Break Down: The CMJ’s UK Jewellery Conference

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We review the first jewellery conference hosted by the CMJ last month.

In an artificially lit room inside the car park accommodation labyrinth that is the Birmingham Metropole Bill Turnbull readied to face his opponent. The veteran BBC journalist has wrestled with political figures and fictitious puppet pigs alike during his career, but this evening he faced question time with one of the jewellery industry’s biggest personalities, the CMJ’s Willie Hamilton.

The Grill Willie session was far from probing, despite an open invitation to the gathered audience to submit no-holds-barred anonymous questions – although we did get an answer as to whether the CMJ boss is gay, apparently not – but it was the end of what had been a long, but informative, day at the CMJ’s first business conference.

The UK Jewellery Conference – which has a deceptively broad name considering that it is only open to CMJ members – was the latest attempt from the buying group to extend its reach and enrich its membership package.

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The idea of a conference for the jewellery trade is not a new concept; there used to be a similar event run by Retail Jeweller when CMJ executive Sarah Carpin was at the helm of the magazine but it has lapsed in recent years. However, the concept is one that has been heartily received by the CMJ’s members and it seems that the buying group could have plugged a vital knowledge gap in the industry.

The one-day conference, which was coupled with a second day of retailer-only peer-led workshops, was a slick and professional event with a star presenter and big-name speakers, including Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold, who was without doubt the headline act, entertaining guests with tales of setting up her business to frosty and often hostile reception and dodging a few cringe-inducing post-talk questions from a CMJ member with some very intimate knowledge of the chain’s vibrators, specifically The Bullet.

Other popular speakers included Links of London founder John Ayton and Jeavon Lolay, director of global research at Lloyds Bank Wholesale Markets, who gave an informative talk on the global financial markets and how they impact on precious metal prices.

Lunch was provided, as was accommodation for many guests, and there was a dinner event in the evening that doubled as a fundraiser for Birmingham Assay Office chief executive Michael Allchin’s charity of choice Cyclists Fighting Cancer.

It was clear that money had been spent on kickstarting the conference, something that Hamilton confirmed when he revealed it set the group back £50,000, although he was quick to point out that this was level with the group’s spend on its 2011 AGM event in London. While suppliers were charged for tickets, retailers were not, and with paying suppliers accounting for just 20% of the audience it can be assumed that the event did not claw back much of the money spent, despite a sponsorship deal with insurance broker TH March.

So what is the purpose of such a lavish use of funds? Does the CMJ have intentions to turn this into a corporate cash cow open to the whole industry? Apparently not, although Hamilton is hoping that the costs will decline as the event matures.

“[The CMJ] is a not-for-profit organisation and is only looking to break even when hosting such events and services,” he tells Professional Jeweller. “With support from our ever-growing collective membership, the conference will prove cost effective. It is a service offered to the Company of Master Jewellers’ members as a collective and is a benefit of being part of the group for our retailers and our suppliers. The strength is in our collective and to share in those benefits you need to be part of the CMJ family to attend.”

With these comments Hamilton confirms that the conference will return in 2013, adding that the group is already looking into larger venues that will accommodate what it expects to be a larger attendance next year.

The CMJ canvassed the opinion of all 2012 attendees and received a 89% response rate – strikingly high, as anyone who has ever run a survey will know – with apparently a 100% positive response; hence the optimism about the 2013 conference.

The CMJ did a stellar job, delivering an engaging and informative day of discussion peppered with some business star power, and Hamilton says that this tradition of “bringing the industry together to support and motivate both suppliers and retailers in the every day running of their businesses” will strengthen over time with next year forecast to be “equally if not more successful” than its debut.

The only negative to the event, which seems set to be a diary must for a lot of CMJ members, is that it is restricted to just the membership, but as another string to add to the CMJ’s rapidly expanding bow it’s a winner.
 

Grilled Willie, Anyone?
CMJ chief executive Willie Hamilton opened himself up to questions from the floor posed by Bill Turnbull. Here is an edited selection of a few of the Qs and the As on the day.

Is it possible to get to a stage where you have too many members and you can’t look after them as individuals?
We are going to get to the position where some people don’t feel as loved as they did but that’s up to us to work harder and we have plans in place. How big are we going to get? I have no idea but the opportunities in the jewellery industry in the UK are absolutely phenomenal. Could we have 1,000? Yes, why not.

Could the CMJ act as a diamond wholesaler and sell loose diamonds?
Yes. But we have to take into consideration that we work in partnership with suppliers and they already do the job.

You have been talking about training for years, why have you not delivered?
The only way we could grow the CMJ is by increasing the profit and we now have a seven-figure sum in the bank so we can invest in people. The reason we haven’t done it is that it’s the biggest investment, so we’ve had to deliver short and quick, but we will have a training programme.

Do you have a view on brand bullying?
You as an independent retailer have to make a commercial decision but those brands should not be able to bully you. The only way you can fight it is by community. We have done it already with a few suppliers in the CMJ. It’s just appalling.

How do you see your relationship with the CMJ board?
I think I have a great relationship with the board, but boy do they give me a hard time, they don’t let me away with anything. It’s certainly not the Willie Hamilton show.

What is the biggest threat to the industry?
Core values. Do not give up on being a jeweller, but what you have to do is move with the mix. Work with fashion jewellery but do not move away from your core values.

You dress very stylishly, are you sure you’re not gay?
Some people say I’m very good with fashion and fabrics but that’s as far as it goes.
 

This feature was taken from the November issue of Professional Jeweller. Read it online here.

 

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