Welcome to The UK Jewellery Conference live coverage by Professional Jeweller. Keep coming back and refreshing to follow all the news, insight and gossip.
9.40: 60% of retailers at the conference say sales are up this year. This CMJ crowd are pumped.
10.00: Jonathan Thomas, senior economist for Lloyds Bank, predicts first Bank of England interest rate rise will be in the first quarter of next year. The era of cheap money that has boosted high street spending is ending. UK economy will grow at around 2.5% next year.
10.05: China is becoming a bit of a pain in the world’s arse, Jonathan suggests as its growth slows. But it should not be over-stated as it could be little more than a “correction”.
10.10: core inflation, with energy prices stripped out, is in a normal range of around 1.5%. Retailers should take this into account when thinking about future prices.
10.15: Gold price has risen slightly since August, and is linked to interest rate sentiment in the US. As rates rise gradually, expect gold price to soften slightly says Jonathan.
10.17: Platinum prices are tanking because of the VW car scandal. Catalytic converters use platinum and the emissions rigging story has given markets jitters over its price.
10.20: Austerity will bite far more tightly in this parliament than the last. Inflation will start to rise at the turn of the year, and the mood music at the Bank of England will change, nudging them to start increasing interest rates sooner rather than later.
10.25: back on the audience keypads with host Bill Turnbill. Looking ahead, retailers are very optimistic. 69% think sales will increase in the next 12 months.
10.28: Stella Layton, Birmingham Assay Office CEO, presents latest hallmarking numbers. “we have bottomed out, but not very exciting,” she prefaces. This year has been all over the place month on month, but overall hallmarking is flat year on year. Scrap gold supply is still at historically high levels. Do not ignore that, Stella says.
10.34: gold fabrication fell 12% worldwide in 2014, due to huge drop in demand in Asia, particularly China.
10.37: traditional marriage rates have plateaued, but civil partnerships and co-habitting are rising. This is an opportunity to change the focus of wedding jewellery on these growth areas, says Stella.
10.40: Costume jewellery is commanding higher and higher prices. “90 quid for a rope bracelet?” Stella scoffs, but makes the serious point that this type of jewellery is bringing customers into stores.
10.44: inconsistent diamond grading continues across the industry. Everybody quotes GIA practices, but nobody is policing the GIA, Stella warns. This, despite the fact that synthetic and treated diamond risks are growing. There are people out there that are always trying to beat the system.
10.47: there have been 6 years of dramatic growth in prices of coloured gems and diamonds, and prices now look too high, Stella hints. There is also an industry-wide issue with the description of coloured gems. There is no industry standard in how they are described consistently and coherently. This needs grasping and developing.
10.50: Bill is hovering in the wings with his shepherd’s crook. Stella is on borrowed time now as she moves into a bit of a celebration of the Birmingham Assay Office’s new headquarters. Quite right, it is one hell of an exciting move and great for the industry.
10.51: Bill is back for another spot poll. What is the most popular precious metal for fine jewellery? White gold comes out top with 41%.
10.55: Jonathan Hedges, account director for market research fir, GfK, says the volume of watches sold has declined 7% over the past four years but the value has rocketed by 23% over the same period. This year has been phenomenal, he says. Sales are strong across all key price points, he adds. Prices per unit have risen by 12% in this year alone. People are buying less often, but they are spending more and more every time.
11.52: Karen Russell from Clarity and Success urges retailers and suppliers to feed data automatically to each other so that both work together to create national sales reports. Retailers can see whether a poor-selling collection is just down to them or part of a national trend. It is a golden opportunity but tough to bring everybody on board this collaborative locomotive together. CMJ is pushing itself as the driver of this train, with data collected, processed and fed back to all member suppliers and retailers. If they pull it off, this would be huge for members, giving them the sort of advantages that major multiples enjoy.
12.00: Andrew McMillan is back for a third consecutive year at the UK Jewellery Conference with his presentation on improving customer engagement. But first, Bill has another spot poll for the audience: What sort of re fits and refurbishments have you undertaken in the past five years? A shocking 46% of retailers say they have had a total refit with a brand new style. Impressive given how difficult trading has been over that period.
12.05: Andrew is entertaining us with a video of Rowan Atkinson torturing a customer with agonisingly lengthy and pretentious customer service. What is the name of the film the clip is from? That is going to bug me until lunch unless you tweet me the answer to @pjeweller!
12.10: Bombshell! Andrew’s firm has been conducting secret shopper research in 16 CMJ a member stores in the southeast. A murmur of anxiety ripples through the auditorium before we learn there will be no names mentioned. Experiment was going in to buy a diamond and ruby eternity ring to complement an engagement ring. Budget was £1500. Research was benchmarked against multiples including Beaverbrooks Ernest Jones and Fraser Hart.
Conclusion: most were better than the multiples for customer experience, but a few were worse. There was not enough consistently good customer experience that blew the researchers away and suggested they were much better than multiples.
12.20: Andrew’s most unexpected finding was on shop fit, which CMJ members have been pouring money into (See 12.00 spot poll result). It made very little difference, researchers reported, in part because poor customer service did damage that a stunning environment did not overcome.
12.25: Websites of CMJ members did not compare brilliantly to multiples, particularly those that do not allow transactions, or those that are not frequently updated.
12.31: Value for money was not sold convincingly in general to researchers that weren’t experts in jewellery. Indies need to improve skills in selling provenance, grade of stones, purity, cut, etc. it is a good tip within a shop to show the difference between the look of an expensive piece and the look of a cheaper piece.
12.38: The strongest suit for CMJ retailers was customer engagement. They were more enthusiastic than multiples, more welcoming and more empathetic. A painful conclusion was that, out of 16 shops visited, only four did a good enough job to encourage Andrew to return to their shop to purchase the ring he was looking for.
12.43: Not easy to read this, but have a go because it is a useful checklist of great service that Andrew experienced at CMJ members, multiples and others.
12.48: Heading into lunch with a final spot poll from Bill. How would you rate your own customer service? retailers are asked. Only 22% said excellent, 43% good and 30% in need of improvement. This CMJ bunch are certainly honest and self-aware.
1.21 Enjoyable lunch with the effervescent IBB Dublin team and the verdict is that the quality of the food is a step up from the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham, but the portions were a little stingy for Irish tastes. Overall, the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham is a huge improvement. the steeply banked theatre style of the main conference space is perfect for this event.
1.56: First item after lunch is the presentation of a brand new, consumer-facing web site designed to steer jewellery customers towards CMJ member stores. The site will allow punters to search by location and by brand to find the right retailer, and aims to add a seal of quality that will give them confidence. It is part of a wider CMJ upgrade of services designed specifically to increase sales for members.
2.00: Lord Digby Jones, the headline act today, is given the post-lunch graveyard shift but he immediately brings the audience on side by thanking them for their contribution to the UK economy. Without businesses like the suppliers and jewellers in the room making profits, there would be no economy, he enthuses.
2.12: “We have to change the mood music about successful businesses and wealth creation,” says Lord Jones. It is time wealth creators stop being treated as the villain or the enemy, he adds. Family businesses like many jewellers, for example, should be shouting about their contribution, and they should be thanked by a public that takes their contribution for granted.
2.16: “Innovation is not invention, it is taking an invention and making money from it,” we are instructed. “Add value and you have a business. If you can’t add value, leave it to the Koreans to make it.”
2.19: we have learnt a new acronym that shopkeepers will immediately warm to: BANANA, or the planning department’s dictum of Build Absolutely Nothing Absolutely Anywhere. It is a great bedfellow for the NIMBY. I don’t think Digby likes red tape.
2.25: Lord Jones sits as a cross-bench peer but his views on wealth creation, education and welfare are as far to the right as Ronald Reagan. If parents don’t encourage their kids to read, cut off the benefits that pay for their beer and satellite TV, he suggests to an audience that, though a little right-leaning, seems a tad shocked.
2.36: You are so integral to the strength of the nation, he concludes, bringing delegates back into the fold.
Question from the floor: Do you think the Northern Powerhouse initiative will work? Yes, says Lord Jones in a word. He is a big fan of devolution as long as it isn’t to technocrats who adhere to the BANANA doctrine.
Amazingly, one question comes from even further on the right than Lord Jones, with a point about how Eastern Europeans are spoiling the education of English people in the classroom. Digby has a simple view: can immigrants create wealth, follow our laws and integrate into the country? If they can, they are welcome irrespective of their origin.
3.00 Turnbill is back for another pithy outro and a spot of bullying to make sure we don’t dawdle at the next coffee break.
3.22: Somewhat uncomfortably, Diana Verde Nieto, Argentinian founder of Positiveluxury.com, strides to stage and mentions that she arrived in England with no money and unable to speak English. She is a self-made success who Lord Jones would appreciate but Ukippers mistrust.
3.32: There are always a lot of stats when you hear from dot com entrepreneurs, and Diana is no exception. I think this habit has its origin in the first dot com boom, when a complete lack of business success could be waved away with unproven assumptions about the future – all supported by plausible statistics. That said, Diana is impressive, and her mission to save the world one piece of ethically-sourced jewellery at a time is inspiring.
3.42: spot poll question number 12: will online sales grow faster than store sales this Christmas? Yes, online sales will grow faster than store sales say 70% of delegates.
3.45: Liz Earle, ethical entrepreneur, is next up and intrigues with news that she spent last night in Nottingham Accident and Emergency. No further explanation, but she is looking fantastically well, PJ is pleased to report.
3.50: Liz, MBE, made her fortune in skincare products that use only ethically and sustainably produced ingredients from around the world. She has more recently turned her attention to jewellery, and has produced a collection for Cred using Fairtrade gold from Peru. Fascinating fact: there are currently 25-35 million people working in small mines around the world. Liz is promoting the fraction of those miners that are supported to follow Fairtrade methods.
4.00: Interesting point raised by Liz in a roomful of jewellers: if I push some Fairtrade gold in my store, will everything else look like unfair trade gold? Not at all, she answers, it says something about your social conscience as a business that will be part of your entire brand.
4.05: this audience cannot be trusted to stick to the script. After pitches for ethical jewellery from Liz Earle and Diana Verde Nieto, the room is asked about whether they currently sell, or plan to sell responsibly-sourced jewellery. The largest segment, 28%, say they have no plans. Another 23% say they will only consider it if customers demand it. Diana gave us stats that suggest the market will swing behind the ethical movement in the next 20 years. Unfortunately, we heard the same thing 20 years ago and we seem only a little bit closer to this nirvana today.
4.13: Fans of the Antiques Roadshow will need no introduction to our next speaker, Joanna Hardy, who has spent her life in and around the jewellers and auction houses of Bond Street. She has a serious crush on Lawrence Graff, who she describes as a living legend before telling us about the many legendary diamonds that have passed through his workshops.
We are then treated to an 11 minute video looking behind the scenes at Cartier, which only jewellery geeks would truly love. Fortunately, this theatre is full of jewellery lovers so we are transfixed.
5.00: ‘Meetologist’ expert Jon Bradshaw is up now promising to teach us the fascinating science of powerful social interaction. Sounds like total guff, and it is, but CMJ members are an open-minded breed and participate willingly in his science experiments.