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January 21, 2013 2:29 pm
Despite the vagaries of recession, two UK jewellery buying groups are experiencing significant growth.
As well as offering retailers networking and training days to help expand their businesses, buying groups are keeping costs down for jewellers whether they have just one shop or a national chain. The groups offer members discounted prices for specified suppliers of jewellery and watches – an industry-wide version of bulk buying.
No wonder then that, in the present cost-conscious climate, membership of buying groups is on the up, as is the sale of jewellery made via the groups.
In recent years, jewellers have faced several important changes – from the increasing influence of fashion trends, to a rise in gold prices, the advent of online rivals and, in some cases, the difficulty of setting up online. Many jewellers are turning to buying groups not just for cost cutting, but for industry expertise and the opportunity to bounce ideas around with peers.
The UK’s two best-known buying groups, the Company of Master Jewellers, called the CMJ, and the Houlden Group, are receiving approaches from new suppliers on a daily basis and have clocked up an increase in both membership and sales.
Started in 1975, the Houlden Group has 70 members. In early 2012, the group’s overall sales were up by more than £1m in the first three months of the year, in comparison to the same period the year before. Since 2009, membership of the Houlden Group has increased almost 30 per cent, while suppliers, including Breitling, Ebel, Montblanc, Gucci, EuroPearls, Babette Wasserman, Schoeffel, Roberto Coin and Gc Watches, are up 25 per cent. Houlden members include George Pragnell, one of England’s most distinguished jewellers. Last year, Houlden introduced Canada Star, its own Canadian diamond brand in conjunction with JSN Jewelry Inc, making it exclusively available to its members.
Meanwhile, sales through the CMJ rose to just under £80m last year, which amounts to four times growth in five years. CMJ’s 150 members represent more than 270 UK and Irish shops, including Charles Fish in London and Essex, Ogden of Harrogate and Finnies in Aberdeen. It has 120 approved suppliers which include Pandora, Links of London, Swarovski, Casio and Citizen, and welcomes young designer/makers to exhibit at its buying events.
“Being an independent retailer can be a lonely life,” says Willie Hamilton, chief executive of the CMJ. “We have a saying ‘your independence is vital, but your collective will be your survival.’ Being a member of the CMJ means you have access to some of the most important jewellery suppliers, professional marketing and public relations assistance through our agency, CMJ Media, and help with training and succession plans.”
Mr Hamilton says one of the CMJ’s greatest success stories was spotting the enormous potential of Pandora jewellery early on and ensuring it benefited CMJ’s members. Pandora has expanded primarily by working with independent retail jewellers to build a franchise network of shops around the UK.
“When Pandora first came into the CMJ, I led some of the more reluctant and traditional jewellers by the hand, insisting they talk to Pandora. Those that chose to invest significantly have benefited hugely and shared in the success of Pandora, now one of the world’s top jewellery companies,” says Mr Hamilton.
Many members of jewellery buying groups have been owned by the same family for several generations. Being part of a buying group can shine a new light on old problems.
The CMJ’s 2013 training plans include a ‘best practice’ tour to New York, where retail members will visit shops, listen to retail experts and work in teams to critique what they observe. “After our best practice tours, retailers go back to their own shop with a fresh pair of eyes and renewed vision for what they can achieve. As a result of such tours, I know of at least six shops that have had major refits and seen their sales dramatically increase. Recently, visual merchandising experts led our tours in Westfield Stratford and Covent Garden,” says Mr Hamilton.
Last year, the CMJ held its first two-day UK jewellery conference, attracting 350 members and suppliers with one day dedicated entirely to discussions between retailers. Topics covered including branding, marketing and achieving success online.
Meanwhile, as well as preferential supplier terms, the Houlden Group’s offerings include competitive rates on a range of services from insurance, diamond grading courses in Antwerp, management and marketing courses, financial services, subscriptions to industry publications and special packages for visits to industry trade shows. Houlden’s centralised invoicing means that members benefit from lower bank charges by making one monthly payment which Houlden distributes to the members’ various suppliers. The group holds two buying events each year with at least one day devoted to networking and guest speakers.
“Houlden Group represents the crème of independent jewellers across the UK and Ireland who come together to share ideas, network and generally enjoy each other’s company – something I feel very proud of,” says Stuart Laing, CEO. “While we offer benefits money can’t buy, we guarantee to save our members at least £10,000 a year or we refund the money against their membership. We promise to make our members the best independent jewellers in their respective areas.”
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