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Learning from the past, looking to the future

It is all too easy to fall into despair during tough times, but jewellery retailers and suppliers alike shouldn’t lose sight of opportunities or be afraid to adapt, writes DARREN ROBERTS.

When Neil McCammon and I acquired Cudworth Enterprises almost exactly 18 years ago, we had the goal to become the market leader for men’s fashion jewellery in Australia. It was a huge undertaking to grow the Cudworth brand both here and then later, internationally.

We were taking over a business that had been established in 1921 – just three years after the end of World War I.

At that point it was known by the company name Norman P Joseph, and it had gone through several other changes of name, and management, in that time.

The name Cudworth Enterprises was adopted in 1979, when Dennis and Leslie Cudworth took over.

To put that into perspective, our business had been through the Great Depression, World War II, and various other recessions and downturns all before it fell into our hands.

However, standing the test of time doesn’t mean standing still.

It is about agility, the ability to move with the times while still maintaining the qualities that makes your business and your product special.

It is about never being complacent and remaining positive and hopeful during the down times.

We were the first company to introduce stainless steel jewellery into Australia, and three years after we bought the business, we expanded into our first international market: New Zealand.

However, a few short years after that – when we were on the road to achieving our ambitious goal – the Global Financial Crisis hit.

With a proactive mindset, we have used this time to communicate with retailers to build an even closer working relationship, as well as speaking to other suppliers.

Fortunately, we were able to withstand its impacts for a time, and in 2011 Cudworth expanded internationally again – this time into the UK and Europe. Shortly afterwards, in 2013, there was another downturn and this time our business did feel the effects.

However, again we pushed through, and began 2020 having achieved our goal to be the market leader in Australia for men’s cufflinks, jewellery and accessories.

In addition, we also formed another division of Cudworth for the distribution of luxury European brands such as Hugo Boss writing instruments, Tateossian, Hoxton and Lanvin.

Then came the biggest challenge any of us have faced: COVID-19.

Those previous setbacks – which many other businesses in the jewellery industry, and beyond, have experienced alongside us – simply pale in comparison.

Yet we have found that the lessons we learnt from the past still apply.

With a proactive mindset, we have used this time to communicate with retailers to build an even closer working relationship, as well as speaking to other suppliers.

We have maintained our high level of service by taking a look at our best-selling lines and ensuring they are always in stock.

We have improved our website and even assisted retailers with theirs, and have worked with buying groups on Father’s Day and Christmas catalogues to ensure our products are properly promoted to retailers.

These steps have served us well in what has been an incredibly difficult year – and they are all steps that retailers can take too.

When it comes to maintaining a hopeful attitude, retailers have shown their resilience throughout 2020. Overall, I have observed strength and positivity from most retailers I have encountered during the pandemic – and even seen new blood coming into the industry, which is refreshing.

One example was a young retailer in a northwest suburb of Sydney who had taken over the family jewellery business.

He moved the store to a new location and began trading in April! It was a risky decision, of course, but the store is doing well.

The reason for that is because theretailer could call upon the experienceof the past and the established strengths of the business, while combining itwith an ambitious, adaptable, and optimistic vision.

It is a neat metaphor for the approach that’s needed in business – not just during crisis periods, but at all times.

In this most difficult of years, we have called upon Cudworth’s nearly a century of heritage to guide us: we are sticking to what we know best – men’s jewellery and accessories – and we aren’t trying to develop products that don’t fit under our umbrella.

At the same time, we are proactively developing our distribution side for the luxury European brands.

And finally, we are remaining positive, remembering that our business has survived for 99 years. The future will be new and different, and it’s time to embrace it.

Name: Darren Roberts
Company: Cudworth Enterprises
Position: CEO
Location: Sydney, NSW
Years in Industry: 18

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