(By David J. Bonaparte): In one short month the world has changed in very dramatic ways. In mid-February I was enjoying some golf in the warmer climate of the southern U.S. There was very little talk of even the seasonal flu, let alone COVID-19, although my 21-year-old son managed to get Influenza B from his college roommates.
There were murmurs of an odd pneumonia-type breakout in China, but not many people viewed it as a threat here in the U.S. Even in mid-March when there were more details of the illness, many families, including ours, went on a tropical spring break vacation.
But while on holiday it blew up! We came back to New York and have remained in place, in our homes, ever since.
2020 had started out successfully. The team at Jewelers of America and National Jeweler were just getting through our winter schedule, after hosting a successful GEM Awards in January, attending the AGTA Gemfair in Tucson and experiencing much optimism in the industry at many other events. We were continually on-boarding new Jewelers of America members. With the economy and markets looking healthy, consumer confidence high, prospects for jewelry industry success in 2020 were strong.
The Diamond Council of America was also welcoming new members and had over 200 students testing their online diamond course. Our team was busy lining up content and speakers for our National Convention in July and we already had more than 90% of its sponsors onboard. National Jeweler just closed its Market Issue which covers Las Vegas Market Week in June and was starting to develop the popular Retailer Hall of Fame issue.
Plans for attending the American Gem Society Conclave were also in full swing and we were looking ahead to Baselworld, as a traditional barometer of the health of the jewelry industry.
Then, during the third week in March – in what felt like a blink of an eye – everything changed. All things came to a halt. We were suddenly all in a new world of social distancing, sheltering in place and only venturing out for necessary food and supplies.
The impact on jewelry retail has been dramatic. While store closings started in hot spots like Washington State, and then New York and California, it has now happened across most of the U.S. and the world. But we believe that the massive U.S. government stimulus package that is now being rolled out, known as the CARES Act, will help most small businesses, retailers and suppliers stay afloat.
This pandemic has created a scenario where our teams at Jewelers of America, National Jeweler and the Diamond Council of America have been busier than ever! Essentially, we are in the information business and the industry has increased its hunger and need for information at an unprecedented rate.
Within days of closing our New York office, we had developed an intensive webinar program, a Coronavirus Resource Guide and created dedicated areas of our websites with additional guidance to help our members navigate these unchartered territories. Some 92% of Jewelers of America retail members are single-store, brick-and-mortar businesses that benefit from the industry and business guidance that we provide.
All this comes in addition to our regular work, including the role that we play in the World Diamond Council, providing leadership and information on preventing the trade in conflict diamonds, and promoting the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme and the WDC System of Warranties. We also provide guidance on laboratory-grown diamonds, gemstone treatments, gold and responsible sourcing in general.
Over the past three weeks our webinars have focused on issues relating to COVID-19. These topics have included: store security, employment law, social media best practices, legal compliance, payment processing for online sales, breaking down the CARES Act, and tips to combat a recession.
Jewelers of America’s primary mission is maintaining consumer confidence in jewelry. To do that, we know that our retailers must be educated and have access to the tools they need to be successful. In these difficult times, we wanted to remove the barriers for access to anything that can keep retail healthy. We have opened our membership for the remainder of the year and have welcomed over 200 new members to JA in just a few short weeks. They will now be able to access all our benefits.
We know that we are more effective when we are stronger in numbers. We are now 200 members stronger when we fight on Capitol Hill in Washington. D.C. We are 200 members stronger when we send consumers to our member stores through our PR and consumer marketing campaigns.
Fortunately, our teams have been fully equipped to work remotely for several years. We have successfully integrated the latest technology platforms to allow our people to safely and securely access member data and the full resources, to service the JA community from any location.
We are holding our meetings through the Go-to-Meeting platform which we find the most secure and effective. Our people can stay connected via Microsoft Teams. Having the ability to communicate with our entire staff has been invaluable for us during this difficult time.
We have been communicating with members and the industry at large regularly. Through several surveys we have done, we are finding that those jewelers who have invested in technology and can sell to and service their customers online, are still doing some business through this pandemic. As many have been saying for years, those who have “e-commerce” capability will benefit in the long run.
We will continue to provide tools and resources to help jewelers be successful in whatever the future holds. We do feel that a positive outcome from this will be that retailers, who were reluctant to use technology to help drive business, will jump start this effort now, and implement the necessary technology to help drive success going forward.
While not all will make it through this crisis from a business standpoint, many smart, well-capitalized businesses will remain. Industry organizations are sharing information at an unprecedented rate to help the greater industry get through this period. We have banded together and the creation of resources like Jeweler Support Network are making information easier to access.
When the jewelry industry comes out of this crisis, it can return to the success we were headed towards for 2020. The reason for the optimism is because of the amazing people that make up this industry. We are a microcosm of tremendous families and smart individuals, who are rooted in history and integrity. The business is about celebration – engagements, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and many, many other milestones. These will continue to be celebrated and the jewelry industry will be there to serve.
We all know this is a face-to-face, highly fragmented cottage industry, filled with enormous personality. We will all do what it takes. We will prepare ourselves and our businesses now so we can get out and get back to normal as quickly as possible.
Jewelry will help celebrate the return to normalcy!
The author is a Member of WDC Board of Directors, President & CEO, Jewelers of America