Mantras to master change

Price wars, rate fluctuations and uncertainty in the market: these are just three facets of the challenging new normal for India’s gems and jewellery industry. As always, it is the progressive and innovative retailers who are finding and leading the way out of this paradigm.

At the SGL Retail Jeweller India Forum 2019, a session titled “Innovatively organising your jewellery business in a dynamically changing retail landscape” explored the many recent changes in the industry and market. The eminent panelists analysed the environment and the effective solutions they developed in response.

With moderator Divyesh Shah, a leading jewellery retail consultant, the panel comprised Darpan Anand, director, Punjab Jewellers, Delhi; Seema Mehta, creative director, Kirtilals; and Samir Sagar, director, Manubhai Jewellers, Mumbai.

In his opening statement, Shah framed the discussion by highlighting how rapid the shift has been from unorganised to organised business, in this industry.

“I think innovation truly has been the mantra for us,” said Mehta. “It allows us to strike a balance between creativity and technology. It helps involve younger minds in our in-house think tank. These young achievers are completely aligned with how the world works today, and not stuck to old ways.” It can be said that Kirtilals has contributed to reinforcing the share of jewellery in consumer lifestyle purchases.

“We recently launched a clutch collection,” Mehta said, to give the Forum audience a glimpse of how engineers at Kirtilals work to innovate and design products. “A clutch, as we all know, is a small handbag that a woman carries to a party. The concept was built around today’s woman, who travels often and therefore needs her accessories to be convenient and easy to handle. It was our young engineers who came up with and developed this idea, working in tandem with our designers.”

Kirtilals is taking other steps, she said, not strictly related to business performance but that demonstrate the brand’s commitment to improvement across the board. It is no secret that jewellery is a sector with a poor performance in gender ratio.

“We are probably one of the few ones to have more women working in our factory,” said Mehta. “In our manufacturing facility a very high proportion of the workers are women. We are trying to extend this change to the front end as well as to managerial roles.”

Turning back to innovation on the business front, Punjab Jewellers was among the first in this sector to invest in high-visibility and highly innovative marketing campaigns. As Anand said, the brand learned from its hits, and from a few misses. “There was one time when we were to give out Nano cars as part of a marketing strategy, and because of some operational issues the vehicle deliveries didn’t happen.” However, with undeterred perseverance, the brand experimented with different campaign ideas and tasted success. “When we executed our campaign ‘Sabsesastesaat din’ in July 2018, we saw a tremendous growth of 250 per cent in that particular month,” Anand said.

Speaking on ManubhaiJewellers’ strategy for survival in the midst of the discount wars, Sagar said, “We have stopped discounts. We realised that discounts actually devalue the brand in the market. What is important is to train your staff well and concentrate on experience.

Shah raised the important point that the underlying logic of consumers’ buying behaviour has shifted, radically, from investment to adornment. As a consequence, he said, one often hears retailers expressing concern that their inventory turn and conversion rate have declined.

“Maximising inventory turn has been the Holy Grail for this industry, for a few years now,” said Sagar. “We have been trying to optimise inventory, because it carries a lot of costs. We approach the matter in a holistic way, now. It is the CRM [customer relationship management] programme that we put in place that helps us understand what our customers want, why a customer will walk in or walk out.”

Post-demonetisation, the sense across the industry is that sales of high-ticket products have reduced. ManubhaiJewellers, however, has taken this shift as an opportunity. It has pivoted to seeking the patronage of millennial brides. It is working hard to keep them engaged with its products.

“The segment has completely changed,” Sagar explained. “The millennial bride is now well-travelled, well-educated, confident and independent. She takes her own decisions. Our strategy was, therefore, to differentiate the shopping experience for this segment from regular jewellery shopping. We created a new boutique called Madhuban by Manubhai. At Madhuban, our approach is not to sell the piece of jewellery, but rather sell an experience that would be treasured for a lifetime.”

At the close of this session, each panelist shared their winning mantra. Sagar: “We focus on experience and on changing the dialogue that we have every day, not only with our customers but internally as well.” Anand: “New stores may crop up in your vicinity, and they may do something better than you do. But what I have realised is that you stand out when you deliver productivity to the consumer.” And Mehta attributed her success to integrity, as applied to creativity as well as quality.