many others, we missed the boat.

I was resistant to this change in our market. “It will turn,” I said. “We need to stick to what has always worked for us.” Our sales kept plummeting and the pressure of bills didn’t go away. It was genuinely a very tough, daunting period and it was common for me to go without a wage as we were barely turning over enough in sales to pay our astronomical rents. In hindsight, it was this hardship that forced us to either adapt and embrace change or perish.

"Change is imperative to surviving when something in business isn’t working."

I remember frantically calling supplier after supplier trying to become a branded jewellery stockist only to be told they already had someone in our area. Desperate, we had to think outside the square and began looking at international trade fairs for other brands.

Fortunately, one of the brands we discovered was Disney Couture, jewellery licensed by The Walt Disney Company. It was a twist of fate brought on by chance that Disney Couture sold really well in our stores. This eventually gave us the confidence to commit and become Disney Couture’s exclusive distributor in Australia and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, our fine jewellery business was still struggling. With ever-increasing expenses and lower margins, we decided to focus more of our energy and resources to expanding the Disney Couture business. In our first year of becoming the distributor for Disney Couture, we had established about 100 stockists and the business had reached a point where we decided to close Galleri Jewellers and concentrate on Disney Couture full time.

Talk about a sea change!

In 2013, we had the opportunity to buy the American parent company of Disney Couture and since that acquisition have designed, manufactured and distributed the brand globally. In retrospect, without the change in our customers’ demands, change in our business model and change in our mindset, things would be entirely different.

Our business has experienced some incredible highs and has also made some very tough mistakes, all brought about by change and our reaction to it. What hasn’t changed are the fundamentals of our business, particularly during tough times – we listen to our customers and to trusted industry professionals; we acknowledge and react to our mistakes; we take responsibility and are honest in all our dealings; we accept change as an opportunity to improve.

I’m not trying to promote my own business here. I simply want to illustrate that adapting to change has opened other doors for me. Change is imperative to surviving when something in business isn’t working.

Fashion jewellery might not be the answer for all. Instead, your business may need to invest more in diamond jewellery or reach out to join a buying group. We hear so many people in the industry – suppliers and retailers – complaining that business is bad but they seem unwilling to do anything about it!

In the midst of these tough times I take comfort in the fact that if my staff and I continue to align our actions with that of our core business values and embrace change, it will always hold us in good stead.

I think most would agree that these are difficult times; it is challenging and uncertain but there is definitely one certainty: change will continue. Are you ready to embrace it?

Name: Michael Tran
BusinessDisney Couture
Position: Managing director
Location: Sydney
Years in the industry: 17

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