ROUNDTABLE DEBATE: How can the industry embrace and empower the next generation?

Professional Jeweller editor Stacey Hailes gathered a selection of young professionals from different sectors of the jewellery industry to find out how the trade can engage the next generation and make sure its putting things in place to build a brighter future.

Amy Mellor, marketing and business development, David Mellor (AM)
Britni-May Edwards, accounts manager, Connoisseurs UK (BE)
Craig Cohen, national sales manager, Ntinga (CC)
Danielle Chibb, diamond dealer, Celsteel Diamonds (DC)
Natalie Ball, founder and designer, Natalie Perry Jewellery (NB)
Simon Forrester, chief executive officer, National Association of Jewellers (SF)

The industry is currently going through a time of transition, with many describing this season as ‘turbulent’ and ‘challenging’, what are your views on the current state of the industry?
AM: I think that it’s generally good but there’s a lot of things up in the air. With the news this week that Swatch Group is pulling out of Baselworld, you wonder what’s going to happen to trade shows and the wider jewellery industry.

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BE: It’s that uncertainty, isn’t it? As an age group we’re quite good at taking the rough with the smooth but now there’s a knock on effect throughout the industry and it’s a little bit worrying.

SF: When it comes to trade shows I think they aren’t as relevant as they once were. People are moving away and finding other ways to interact and your generation are much more likely to find other ways to source products, whether that be online or through other means.

CC: For us trade shows are so important for both buying and selling. Our boss has done IJL for 40 years and it’s fantastic for us, but on the other side, when it comes to buying, what makes us stand out as a company is that we travel far and wide to find something different and I think that’s the market at the moment — as a retailer or supplier, or whatever you are, you need to find something different. You can’t just sit back on what you’ve got. But the issue is the uncertainty, sometimes I think it’s stopping people taking that gamble or trying something different because they just want to stick with what they know, but in general for us, it seems to be okay out there at the moment and if it’s not good, what are companies doing to change that?

DC: That’s really relevant. People think differently but there has been a shift in what consumers want out of their jewellery experience and I find quite often people who say ‘business is bad’ maybe aren’t embracing change as much or changing the way they work to welcome millennials and ‘Generation Z’.

AM: I think that’s spot on. When I look at our family business, my dad started it forty years ago and had it not been for myself and my brothers coming into the business I don’t think he would have adapted, I think he would have carried on going as he was, but you have to change otherwise you’ll be left behind.

BE: You hear about an independent jeweller closing and that’s really sad, but then you look at the pictures of the store and can almost see why. And that’s a real shame. Change doesn’t have to be massive or expensive — the smallest things can make a big difference.

SF: So many independent retailers, not just jewellers, rely on a customer base that is shrinking because they’re dying or leaving the area, and they’re not engaging new customers and adapting to how those new consumers want to interact. The question is, how does the industry engage with customers like you? Because your needs are going to be different from your parents, so I think the challenge for retailers is to look at where their next generation of customer is coming from and adapt now so when people walk past the shop they don’t just go ‘that’s not relevant to me’, but instead think ‘I need to go in and find out more’.

Industry professionals discuss the state of the industry and what the future looks like

CC: It is about getting the balance. We deal with customers across the country and some shops I walk into and wonder what market they are appealing to. If they are appealing to customers that have been around for years, that’s fantastic, but what about the next 10 years? And then you look at the other side of things and there are shops that change so drastically it’s maybe too modern and they’ll loose customers. As important as the next generation are, you’ve still got generations that will spend money and buy up to any age, it’s about getting the right balance. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be inviting.

AM: We’re probably a good example of going from a tradition feel to a more modern look as we relocated one of our stores in October and the whole ethos of that was thinking about that new customer, that millennial or gen z, because it’s all well and good having a nice traditional look and having diamonds in the window that I would say only 40 year olds and over can afford, but we found we weren’t attracting a young audience. My friends would drop £100 here and there on a piece of jewellery from the likes of Monica Vinader, and I thought, ‘What are you doing? You can spend that with me’. But we weren’t attracting that sort of age group. So we relocated into a shopping centre and took that opportunity to modernise ourselves. The branding is the same and we carry the same stock, but because of the look and the feel of the shop we are attracting a younger audience, and what you mentioned earlier Simon about what are you doing to attract that audience and engage them, that’s where we use all of our silver branded lines because it’s affordable, it’s impulse buys, and then hopefully we can build a rapport with them so that when they come looking for engagement rings or they want to buy their first watch they will come and see us and hopefully we will be their jeweller forever.

Do you feel the older generation within your companies and the wider trade listen to your opinions on what you feel needs changing?
BE: It can be really frustrating. I was in a similar position to Amy where my boss had been in the industry for years, he was a third generation goldsmith, and simple things like advising we should get the website redesigned were ignored. Danielle and I have been discussing as well that it is difficult to be listened to when you feel you have to prove yourselves to the older generations.

SF: As the representative for the old, that is a challenge, because this is a very traditional industry. There’s a lot of history and people saying, ‘We’ve always done it this way’. Some companies go back 700 years and a lot of people aren’t swift to change. So coming up to people with a suggestion and big changes is really challenging for a lot businesses because it’s a huge punt. Over the last couple of months I can count maybe ten businesses I have spoken to that have invested five figure sums in web-based retail and all their sites have failed, it’s a big gamble if you don’t do it right.

CC: That’s why social media is important because you don’t have to spend five figures. More recently we have had our boss’ daughter come on board to look after all our marketing and social media and it really has changed our business. My boss has been in the industry 40 years and he is very innovative and open to new trends and practices, and I think you have got to have that social media presence to move with the times.

SL: I feel like 77 diamonds is quite lucky because we’re a newer brand, we are more online, but when you talk about moving from bricks to clicks, we’ve gone the other way. So when you ask ‘are we listened to as millennials?’ I am 28 and I’m one of the oldest people in the company. The majority of our company is early 20s so we very much cater towards the younger generations and what the millennial experience should be.

AM: When we have a millennial customer come in often they have done all of their research online, which isn’t a bad thing, because it just encourages our staff to know more, but in terms of price competitiveness, it’s always — ‘I have seen this ring on 77 diamonds’. So the proofs in the pudding, we have got the millennials coming into our shop showing us your site.

BE: People no longer walk in and ask for something basic like a 1ct diamond, people are so much savvier now.

SF: And that’s a challenge for a lot of retailers, there’s nothing worse than going into a shop and knowing more than the person the other side of the counter. If you know more than the shop assistant then you’re never going to buy from them. That’s why it’s so important to train retail staff. They need to know not only how to interact with the customer but also how to upsell and understand the products, rather than scamper out to the back as I have seen in some shops I have been in.

BE: Customers need to understand the benefits of buying jewellery in a bricks and mortar store as well. What is actually stopping a customer from buying online after they have seen a piece of jewellery in the flesh? It’s no longer just down to the individual sales person, but also stores need to promote themselves and tell shoppers why they should buy from them rather than online.

AM: It’s about the experience.

SL: And the rapport that you build up. I would rather buy from a sales person that I really click with.

Young professionals are eager to help the next generation get a foot in the door and feel connected

SF: It’s not a difficult sell. So you can buy from me or you can buy online, but what happens if the diamond falls out the ring and you have bought online? Are you protected? There’s a huge list and that’s where the Association comes in. You can assure your customers that if something goes wrong you are accredited, whereas some of those sites won’t be. Some people will just go for the cheapest price but we have to keep away from seeing jewellery as a commodity. I think millennials seem to be more interested in where things have come from, and shop floor staff are able to go into that, and that’s where a lot of millennials will be much happier to respond to stores.

Moving on from the future of retail and onto trade culture, how do you think the industry can engage more with young professionals? 

CC: Firstly, I don’t like the term millennial. I think it pigeonholes us. There’s certain people in the trade that will see you as some big shot who thinks you’re great just because you’re described as a millennial, when we are just the next generation of jewellers. Some people are very adverse to change but I think by calling us millennials that in itself is a barrier. Even trade events put on separate drinks for millennials, which is great, but there are also so many people that have been in the industry for 30-odd years who I would like to have drinks with as well. Because as much as we want to bounce off each other like we are today and get ideas, I want to speak to people who have experience too.

AM: In some instances we will not only have millennial drinks, but then at the dinners in the evening we will be sat on a table with people our own age, but I would love to be able to pick the brains of business owners and find out how their business is going, if they have kids in the business and what their thoughts are. It would be interesting to hear what they have to say but we can’t because we’re pigeonholed.

BE: I will quite happily talk to anyone regardless of age group, but I can be shot down on some questions and it’s like I’m not here to steal industry secrets, I’m just generally interested because I’m quite passionate about what I do.

NB: From a production point, because I went to university for jewellery design and now run my own business I luckily know where to get things made in Hatton Garden, but I do know people who are entering the industry who have no idea where to go and there can be this barrier to help the next generation and teach them how to do things. It can be quite a secretive place. So in terms of supporting British made and making a life here, the trade needs to be a bit more welcoming to students. I share a workshop with a lady who teaches at university and her students have no end of problems when they want to go and get something made, and the price they get quoted isn’t what it should be.

SF: If you go into a garage and say, ‘There’s something wrong with my car’, some garages won’t be as honest as others. I think there is an issue about that secretiveness. Security flows into their openness to bring people in and explain things. I have been very lucky because of my position the door has been open for people to show me how things are done. But for people starting out in the industry it’s a shame, because that’s their customer base for tomorrow. If they’re going, ‘Oh either we’re going to rip you off or we’re not going to treat you right’ then you’re going to go somewhere else.

NB: For my brand I make everything from Fairtrade gold so I am catering probably to a more conscious consumer who are the next generation and I think that the new designers will want to focus their business in England and make things in Britain because you can trace things better, but if it’s closed off, where are they going to get things made?

SL: I studied in Birmingham at the School of Jewellery and I think the suppliers in Birmingham were much happier to help and educate people whereas when I first moved to London it was, as you say, more secretive and protective.

SF: Looking at what’s going at the London Diamond Bourse there’s this idea of it becoming this hub for the whole industry, which is fantastic. The Goldsmith Centre also does that to an extent, and those present opportunities right in the middle of Hatton Garden and might start to change things a little bit.

DC: But I think for that to happen there has to be a drastic change because my office is the Bourse building, and the three or four times I have walked into the Bourse as a young woman, I’ve felt extremely uncomfortable. I don’t want it to sound like a horrible place, it’s a business centre, but for someone like me, who really has just as much right as anyone else to go in and do business, I just feel completely uncomfortable being there. So I think something would have to change, but I don’t really know what because it’s so historical.

BE: Well it’s the environment once again, it should be no different from welcoming someone into your store, it’s just welcoming someone that wants to do business with you.

CC: Hatton Garden is still very old school. There are certain places that can be intimidating.

NB: I think there are a lot of good things changing, for instance what Victoria McKay has been doing at the Bourse, and now the Women’s Jewellery Network, so people do recognise change is needed. I have a lot of friends who are young designers all in the same boat as me and we’re not secretive at all, we always share where’s the best place for casting and gold plating, I never keep anywhere secret, I want to help my peers because I think the more you share the more you help the industry.

NAJ chief executive officer, Simon Forrester, joined the roundtable debate

AM: And realistically, if we bring each other up it’s only going to strengthen the industry as a whole in time, maybe not immediately, but it will benefit your business. I think that has changed over the years because going back competitors wouldn’t talk to each other, but now we talk to other jewellers and have good relationships. It’s just a case of finding what you do differently and still being able to lift each other up and support one another. For example, we’ve had an urgent job before, but had a sickness in our work shop, so we’ve given another jeweller a call and they have managed to do it for us. So having that relationship with other jewellers is great. It’s, ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.

DC: I have come into my dad’s work and I love working with young designers and make a real effort to do that. Perhaps it hadn’t really happened in our business before I came along, so is that something we need to focus on? Getting young people into businesses to enable those businesses to help other young people. It’s kind of the cycle which leads onto what we can do to make young people come into the industry and see it more as a career.

Does anyone have any other ideas of how we can get the next generation to see the jewellery industry as a career?
AM: We have had real problems recruiting lately because people don’t see working in the jewellery industry as a long-term career, they see it as a quick job in between something else. There’s so much to learn, it’s such a passionate industry and it’s really rewarding as well. Maybe it needs to start at schools and colleges. There could be more marketing pushing it as an actual career.

SF: The NAJ are going to have a stand at World Skills in November to interact with these 13 to 15/16 year olds and show them the range of skills and career opportunities in the jewellery industry because most people see it as a Saturday job before they go to someone else and they see it as a career in retail rather than a career in jewellery. We want to show them they can be a 3D designer, or make rings, there’s amazing opportunities. But there’s a responsibility for the whole industry to go out and talk to local schools. Another thing I’d like to do is go out and put packs together with local schools to show kids how a ring is made because my son is just so into gemstones now because I’ve bought stuff home to show him, and hopefully by exciting kids they will head into stores with their parents. You have to enthuse the next generation of customers and potentially jewellers and staff.

SL: I think targeting school children is important. It wasn’t until during my first year of university that I found out you could even study jewellery. I had no idea it was something you could do.

NB: I’m the same as you, when I was applying through UCAS for jewellery no-one had any idea where I could study jewellery and I remember my school saying maybe I should pick some other courses as well.

AM: My brother is our goldsmiths. He saw a jeweller work at a bench when he was about 10 and straight away he knew that was what he wanted to do and then straight from school he got an apprenticeship with Jeremy France and learned with them for seven years before he came to us. So we would like to take an apprentice on in the near future, and I think a lot of people could be more helpful in that. When you’re busy you want production to be really quick, but you have to take the time and give back, and that’s something we’re going to do.

SF: So perhaps that’s where your generation needs to turn to the older generation and say you have the power to bring an apprentice into the business, to train someone up to be the next generation of this industry, so perhaps the role for us is to influence the decision makers to do that.

Attendees came from different areas of the UK jewellery trade

To conclude, could you all share one thing you love about the industry and one thing you would like to see change…
DC: One thing I think is amazing about this industry is that designers are creating the most amazing pieces of jewellery, there are so many amazing designers out there making jewellery that I hadn’t even seen before and that’s amazing. I think the negative is, I feel especially being Hatton Garden-based, I wish the industry would open up and be a bit less secretive.

SL: If there had been more funding available when I was first leaving university, I think I would have wanted to go and set up my own business, so I think more financial and business help for graduates or new designers would be good. And something I love is the Goldsmith Centre. The whole vibe they have is great, so it would be amazing if there could be more places like that.

NB: I agree quality and design is amazing and new designers in particular are constantly pushing boundaries with jewellery. One of the weaknesses with the industry is its needs to take some cues from the fashion industry because of how innovative they are. The fashion industry immediately gets on board with new things and many brands like Monica Vinader brand themselves like fashion labels and maybe if we take cues from the fashion industry we can become an industry that the general consumer is more aware of.

CC: I was going to say something similar about the fashion industry and how we need to take lead from it. I have four years’ experience in women’s fashion at Selfridges and I saw how big that was. Everyone knew about fashion and what the trends were and what the next big thing was going to be. And they were always a season ahead. I think the jewellery industry as a whole should look at that and try to be more forward thinking, whether it’s with the products or the way people are. The thing that I don’t like is sometimes the old school side of it, and sometimes people do look at the younger people in the trade as people who don’t know anything. I can walk into shops and a lot of people are very open to having a chat, but you have some people who look at me as a young guy and there are still barriers. How that changes, I don’t know, you have just got to hope that things do adapt with time for future generations coming through, but looking forward I think we do need to take influences from the fashion industry and how they do things because that’s never going to change, that will always be there. People will always buy clothes, whether they need it or want it, and that’s how we need the jewellery industry to be — whether people need it or want it, we want people to keep buying it.

NB: The fashion industry are great at making things seem like a lifestyle and maybe that’s what we need to do.

AM: I would say the industry definitely does need to do more to get more grassroots people into the industry and marketing it as a career rather than just a job. What I am excited about and like about the industry is how everyone is really friendly. When I first went to a trade show I was petrified, I thought everyone was going to be really snobby and they were all going to be staring at me, but everyone was really nice and everyone has been really welcoming and everyone is super friendly.

BE: My final comment is a bit two-fold because I am always excited by innovation and development within the industry, the things we can achieve from a traditional level right up to a really modern level are absolutely amazing, and it’s exciting that we have got all of that, but on the downside going right back to the beginning of the conversation it’s frustrating when these conversations about the cross over between traditional and modern are not welcomed or encouraged by others in the trade.

SF: I think that the industry needs to be more willing to adapt to new ways of working and needs to be much more willing to bring on young designers. I would like to see every jewellery retailer have a bit of window space for a young designer because those are the brands of tomorrow and if they’re helping to develop those people then we have a much more thriving industry. There’s some fantastic things being made in the UK but don’t shout about it, so I would really like us to get together behind campaigns to consumer to get the consumer to realise that jewellery is something they should put higher up on their discretionary spend.

Enjoyed reading this discussion? The NAJ has a group dedicated to fortifying millennial networks in the industry, and will be hosting two events next week – one in Birmingham and another in London. READ ABOUT THE GROUP HERE.

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One Comment;

  1. Elliot Broad said:

    Some great feedback there and insights into challenges in the industry at the moment.

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