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What have jewellers been doing during lockdown?

Part II: The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the jewellery industry across Australia and New Zealand in many ways, but it didn't stop the trade from working harder to future-proof their businesses. Jewellers share tips on how they spent their time during lockdown and which areas of their business they spent time developing. 

 

 Ben Manning, Utopian Creations, SA

“[We have focused on] renovating our retail store/workshop and e-commerce. Our apprentice has been working on design practice, but other forms of training weren’t easy with our store closed.

We have been working hard to improve the way our business functions, from improving our POS system right through to renovating our store and adding to our website.

I think time for [making] special pieces is a luxury and an international pandemic that has forced the closure of my business is not that time.

It’s an important opportunity to focus on the things that will help my business succeed once the country opens back up.

If in another year or two our order books are full and we have hired more staff than we previously had, then that may be the time to sit back and rejoice by making something special.

[A key lesson from the pandemic is to] be prepared – reduce debts as much as possible and increase e-commerce. [The message I’d like to send to the industry is to] support local.

We all, as retailers, ask our customers to buy local and yet so often the materials that go into jewellery manufacture and retail in Australia are from overseas.

By supporting local mining and suppliers you can lower price fluctuation and supply risks in difficult times.

 

Sue Gaylard, Avenue J Jewellery, QLD

“During this unique time, we have chosen to focus on the future and amp up a few projects we had up our sleeve.

Our main focus has been utilising social media and remaining interactive with our clients and followers.

We have been very appreciative of our loyal customers. Many have still chosen to make Avenue J part of their special celebrations. We pride ourselves on continuing to build relationships with old and new clients.

The best lesson we have learnt is to take each day as it comes and look towards the future.

Our shop is located along the beautiful beachfront of one of the most iconIc beaches in Australia. It is a dream to work and live in such a beautiful place. Plus, we have a wonderfully supportive community.

Though it is not ideal, we will come out of this stronger and smarter – and happier.”

 

"The area we have been focusing on is ecommerce: getting our shop up and running on Etsy, Instagram and Facebook Marketplace.

Also, looking into many other aspects of online shopping – for example, how customers can pay for their goods, like PayPal and Afterpay.

My wife Lorna has learnt many skills on the computer setting up the online shop and doing free skills workshops online with TAFE.

[The key lesson we have learnt is] that the relationship with our customers – old and new – is so important in keeping our business going.

Having a good accountant has been very valuable as well in completing the JobKeeper and JobSeeker forms, as the paperwork has been a nightmare! Australia really has been lucky in managing this horrible disease.

In these difficult times, if you are struggling with issues personally, talk to your friends and family.

Don’t let it fester – most of us are in the same boat and we need each other now.”

 

Giselle Devereux, NCJV / bench jeweller, TAS

“As a manufacturing jeweller, my work load has dropped considerably so it was pretty devastating at first but in other ways it has been a benefit.

I have been doing a stocktake in my business and a thorough clean up of my work room, so that’s a plus.

I am on the National Council of Jewellery Valuers (NCJV) Federal Committee and am currently NCJV Tasmanian Division president.

The Federal Committee had enrolled me in a TAFE course, a Certificate IV in Assessment and Workplace Training.

I wasn’t able to to meet the demands of the course due to my workload so I have been using my time to study.

This has been a great benefit. Hopefully when COVID-19 is over I will be able teach the new Valuation Diploma Course that the NCJV have developed!”

 

 Nikhil Jogia, Jogia DiamondS, WA

“We have been operating as normal for the past few months.

Business has been quite slow, but has been picking up during these past weeks. I think our customers have expectations that we should be operating as normal, despite events beyond our control.

We’ve managed to recoat our timber floors, do equipment maintenance and finish admin work.

In the coming months, I will work on our website, backend systems, and marketing.

The lessons and take-a ways from this pandemic have been that:

a) Businesses, in any industry, that were struggling with weak balance sheets have faced the most trouble.

Now would be a good time to build a stronger, more resilient balance sheet – whether than means lowering debt or increasing cash levels. This may cause lower returns and/or profits, but in the long run will be a lot less risky.

b) The e-commerce side of many, mostly independent jewellery businesses is not nearly at the level of where it should be.

I think this is because a lot of jewellers are hesitant to be transparent about their products and pricing

If you are a consumer looking to buy online, you would obviously want as much information about what you are buying, presented in an easy and straightforward manner.

This means grading certificates, photos, videos and additional information, along with the price.

However, I think many jewellers are still stuck in the 20th century and think selling should be in-store, or they don’t want to risk competing with long-established online players.”

 

Mark Evans, Mark Evans Fine Jewellery, QLD

“I have had extensive consultation with a local media agency regarding my business’ online presence across Instagram and Facebook i.e. setting up regular posts, the style of the images and engaging content.

I realise now that I had become a bit complacent and hadn’t kept up with this side of my business.

[Lockdown] has given me time to develop a new range of precious gemstone jewellery aimed most definitely at a specific price point.

I had actually done a lot of the prep work over the Christmas holiday, but COVID-19 actually brought this range forward considerably.

[In terms of lessons learnt] I would say be resilient. This has been an unprecedented time in history and we were all reeling from the ramifications COVID-19 thrust upon us.

But, adapting to conditions has brought out new ways for our businesses to survive, and hopefully thrive in the future.

Hang in there, and use this extraordinary time in our lives to reshape your business model to suit the current climate.

Retail is now a considerably different landscape to pre-COVID-19 and we have to adapt to it.”

 

Steven Jansen, SS Impressions Jewellery Design Studio, WA

“Fortunately we weren’t too affected with our business with the lockdowns.

We are already appointment-only, so the only change we had was client having to change wedding dates to next year postponing a few makes.

The rest that had already paid deposits went through with no cancelled orders.

The only part that was affected was our trade work side, but thankfully we went from [trade work comprising] 90 per cent of our business last March to only 5 per cent of our turnover, due to the largest of jewellery chains trying to burn their subcontractors last year, resulting in our firm pulling out of our contract with them.

[We have focused on] advertising via ma, and staff completing more CAD training. [The lesson learnt is to] always have a rainy day fund – in both monetary and materials areas – for at least six months.

Even when you’re not busy in the shop or workshop, always try to use your time as best as possible to learn a new skill, revamp your shop or image, and look for other ways to make your store work and be more accessible to your clients.

Don’t look at it as time off, but more like a forced opportunity to sort your business out.”

 

Michael Sobbi, Linda & Co Designer Jewellers, NSW

"During isolation, we have focused the most on] e-commerce and social-media marketing – Instagram especially – doing a spring clean of the store and workshop, sending [items for] refining due to the gold price increase, building relationships with existing customers and conducting a big stocktake.

Most watch brands have provided trading so we have been catching up on that, as well as sales/management training – weekly meetings on how to close sales.

[The key lesson we have learnt is that] things can change with a blink of an eye. Have a cash reserve, and focus on e-commerce.

We are lucky to be in Australia – I expected this to be a lot worse.

I think with the government grants and strong online sales, we are riding the wave to normality."

 

Paul Taylor, Paul Taylor Jewellers, NZ

“During the New Zealand lockdown we were completely closed from 24 March, and reopened at level three on 14 April.

The industry has been impacted with COVID-19 and we have many trade customers who have been in hibernation as well.

As with most other Kiwis, we spent our time on many walks and making use of the days with projects.

Our internet presence has been in overhaul during this period and I am confident this is going to be most important in times ahead.

The staff were left to their own devices during the lockdown, with the exception of coming up with design ideas.

Simple designs with a reasonable price point was the message, and being able to CAD and replicate was also important.

I feel the industry will revive in good time as the customers are still here. Quality and  service will undoubtedly be most important moving forward.”

 

Kathryn Wyatt, Imogene Jewellery, VIC

“Now that I have more time, I should be doing photographs and email marketing as I am set up for it.

However, I have been very busy having a holiday reorganising my books and office and gem lab at the shop.

I’ve gained lots of new skills in gemmology with webinars, masterclasses and university courses from around the world with experts in their fields.

The key lesson I have learnt is that I want to retire – possibly. There are more things to life than just working at a job!”

 

Geneva McArdle, Silkoh / Ichu Jewellery, VIC

“[We have focused on] e-commerce, social-media, marketing, dropshipping and stocktaking. [The team has gained skills in] bookkeeping and e-commerce management.

Anything can happen – remain positive and focus on the strengths of your business.

Keep on keeping on! Don’t give up during hard times, simply focus your energy on the successful avenues of your business and really make that thrive.”

 

Gil Watson, Cybelle, NSW and VIC

“The most time has been spent on re-photographing many of the jewellery pieces on the website, especially those that were put up in a hurry and didn’t get the full ‘glamour’ treatment, plus re-writing many of the website descriptions to get them sounding more interesting.

I’ve worked hard on the brand’s Instagram image, and we’re now getting more visits to the website that come straight from Instagram.

I’ve also done a stock-take and worked out which items need to be given away as free gifts to customers just to get rid of them, and which old suppliers need to be purchased from again because their items are perennial favourites.

And, I’ve been brushing up on some of the new gemstones becoming popular, as I start to stock them!”

 

Tony Peters, Exquisite Jewellers, ACT

“We have traded throughout the pandemic, but with reduced hours.

Initially we allowed three persons in our public space, then it was two. Instead of a 5pm close, we made it 3pm, and noon Saturday instead of 1pm.

My assistant and I struggled to enforce the safe distancing – patrons were impatient and failed to comprehend the instruction, ‘Two persons maximum’.

Beware of the person behind the now socially-accepted mask.

[However] our opportunity to continue trading was essential, as I was not prepared to inject any finance into our store to stay afloat.

I ceased purchases, unless it was critical to cover a sale, special order or repair. I was entitled to JobKeeper for myself and a credit on my BAS – this government assistance has certainly helped.

My landlord gave me a $600 waiver on my rent – equivalent to half my downturn in trade for March. I passed on the deferment.

It was my intention to exit this industry during 2020 – COVID-19 has not helped that ambition.”

 

Part I: Lessons of lockdown: jewellers face the future of retail

Click to read more »

 

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