INTERVIEW: Michael Rawlinson on plans for The NAG

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The Association’s new CEO on tailoring its services to members’ needs.

The past year brought big changes to the National Association of Goldsmiths with the arrival of Michael Rawlinson, its first new chief executive in 12 years. He tells Kathryn Bishop about plans to grown the NAG’s membership, listen to members’ needs and take its education overseas.

Michael Rawlinson has held the chief executive role at the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) for just three months and already recalls his job interview with a warmhearted smile.

When face to face with the interview panel he laid all of his cards on the table and admitted that he knew nothing about the jewellery industry. "[NAG chairman] Pravin Pattni said ‘There are plenty of people who think they know about jewellery; we want someone who knows about trade associations’," Rawlinson explains.

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It is safe to say that trade associations are what Rawlinson knows best. Before joining the NAG he spent two years as director general at UKIE, the trade association for UK Interactive Entertainment, and the 10 years prior to that as managing director of ELSPA, another trade association for the interactive gaming industry. Among other large-scale projects Rawlinson helped to develop the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) age ratings system for video games, which were included in parliament’s Digital Economy Act 2010. That, he says, bought a natural end to his time with UKIE, so he took a year out to study a Masters-level leadership course before beginning to apply for new positions.

When the call came from a job agency about the role at the NAG Rawlinson admits that he was a little concerned that his lack of knowledge might make him unsuitable. He applied nonetheless and beat 150 other applicants to the role.

A few months on and Rawlinson finds himself in the upstairs office of the NAG’s headquarters near London’s Old Street, armed with a to-do list poised to breathe new life into the 119-year-old jewellery association and with it bring fresh opportunities to its 860 members.

"I spent my first month meeting and discussing with every member of staff and every board member," explains Rawlinson. "They are very keen to see reinvigoration, revitalisation and refining of the purposes of the association."

He also attended last month’s IJL 2013 preview day in Leeds, where he took chance to meet with local retailers and NAG members to both introduce himself and seek opinion on the current NAG and any suggestions its members might have. "I have my ideas and it’s vital in my first three months to have this dialogue before we go out and launch headlong with new products and services," he says.

Rawlinson speaks eloquently about his intentions for the NAG, including these new products and services, covering everything from jewellery education through to upgrading the NAG’s various websites (its own site, its education site, the Institute of Registered Valuers site and that of The Jeweller magazine) and boosting the membership of the NAG’s retail-focused Executive Development Forum (EDF).

Helping Retailers
The EDF has been running for about seven years within the NAG providing retailers with a chance to attend conferences where they network and compare business across different parts of the country. So far membership of the EDF has been an additional cost to members, but Rawlinson hopes to review the pricing and with that bring some fresh blood in to the EDF.

The next EDF conference takes place this month and Rawlinson hopes it will be a chance for members to take stock of business operations and consider how to drive sales in stores.

"The conference in June will look at how we can reinvigorate [the NAG] or take it to the next level to help support management and business skills of retailers," explains Rawlinson. "For example how do they measure stock, profit margin, benchmark their ROI per square foot against similar businesses or those operating at a similar size. They can make proper comparisons of their business and their location to other jewellers around the country."

He notes how many jewellery retailers have, for so long, operated like closed boxes, which is why he hopes to increase EDF membership. "You might think ‘I’m doing well’ but you have no yardstick to compare it to, but that is really important and the ideas that will come to those who participate in the EDF are hugely valuable," he says.

One other change that Rawlinson hopes to bring to the NAG is a better understanding of product sales and readily available data to give to its retail members so they can see which products are popular in the UK and from which brands or designers.
"I want to benchmark the values of the business in terms of jewellery and watches, [to get a] handle on whether the sector is growing, declining or static," he explains. "We have taken some straw polls through our EDF members but it’s not yet across the board."

Rawlinson explains how much instant sales data is produced by the video games industry in the UK. "Every video game sold would be scanned though a shop EPOS and weekly or daily data feeds went through to an industry research company from which we produced weekly sales reports," he says. "The sales week finished on a Saturday but midday on Monday we had a 100-page report out to members based on platform, for example PS3 or Wii, the genre of the game, who it was published by and the sales by quantity, value, platform and region."

Data of this scale is not so easily and readily available to the UK jewellery industry, though it is captured by certain EPOS providers. This is something Rawlinson hopes to change, but says the catch is ensuring that the data made available is broad brush.

"[Sales data] should be used as marketing tool so if something is a trend you reflect that back to the consumer and help to grow the trend. There can be issues if you’re a retailer who’s not on the rung of the ladder of that trend but it shines a light on it and you choose as a business whether you want to participate or not."

Marketing is another area of focus for the NAG and Rawlinson hopes, through his time spent with the EDF, to better understand the needs of individual, independent retailers and how they are marketing their businesses. He wants shop owners to consider the products they choose, their price ranges, location and potential customers.

"And of course who is your competition? In our sector it’s no longer just jewellery retailers. This is discretionary spend, so where else will people be spending their money as a treat, as a luxury or for a present?"

"Two or three years ago things like iPads didn’t exist; it would have been a book or newspaper that you read on the train to work. These are new products, new opportunities to spend, and the money people spend on those items has to come from somewhere, so it’s eating in to the potential for our members to sell jewellery. We’ve got to wake up, got to be innovative and got to be on the front foot to make our products alive, interesting and desirable."

Education
The NAG is known for its educational services and in particular for providing basic jewellery training such as the JET 1 and JET 2 courses. This, for Rawlinson, is something to be proud of and he hopes to strengthen the NAG’s educational offer two-fold.

Firstly there are plans to gain official accreditation for all of the NAG’s jewellery courses through an examining body, for example AQA or Edexcel, which Rawlinson says will demonstrate the strength of the courses. "[Accreditation] will enhance the value of the courses, help to market them and will make the NAG and JET brands much stronger in the UK," he explains.

But it is not just home turf that will benefit from the NAG’s jewellery courses. Rawlinson also plans to take the NAG’s educational offer overseas in the future. "We believe if we have something of value we shouldn’t restrict those people that can participate in the course, anyone and everyone can do so," he says, noting that as the courses can run online anyone in any country can potentially take them.

Support Services
The NAG also plans to evolve and refresh a number of its member services in the coming year, in particular the Institute of Registered Valuers and the NAG’s Design Service, which it officially launched at The Jewellery Show in February.

Rawlinson explains that the IRV has become an important facet of the business, enabling retailers and insurers to work more closely. "It’s in the insurance industry’s interest to have product correctly valued and insured, but also in our members’ interest," he notes.

The NAG’s IRV members, those carrying out the valuations, are regularly asked to submit work for assessment to ensure that not only do they value items correctly but that they continue to maintain this standard of work, something it will promote to consumers to drive awareness of quality valuation for insurance.

The NAG will also place more emphasis on its Design Service. The service was launched to give retailers that do not have an in-house workshop or design space a chance to provide a bespoke jewellery service. The NAG has teamed with creative jewellery consultant Yasmin Moss on the initiative (she has previously worked for the likes of Gecko, Goldsmiths and Signet), who will design jewellery to fit a customer’s brief, either meeting them face-to-face at a store or creating design ideas from photographs or descriptions. Moss will sketch ideas that can then be remodelled until a customer is happy at which point the retailer can have the piece made through the design service or separately by their own means.

"The retailer can make a margin, have happy customers and it’s another service that will differentiate them," notes Rawlinson. "Between now and IJL it will be one of our core plans to promote the Design Service and it will be featured on our stand at IJL."

The NAG also hopes to become the mouthpiece of the industry under Rawlinson’s reign, with the aim of making it the go-to trade association should the broadsheet newspapers or general media require comment regarding the jewellery industry. The same also goes for politics and legislation associated with the industry, and ensuring that all NAG members are informed about industry standards and systems that they can be part of, such as the Responsible Jewellery Council.

It is clear that many changes are afoot at the NAG and Rawlinson has a long to-do list. But, thanks to the appointment of several new members of staff, the groundwork has already begun, with a focus on the grass roots of the NAG.

"The challenge is making sure the association is running efficiently and doing its back office thing correctly," Rawlinson explains. "We’re treating this association like a business and even if we don’t want to show a profit we need to fund what we’re doing properly to ensure we have the right level of income and the right number of members, and then need to balance this with the right investment so we can deliver back into the industry."

When asked what his aim is for the NAG Rawlinson is succinct in his answer: "Honing the focus on what we are doing that adds benefit to the daily activities of the retail jeweller. Discovering what it is that’s going to put money on the bottom line today."

This interview was taken from the June issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read the magazine in full online, click here.
 

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