Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler



April 4, 2000
Partners in Time
Business-to-business e-commerce offers solution to jewelers' wee-hour worries

You're out of a popular item – ring shanks, let's say – and can't get around to ordering new ones. You go to bed at night vowing to order them first thing the next morning. But you get busy as soon as the store opens and, by the time you remember the ring shanks, your supplier has already closed for the day.

You and your supplier may be candidates for online ordering. An increasing number of jewelry suppliers and manufacturers have put their catalogs online so you can order 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What's more, the Web sites are updated constantly with the newest products and pricing. "Diamond and gemstone markets change pretty rapidly," says Steve McDiarmid, director of public relations for Stuller, Lafayette, LA, which supplies jewelry gems, findings and mountings. "The Web allows jewelers to get the freshest information."

Stuller's Web site (www.stuller.com) shows some samples of its jewelry but no prices. Consumers are referred to local jewelers who carry the line; retailers can use a password to access a portion of the site with prices and ordering information. "The most active part of the site is probably our diamond inventory and price list," says McDiarmid. "It's updated daily and shows all of our current inventory, about 2,000 stones."

Anticipating a day when retailers and their customers will enter the site together, Stuller has developed a function that allows jewelers to enter their own markup formula. Once the jeweler enters a password, the merchandise is shown with prices that include his or her markup. "They can look at several items and print out a customized price list," he says. Stuller's Web site also offers technical tips and order tracking and soon will be updated for interactive order placement. Currently, orders are handled manually at the company's end.

Retailers are the primary factor holding things back in this brave new world. Of Stuller's customer base of about 40,000, only 1,500-1,800 have signed up to do business on the Web. So Stuller still spends millions of dollars on five printed catalogs (mountings, findings, diamonds/gems, tools/supplies and family/religious) that are mailed four to six months apart in an 18-month cycle. It also mails occasional platinum and bridal catalogs.

Ditto at Church & Co., which annually prints about10,000 catalogs, despite getting 90,000 hits a year on its Web site."We never expected to get sales through the 'Net," says President David Hopkinson. "Maybe someday, but the industry isn't quite there yet."

Nevertheless, the company continually steers traffic to the site ( www.churchco.com) through its advertising, monthly mailings and pep talks by sales reps. Like Stuller, Church & Co. views the Web as a supplement to its traditional way of doing business, though one that can make traditional ways more efficient. "We'll always need salesmen," says Hopkinson.

- by Mark E. Dixon