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Innovating in a flat world – the jewelry industry

dubaicityofgold.jpgI keynoted the 2008 Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America Expo New York yesterday, on the theme of “”How to Unlock Your Potential in the High Velocity Economy.” Just about a week from now, Dubai will hold a similar event. The challenge for the AJMA members is that they now find themselves in a world that has gone massively global and is far more competitive; and as the world has flattened, so too have their challenges. They’re competing not only against the City of Gold, but countless other highly innovative jewelry centers.

The focus of my keynote: what to do after the world gets flat! How can they innovate to deal with the unique challenges of today? Most certainly, the challenges go far beyond just globalization: rapidly changing consumer attitudes are also playing a key role. I used some recent insight from research firm Mintel UK, which provided a few fascinating nuggets:

  • only 5% of all the customers surveyed buy jewelry frequently – compare that to the trends with consumer electronics spending – a lot of discretionary spending now goes to the latter, and not the former.
  • 22% compare prices before they buy
  • 15% buy online
  • 17% of women are finding jewelry sold in supermarkets an “increasingly attractive” option

These are all the classic signs of commoditization of an industry — wherein existing competitors find themselves in a never-ending black hole of being forced to compete on price.

How do you innovate your way out of this? The advice I included in my 75-minute talk covered a vast number of issues; here’s a few of the things they should focus on:

  • faster time to market : fashion happens faster; they need to deal with this. If P-Diddy appears with a new ear-stud and it gets noticed, kids will want it. Agile jewelers align themselves to such instant production, by revamping their process and cost structure.
  • innovate upside-down. Adopt new design philosophies: rather than innovating, focus on upside down innovation. Work with their retail partners to restart the design process. Innovative organizations recognize they can’t do it all. They seek partners with everything they do, recognizing that there are of lot of really wonderful innovative ideas that transcend their organization and their culture. This allows them to discover new innovative ideas they hadn’t thought of before; a process I call upside down innovation.
  • revamp manufacturing capabilities: a lot of these folks manufacture to inventory, and with the high and fluctuating cost of gold and other metals, that’s an expensive business model to maintain, particularly in the context of increased global competition. Leading edge manufacturers are using CAD/CAM tech to change their design process and are learning to shift their business model as a result.

These were just a few of the issues I covered ; the key is accepting the fast-change that envelopes the industry, and challenging your assumptions and habits to move forward!

  • Read the MJSA article Change Your Mind: Staying One Step Ahead adobe.gif
  • Read What do you do after the world gets flat? Put a ripple in it!

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