NAJ News

Industry action during the COVID-19 pandemic

09 Apr 2020

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Belinda Morris, Editor of The Jeweller | Opinion

Following the CMJ’s news that it is supporting its retail members by bringing forward retrospective rebate payment to members (and doubling the minimum payment they’ll receive), Belinda Morris, editor of The Jeweller, speaks to suppliers who are working to help their retail customers stay afloat.

While there is no single, clear-cut, fail-safe response to this global crisis – a response that will guarantee the future of our industry at all levels – the certainty that we are all in this together has led to across-the-board moves to do the utmost to help.

Bricks and mortar jewellery shops have, of course, all closed for the foreseeable future (no point in trying to estimate when that might change), and while many are running ‘business as near-as-damn-it-as-usual’, it’s clearly a struggle. Bills still need to be paid – customers or no customers – and if there are customers, stock levels and services need to be maintained and, most importantly, staff need to be cared for, physically, financially and emotionally.

Now, more than ever, watchwords must be: ‘understanding’, ‘compromise’, ‘kindness’, ‘communication’, ‘resilience’, ‘creative-thinking’, ‘forward-thinking’… for everyone.

Understandably, a number of suppliers – manufacturers or otherwise – have chosen to shut up shop completely. It’s a difficult decision that cannot be argued against. However, there are some that are finding ways in which they are able carry on – albeit in a limited way – as well as provide some degree of financial relief to beleaguered retailers.

Gary Wroe, managing director of Birmingham-based jewellery manufacturer Hockley Mint, has taken the decision to open the business on Mondays and Tuesdays, with limited staff. “We are working on skeleton staff – key people who have several skills – bringing the work force down to 15 to 20 people (from around the normal 90), so we can maintain distancing,” he explains.

“There’s enough to do – we have orders to fulfil. But people can change their minds if they decide that they would prefer not to come in. Phone calls and emails have been diverted to staff working from home… it’s working well.”

He recognises that these are challenging times for retailers. “Some are asking for a period of grace from us and we’re working to make sure that they stay in business,” he says. “I’m also in regular contact with our staff; telling them what we’re doing and making sure that they’re ok and safe. We have to look after their wellbeing; staff are key to this.”

Gary Wroe, Hockley Mint

Image: Gary Wroe, Managing Director of Hockley Mint who are open on Mondays and Tuesdays with a reduced workforce in order to maintain social distancing guidelines. 

“Since lockdown began we've asked all staff to continue their work from home, and more recently, we've put most of our staff on furlough,” says Ari Aminoff of pearl jewellery supplier Matt Aminoff. “The directors of the business are still working, so we've been able to meet customer enquiries (domestic and abroad), and have been making shipments, albeit less frequently. 

“Of course we are staying positive and using our time productively, and we have mixed feelings for the short term outlook of the fine jewellery industry. On one hand, it might take some months before consumer sentiment is fully restored in the market. However, as was the case following the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, we might actually see a rise in demand for luxury goods as a result of deferred spending during the crisis period.” 

“We are still going and operating, but in fact it’s just me and my brother Jak in the office,” adds Daniel Ozel at Unique & Co. “We still send orders to some of our customers, or directly to their customers as shops are closed. However it’s not really busy; just a few orders a day. But anyway, we have some paperwork to do, and it would be too boring to sit at home the whole day.”

For the security of London-based Unique’s staff, and because most of them use public transport here, Ozel decided to send them home and furlough them. “All of them were happy with that and we did not have any issue with this. Most are long-term with us and understood.”

He added that Unique will be also working with its retailers to support them with cash flow, “as we always did and try to help where we can. As much as the situation is very difficult for any business – and also for us – we think we will get through it and will get stronger out of it. Cooperation between all parties is needed and very important at the moment.”

Meanwhile, to support its UK stockists, Sif Jakobs Jewellery has launched its Retail Affiliate Programme (RAP), which will initially run until 30th June 2020.

Following strict social distancing and all other statutory protection measures for the safety of their customer service and warehouse staff, Sif Jakobs Jewellery is opening the stockroom doors and its e-commerce platform based in Copenhagen, to support its UK retail stockists. Participating stockists will be given a unique promotion code and supplied with a website banner and invitation email to send to their on-line customers.

Orders placed on the Sif Jakobs website will qualify for 15% discount, free delivery to a UK postal address and free 90-days returns. A monthly statement will inform the stockist of orders placed using their unique promotion code and their promotion earnings, which will then appear as a credit on their wholesale account.

Commenting on the new programme, director UK & Ireland, Mark Riddle, said: “We are delighted to offer this special service to our UK retail stockists at this challenging time. We had a think about how we could put together a support programme that generates sales and our stockists can participate in without physical access to their premises, stock, staff or e-commerce system. If they can simply add the supplied banner to their website and/or send the invitation email to their on-line customers, they can give their customers access to our full range and stock in Copenhagen and generate some revenue. It’s a win, win, win offer.”

Video: This morning's NAJ Better Business Webinar with Ruth Faulkner and Siobhan Holt from Retail Jeweller who reported the main findings on the publications COVID-19 questionnaire.  

Samuel Jones Pearls is a small, family-run, and family-orientated business,” says Jack Maymon. “We recognise our obligations to both our customers and employees, and a difficult decision was made to put most of our staff on furloughed leave, while maintaining key business function. Our staff have been brilliant in accepting this decision; a lively work WhatsApp group is keeping us connected and entertained. This is to ensure they’re able to follow government guidelines, protect their families and prevent the spread of coronavirus. It is also to protect the business during these unprecedented times and to ensure that Samuel Jones is able to bounce back into trading, once restrictions are lifted,” he adds.

“Fundamentally, we remain open for business and are keen to support our customers wherever possible. Our phone lines and email remain monitored (albeit sometimes remotely), meaning we’re able to take orders, offer advice, and receive repairs. We’re still dispatching orders via Special Delivery ensuring good turnaround times for items we have in-stock. Our workshop is operating on an ad-hoc basis, which coupled with a strict contact-free policy, is slowing our repair process. It does, however mean we are still able to do restrings, matching and general repairs for our customers.

“We’re doing all we can to support our customers financially. As ever, we believe communication is key, and have written to our customers requesting notice if they’re having any issues with their account. We have had many lovely responses to this – a sign of the strong jewellery community, as well as a few customers highlighting issues. We endeavour to take a long-term and kind view, and have utilised options such as extending payment terms and cancelling or reducing outstanding orders.

“As a business – in its 104th year of trading – we’re keeping a keen eye on our trading position too, to ensure we bounce back in as healthy operating-shape as possible. We greatly look forward to re-opening Wisdom Hall, catching up, and getting back to business as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

While the business is currently closed, “for the safety of customers and staff” Daniel Vecht at London Pearl is remaining upbeat. “We are in good shape -–we have a full stock of freshwater, Akoya, Tahiti and South Sea pearls which will be available as soon as we reopen. We will be able to supply most items as soon as [that happens].

“We purchased our stock when the Pound was at a much better exchange rate than today. We will therefore be in a very strong position to supply stock at much lower prices when we reopen. We anticipate that as a result our prices will be favourable even when compared to prices on offer for those who import directly from Asia,” he adds.

When asked whether London Pearl would be able to help retailers with cash flow issues – thus hopefully helping to prevent some of your retail customers from crashing – he says: “We would be open to support both existing and new customers with credit terms to help them.”

Although access to its office and trade counters is restricted during the lockdown, Birmingham-based manufacturer River Mounts has kept its factory open. “It is operating at full capacity to complete both new customer orders and increased levels of stock production, which will be ready for assay and dispatch as soon as the lockdown has been lifted,” explains account executive Sequoia Harris-O’Rielly.

“We aim to help our retail partners to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever, so we are investing heavily in producing thousands of our designs in a multitude of head and finger sizes – ensuring lightning-quick deliveries for once we are all able to resume business,” she added. With staff manning phones from home, urgent orders will be dispatched weekly.

 “We want to help with our retail partners’ cashflow wherever we can,” she continues. “Our accounts team are working hard with our retailers to develop tailored payment plans where necessary to ensure the safety of their business. In addition, for the customers who are able to settle their accounts now, we’re offering an immediate payment discount to show our support. Anyone who can take advantage of this will have fewer bills to pay once they are trading again, putting them in a very strong position.”

 What's your current business situation?

Email editor@naj.co.uk to report on what decision you've taken. 

Email Belinda, The Jeweller Editor

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Souce: Belinda Morris, Editor of The Jeweller