Big brands must not brush aside retailers’ freedom to choose.
The greatest and most enduring strength of the British jewellery industry remains its independence. The trade remains almost unique on the high street in maintaining a powerful community of independent retailers – surviving despite the rise of supermarkets, major chains, internet shopping and fluctuating economic fortunes.
Businesses owned by several generations of the same family have evolved in the past ten years to embrace new business models including online retail, in-store concessions, and cash-for-gold. All the while, these retailers have fiercely guarded the right to be masters of their own destinies.
However, the recent rise of super-brands in the British jewellery scene is eroding this independence. Twenty years ago it was unimaginable for jewellery brands to dictate what competing brands could be sold alongside them. Today, there are examples of this practice being employed.
Before this article comes across as simple big brand bashing, it is important to note that brands have good reasons to work with retailers that provide an appropriate environment for their products. Luxury watch brands have been doing this for decades – Patek Philippe would not work with a jeweller that wants to sell its luxury timepieces alongside Mickey Mouse trinkets.
The trend emerging today is much more troubling, where big jewellery brands are demanding that collections from smaller competitors are removed from sale, or the retailer will be struck off from selling the big brand.
Even worse, the practice is being concealed behind a veil of secrecy and threats. Retailers will not come forward to name the bullying big brands, and the threats, to our knowledge, are never made in writing.
It is illegal in the UK to act in this way, and the Office of Fair Trading will investigate the crime if it is reported to them.
We hope that retailers will go to the Office of Fair Trading put their concerns on the record. It is understandable that risking the wrath of a top-selling brand is not a decision to be taken lightly, but unless the illegal anti-competitive practice is exposed, it will only grow as turf wars develop.
This will ultimately erode the independence that jewellers need and cherish; handing control of their private business into the hands of multi-national conglomerates.
Professional Jeweller will fight tirelessly in its support for the independence of independents, and hope jewellery brands and retailers will join us in calling for all businesses to be free to choose their suppliers and customers.