Professional Jeweller editor, Stacey Hailes, caught up with the Company of Master Jeweller’s chief executive officer, Terry Boot, at the buying group’s spring trade event.
Here’s what he had to say…
What’s the CMJ been up to over the last six months?
The main thing we have been concentrating on is getting the company back to its basic buying group status. Prior to the six months we got rid of a number subsidiary companies, so it’s a case of getting the business down to fit to purpose for a buying group. We’ve engaged with a marketing company called Cognition, which has been a really important part of our strategy going forward. So we have been working with the team to look at a root to growth – how do we go forward with this business? How do we market it? How do we change the image of this business? So we really wanted to have a look at it 360 degree, and find out what we want to do. There’s a lot of initiatives that are ongoing at the moment, such as the website, and we are looking at more work on PR. But it is really to try and not be concentrating on the other things that the CMJ used to concentrate on, and actually concentrate on what we should be a good at first of all – and that is the key thing for us, to get that marketing out there and to get that image changed – to re-engage with members that have perhaps been a member for a while, but to check-in and see how we can help them. We have lots of things that we can give to, and benefit retailers, but they don’t necessarily know that we have got them, and perhaps that’s because of how we have communicated. It’s trying to re-engage where we need to. The other major push is new members. We’ve employed Amber Saunders we’ve the brief of getting new members. We have 100 towns or cities we have no representation in, and we think there are a minimum of 300-400 retailers that would fit in the sweet spot of what we are looking for as far as retailers. We lost ten members last year – eight of them had close their business, one had retired, and one had moved away from what he was buying. He wasn’t buying jewellery anymore. So we do need to re-engage and we do need to get some new members in. So that has been what we have been concentrating on over the last six months. It has been quite difficult, we are quite complicated probably where we shouldn’t be, so it is unravelling all of that and just trying to refocus.
What are your members telling you the main focus of CMJ should be?
It is mixed, but it is making sure that the membership can get the best possible discounts in the market and be provided with the best networking possibilities as well. Some members will say it is just the discount, and they aren’t bothered about the networking, others, probably because of the size of the business can get the discount anyway, but they want the networking and the different things we can offer. A lot of people love these events and some of the networking meetings we’ve had they’ve really enjoyed. We don’t want to spread ourselves too thinly, but they are the key things we have to do, and then we build on that, and making better what we are doing at the moment.
Both retailers and suppliers claim to want more of a partnership with one another, but in practice, how can this really be done?
It is quite difficult. What we have done with suppliers for the first time in January this year, we had two supplier networking meetings – one in London and one in Birmingham. We had just over 20-25 at each, and it gave us an opportunity to tell them what we are doing and provide an open forum to discuss trade events, members, Brexit, etc. It was really good to get suppliers talking to suppliers. But, you do have so many different opinions. Some suppliers just want the trade event to be a buying event, but then the membership often like to have something in the middle of the day. So one of the challenges we have is – suppliers will tell me they can’t get to particular retailers they want to meet, or they aren’t getting another retailers talking to them – so we need to be smarter about how we promote that. A speed dating format for example might be something we look into. So there’s things we are thinking about so we can bridge that gap. This is the most number of members we have ever had at a trade event – which is really good, and what the suppliers want – and we’ve been able to facilitate that by offering incentives, and suppliers have played their part by offering discounts and special offers.
What are your member’s main concerns about Brexit?
There is a concern about the Irish border. We had a meeting in Ireland last year and we had Brexit on the agenda to discuss – and not to cop out on this at all – but we can’t give answers until we know what the question is really. But it is on our radar, and we are speaking to various advisors as and when things come available that we think could be interesting for our members, we will share it. But it is so fluid at the moment. It’s so difficult until we have a clearer understanding, but if at the time we think there is something we can get that is going to help our retailers or suppliers, we will do that. But any queries people have, we will field them, anything we feel we can do, we will.
The last 12 months have been about getting back to basics, so what’s the focus for 2019?
New members and re-engaging with the existing membership. Looking at the supplier base as well. We’ve trimmed our number of suppliers from our list, and again we need to make sure that the balance of the supplier base we have matches what our membership need. That’s quite difficult, but there may be other suppliers that we want to take out, or trim, and there may be some we want to bring in because we may be lacking representation in a particular area. We are also looking at effectively relaunching the CMJ, and getting more out there in the press and having more of a voice.
Do you have a long-term strategy?
It is something we have looked at in the past, and we do look for the next two or three years ahead, but broadly what I have said is what the current strategy is going to be and the strategy going forward. That can change, that can be tweaked, but the essence of it is what I have talked about.
What advice would you give your members going into the next few months where there are anxieties and the high street is tough?
Don’t take too many drastic steps. Try and look at different products you can bring in and freshen up your product ranges. Even though it is very difficult times, sometimes that is also a very good time to be doing something a little bit different in the market. So perhaps not be too seduced in pulling the drawbridge up, and make sure the offer that you are offering and the experience in your stores is still the best in the town.