Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top 10 Trends for 2014 - trend # 7 - The Millennials are arriving

For many years now, we have been riding the Boomer wave.  It is hard for us to recall a different age in jewelry marketing.

The Boomers were born into a post-war period of great retail expansion.  We became a country driven by consumerism and acquisition.  Advertising skills were turned to sharpening the public's desire to acquire.  Two cars in every garage, replaced often with the latest models.  Suburban life became a realized dream, and the rise of credit cards meant that we did not have to wait.  We could have it all right now!

Part of that was an important change in the targeting of fine jewelry.  Pre-war, jewelry, and particularly diamond jewelry, was primarily for the "upper classes", who wore their pieces for evening wear and special occasions.

By the 1960's, a diamond engagement ring became a must, and we then saw the rapid development of mass-market jewelry.  Stud earrings, solitaire pendants, diamond bands, bypass rings, clusters, and more became huge businesses.  Colored stones found a mass market.  As demand built, so did the range of diamonds offered.  Diamonds that had previously been relegated to industrial uses, now satisfied a public that wanted diamonds they could afford.  They just wanted to own diamonds!

The ultimate success in popular, affordable jewelry was the tennis bracelet.  It started out as a higher-priced item, selling most often at $1,000 and up.  It ended up being massively promoted at prices as low as $100.  One chain retailer stated that for a period of a few years back then, that one category represented 10% of all its sales.

It was also an item that, in retrospect, marked a pivotal moment, the slow closing of a remarkable period of growth in the mass market.  All of the items I mentioned continued to sell, and still do today (stud earrings are probably the first diamond purchases for young women).  But nothing else like it has come along in the years since the introduction of the tennis bracelet.

The next important and heavily promoted item, driven successfully by De Beers, was the 3-stone ring.  This was essentially a step back into the past.  And a good one.  One retailer told me that the De Beers program came along just as they were about to scrap a lot of 3-stone inventory.

The Millennials are arriving.  So, why was this a good move?  It came at a time when the public was becoming more interested in classics, in value, and in design that will not go out of fashion.  It was also important because the Boomers were aging, and so was unbridled acquisitiveness.

The new generation, the Millennials, come to us with very different standards and outlook.  They have been raised together with computers and instant information.  They not only experienced 9/11, but also are daily witnesses to worldwide insanity.  They know about climate change, environmental devastation, political gridlock, and how much work it will take to return the US to its foundational precepts.

Even a cursory browse on the internet reveals how much our children look at all our assumptions and question them.  Inch by inch, they are pulling the country into their world, and away from fossilized thinking.  We hope they are right, and often we do see they are right.  Grudgingly, sometimes.

Millennials have not walked away from jewelry.  The marriage rate may have declined (as has the birth rate), and marriages have been pushed off into later in life.  But emotion, love and commitment are as serious as ever...when it occurs.  But their thinking is far more open as to what symbolizes those feelings.  If it is a diamond, they are into it.  I have often seen how they studiously review their options and make informed decisions.

So bridal remains important today, and we have seen many companies move into the category.  But Millennials will want to hear your story.  More and more, they will want to know how diamonds fit in a "green" world, and how diamonds can be meaningful in their lives.  (I would point out that De Beers did a great job in building the diamond image in the US.  They also did that in Japan, but there it suffered a steep decline when the public turned conservative and turned back to old traditions.)

In non-bridal jewelry, the road is tougher.  Here we see the need for customization and uniqueness.  This generation does not seek conformity with anything like the passion shown by young Boomers.   Millennials are quite comfortable with bold costume pieces, or pieces that mix precious and non-precious, that are where the two blend so often these days.  Any fashion magazine shows how readily such jewelry is used. 

Boomers are still with us, but their buying days are largely behind them.  They seek to unload "stuff" now, not acquire more.  The oldest Millennials are now in their early thirties.  Their day is arriving.

Are you ready?

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

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