Friday, February 14, 2014

Top 10 trends for 2014 - Trend # 5 - The new designers and manufacturers

It is easy to get a bit down on the outlook in the jewelry business.  Except for those who have managed to position themselves well at the top of the market, or those who have hit a marketing mother lode, the balance of the business is floundering. 

That is understandable given that we are still fighting to get fully out of a major financial crisis.  People are nervous about jobs, getting them or losing them, and everyone knows we are in the midstream of a new age - the technological age that is rendering much of what we do obsolescent at a stunning pace.

Still, much of what we see in the business has not changed, mostly because so many believe that there is little reason to think it can change.  New designs are drawn up, models made, stones picked, samples produced, a price list is printed, and presto!  We have a new "collection."  The latest "creations."  (Two words that I think have become as threadbare as an old doormat.) 

For those who have really been paying attention, all that just does not work anymore.  It might suffice to scratch out a living, but hardly a way to build a company.  It is time to move on.

The new designers and manufacturers.  The jewelry business is not unlike many other arts.  True talent is a rare thing.  A very rare thing.  Which does not mean that millions of pieces are not sold.  Just walk through an art fair and we see tons of lithographs priced for modest pocketbooks, for those who just want to decorate some walls.  And then one is stopped by one artist's work that displays exceptional skill and originality.  If we are lucky, we find one.

We do need a range of products designed to satisfy consumers of varied taste and budgets.  In recent years we have witnessed the rise of innovative companies that have succeeded spectacularly.  Let me mention a few.  David Yurman, Blue Nile, JAR, Hearts on Fire, Pandora, and Alex and Ani. 

What do they have in common?  All are retailers, though all except Blue Nile did not start out that way.  All have a compelling aspect to their businesses that sets them apart and satisfies a consumer need. 
  • Yurman took classic design, then blended silver, inexpensive colored stones and 18 karat gold, and offered the public great value and design.  He did it when everyone else thought the idea was nuts.  I guess they were wrong.
  • Blue Nile offered low priced diamonds over the Internet, while dealers and retailers thought that was a joke.  I guess they were wrong.  How many $400 million diamond businesses has anyone seen develop that fast? 
  • JAR almost fanatically pursued the design and execution of spectacular jewelry using extraordinary stones and immaculate finish.  He slowly built a super-rich clientele.  He just had a special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  
  • Hearts on Fire recognized that the combination of GIA grading reports and AGS cut grading had not been done.  Offering the public the chance to buy "ideal" diamonds, and using tools to demonstrate that perfection, was a big hit with retailers.  He was a first mover.
  • Pandora gives the public the chance to customize their own jewelry, at their own pace, and at an acceptable price for each addition.  Is it the finest jewelry?  Maybe not, but it is a huge hit with the public.
  • Alex and Ani offer one-size-fits-all bracelets, and many other products, and are very aggressive marketers.  They ran a 30-second ad during the Super Bowl.  
In every case, a distinct and instantly understood message is delivered in well developed multi-channel marketing campaigns.  Even JAR, who never advertised, used the subtle message of one-of-a-kind art, private sale, and incomparable design and execution.  He was patient, and it paid off big.

These examples, most of all, demonstrate that price range or market sector are not inhibitors.  Success can be found within all ranges and styles.  What they also demonstrate is that very often the product is the conveyor of a much more important message, something that makes the heart skip a beat.

So what is the trend?  Well, we need to start out by acknowledging that jewelry is not going away.  That the public (particularly women, of course) love the psychic charge that jewelry offers, much as watches do for men.  It is magical, it is emotional and it is eternal.

But packing up a bag with a bunch of "me too" pieces and going on the road and knocking on doors is probably the hardest way to earn a living in this business.  Today we see technology stepping into the breech.  People are printing jewelry and offering immediate service on customizable designs.  Even JAR and Yurman are using aluminum, and other alternate materials that offer options in colors and personalized jewelry.  Trained personnel are showing up in stores to help run special events. 

But mostly it is relationship building using every tool imaginable (and yes, including a number of social networks), including full e-commerce, well-designed web sites that tell a compelling story about the designer or the retailer, and allow the consumer to buy via any channel that suits them.

At every turn we see these 'new' designers and manufacturers do wonderful things.  We will see a lot more in the year to come.

As today is Friday, 10 days of trends for 2014 will take a break for the weekend, but we will be back on Monday (even though it is a holiday!). 

Please note:  If you are interested in seeing the subjects covered in these 10 days of trends for 2014, you might be interested in a full-day seminar being tentatively planned for later this year in New York.  We will expand and deepen the discussion, cover other issues, and include options for the future.  I would be happy to hear from you if you are interested in hearing the details when they are worked out.  Leave me a note here, or e-mail me at benj@janosconsultants.com.  Thanks!

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