IN DEPTH: The UK Jewellery Conference 2014

UK jewellery conf 14

Key facts, figures and opinion from last month’s industry meet.

The Company of Master Jewellers last month presented the third edition of its UK Jewellery Conference, showcasing a polished line-up of guest speakers and networking opportunities. Professional jeweller attended the two-day event, catching up with CMJ chief executive Willie Hamilton, who discussed the conference’s untapped potential.

Transforming the labyrinthine corridors and conference rooms of the Hilton Birmingham Metropole into an environment suitable for a forward-thinking jewellery conference might seem like a challenge, but The Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ) managed to bring some sparkle to the surrounds on October 7 and 8.

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The buying group turned its allotted space into an impressive backdrop for its range of guest speakers; supported by a seamless video screen backdrop, regularly flashing the conference ‘Brilliant Together’ slogan.

Presented by BBC personality Bill Turnbull, the two-day conference managed to toe the tricky line between optimism and the realities of the jewellery trade in 2014; encouraging members to push boundaries and experiment with new product lines, while reminding them of untapped business opportunities in jewellery and watch repair services.

Overall, the third edition of the UK Jewellery Conference, tickets to which cost CMJ members £195+VAT, was met with a positive reception, with 97% of attendees reporting during the conference that they would book again for the 2015 edition.

UKJC 2014: DAY ONE
The first day of the conference kicked off with a welcome address by Turnbull, who proved himself an efficient and charming host throughout the two days. This was followed by a short talk by Birmingham Assay Office assay master Stella Layton, who discussed current trends in precious metal markets, and Neil McFarlane, of event sponsor and jewellery insurer T.H. March, who focused on current crime trends across the trade.

Using a simple digital voting system, attendees were presented with quick-fire questions throughout the day which yielded insightful results for the CMJ and the wider industry. For example, 81% of guests predicted business would improve in the next 12 months, 60% admitted they needed help with implementing a workplace pension scheme, and 49% have undertaken a major shop refit in the past year.

Day One’s keynote speaker Gerald Ratner impressed with a candid account of his sensational downfall, generating plenty of laughter and reflection from the audience. Equally inspiring was customer service consultant Andrew McMillan, whose talk on the power of positivity through advertising and retail staff ‘going the extra mile’ transfixed guests already gearing-up for the busy Christmas trading period.

Just before the CMJ transformed the space for an evening dinner, guest speaker Professor Damian Hughes added an extra jolt of confidence to the proceedings by steering away from jewellery and discussing the human psyche; from primal survival instincts to development during childhood, summarising that positive thinking can shape personal growth and development. Despite not appearing to be immediately relevant, it was by far the most discussed seminar at the evening reception, where the CMJ presented two member awards to Wakefields Jewellers and Brown & Newirth for Retailer of the Year and Supplier of the Year respectively.

UKJC 2014: DAY TWO
The conference continued into day two with networking discussions, where the CMJ encouraged retailer and supplier members to let their guard down and speak frankly at an open forum for ideas. The discussions, spearheaded by peers in the industry, pushed aside the sometimes secretive nature of the trade and generated appreciated feedback.

F. Hinds director Andrew Hinds attended the event in his role as chairman of the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and commented on the inclusiveness of the event: “I was pleased how relaxed all the other delegates I met were about me being there, given that they are used to talking openly in the knowledge that their fellow members are rarely if ever direct competitors.”

He continued: “Even in the small group sessions I think there was an open exchange of ideas — I felt everyone was acting in the best interests of the group of businesses attending and the trade as a whole, rather than being paranoid about letting others benefit from successful ideas they’d had.”

Following a talk by Timpson’s owner John Timpson – who promoted his belief that strict management is a hindrance to staff wanting to get on with their jobs – the CMJ’s membership services manager Lucy Reece-Raybould presented a round-up of the morning’s findings.

KEY CONFERENCE FINDINGS
Perhaps surprisingly, the overwhelming response from CMJ members pointed to a willingness to make changes, but an underlying concern of simply not knowing where to start. When discussing the possibility of taking on new ranges, members unanimously agreed that trial packages and buy-back schemes would increase confidence, but stressed that the CMJ should not transform itself into a distributor.

Housekeeping issues were discussed, including negotiating group utility bills, switching from paper to email invoices and adding additional training courses, alongside the possibility of introducing ‘action coaches’ to shake up businesses, and a UK national jewellery sale day.

Discussing the issues of implementing Fairtrade jewellery and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies, the CMJ and its members suggested a 20% starting point — ensuring demand for Fairtrade from the younger generation of consumers is met. Other feedback raised concerns about Blood Diamonds becoming a forgotten issue, highlighting a key area where jewellers can differentiate themselves from competitors through CSR policies.

While one retailer sang the praises of targeted cinema advertising, resulting in increased store visits and valuable market research, others highlighted the need for more integrated supplier and retailer events, a shared sales and product data service, visual merchandising support and simple trends analysis.

GRILL WILLIE Q&A SESSION
There’s something daunting about being presented with a fish-bowl full of anonymous questions, but CMJ chief executive Willie Hamilton took it all in his stride for the return of the conference’s Grill Willie Q&A session. Despite some obviously tongue-in-cheek questions, Hamilton spoke candidly about the possibility of CMJ’s expansion into Europe, courting smartwatch brands at BaselWorld 2015 and the closure of Pandora’s Gold Accounts.

When asked to highlight the most important topics of discussion across the two-day event, Hamilton explains: “Succession planning, data management, economic recovery and managing yourself and your business, are the most important thing for retailers and suppliers alike.”

He continues: “The reality that working closer together with fellow retailers and suppliers provides a real competitive edge to any business was very apparent [at the conference], and the ‘Brilliant Together’ theme of the conference substantiated that.”

Despite this positivity, Hamilton peppered his conference appearances with concerns about member turnout. He explains: “Every delegate that attended the UK Jewellery Conference received exceptional value for money. It is now their turn to reciprocate that value by ensuring they let their peers, and even their competitors, know the UK Jewellery Conference is a must-attend event.”

Now that the dust has settled, the next stage for the CMJ is collating data from the event; ensuring feedback from attendees is taken into account for next year’s incarnation.

Hamilton adds: “The CMJ team led by Lucy Reece-Raybould are beavering away on the feedback forms and facilitators notes from the UK Jewellery Conference as we speak. It’s a big task, but a summarised document will be sent to every attendee of the conference for their own personal development. However, we will be recommending that they keep it confidential to their own working environment, as it is unfair that non-attendees, who have not contributed to the UK Jewellery Conference, benefit from the information.”

THE NEXT STEPS
“It would be great if there was an event which anyone in the trade could attend,” says NAG chairman Andrew Hinds. “I can completely understand that buying group members would still want to share some information only within their group, but I think there is scope for even wider sharing of ideas and experience.” But is this sense of scale plausible without taking the benefits away from paying CMJ members?

Drakes Fine Jewellery owner Monique Hirshman isn’t convinced, commenting: “Being part of the CMJ gives us the benefit of attending great events like the UK Jewellery Conference. Why should non-CMJ members benefit?”

For Willie Hamilton, the next step is encouraging more CMJ members to experience the UK Jewellery Conference for themselves. With the promise of earlier announcements regarding staging dates, times and guests speakers, Hamilton is ensuring nothing will stand in the way of a jewellery event that could be, in his own words, “twice the size with twice as many attendees”.

This In Depth feature was taken from the November issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.

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