As far as news goes in jewellery industry terms, today has been a pretty big day. No sooner had the first tranche of CMJ retailers and suppliers been told about the news of Willie Hamilton’s departure from the organisation and our phones were red hot here at Retail Jeweller HQ, barely stopping ringing since.
Intrigue and speculation are always commonplace when someone in a high profile position leaves a company or organisation unexpectedly and, let’s face it, this industry isn’t exactly one to shy away from gossip so to hear that there are many different theories doing the rounds about Hamilton’s departure is hardly going to be of any great surprise to anyone.
However, what is of crucial importance in this case is how people (and by people I mean the UK jewellery trade at large including the industry press) reacts and responds to this news because, while there may be theories and rumours abound, there are also some important points that we could all do well to remember.
Those of you who know me will know that I believe passionately that the job of the trade press is to serve the needs of the industry and, while Hamilton and indeed the CMJ have had their critics as well as their fans over the years, it is not anyone in this industry’s (regardless of your stance on Hamilton or the CMJ) interests to sensationalise this story.
The fact of the matter is that, love him or hate him, and I have heard Hamilton described as Marmite on more than one occasion, no one can take away from him what he has done for the CMJ. You only have to read the comments in our reaction piece to know that under Hamilton’s stewardship the CMJ has transformed from a small, relatively provincial buying group to a large commercial organisation.
In recent years the CMJ has faced criticism for its over-reliance on the revenue generated by Danish jewellery giant Pandora. But, this weakness has also been the organisation’s strength, and it was Hamilton who had the foresight to broker the deal with Pandora and bring them into the buying group as a supplier.
That deal has made many retailers an awful lot of money and for that Hamilton should be applauded. Also, make no mistake, it is not just those retailers who have Pandora that have benefitted from that deal.
Most other suppliers within the CMJ and beyond will tell you that the money generated by Pandora has enabled retailers to invest back into their own businesses, giving them the capital to buy from other brands and suppliers, making the jewellery industry as a whole stronger as a result.
Not only that but strip out the revenue generated by Pandora and CMJ’s core business has still grown by 25% in the last 10 years – an achievement most businesses would be proud of.
Away from the obvious monetary benefits of group buying power associated with belonging to an organisation like CMJ, the networking opportunities offered by the CMJ and the assistance it gives to its retailers and suppliers are unrivalled.
Jewellers will be some of the first to tell you that independent retail can be a very lonely place and organisations like the CMJ give those people a platform to meet and share ideas and business practice with others in a similar situation.
By implementing initiatives such as the CMJ Business Conference and its regional meetings Hamilton, ably assisted by an extremely competent and professional head office team in Rugby, created and facilitated those networking opportunities and today you see friendships, camaraderie and business connections throughout the CMJ that have been cemented for life.
Who knows what Hamilton’s real reasons are for leaving but speculating as to the nature of what may have been disclosed in the latest set of company accounts, and how it came about, is going to do nothing to help shore up the future of the CMJ and that is what is now important.
We have seen the reputation of organisations badly hurt before as a result of idle speculation. You only have to cast your mind back to a little over two years ago and the problems encountered by Gem-A to know just how fundamentally damaging the wrong kind of gossip can be.
If Hamilton’s legacy is a 158-strong buying group with over 400 doors in the UK giving even the largest multiple chains a run for their money in terms of number of stores, it is those retailers who need to be protected, and for that reason the CMJ must continue to survive and, more importantly, thrive.
The high street is, at the moment, a hard enough place to do business as it is and people should be focusing on getting the right products into their stores, delivering an amazing customer experience and selling jewellery to the end consumer. If we get this right, then we all benefit.
The CMJ has lost a big personality and a dynamic leader in Hamilton but, even without him at the helm, the collective power that the organisation brings cannot be underestimated and having a strong buying group is fundamental to a healthy jewellery industry.
There are some great people who work in the organisation and a mixture of both newer and more experienced retail board members, led now by chairman Michael Aldridge.
Aldridge together with interim chief executive Terry Boot will now be looking to take the CMJ forward into a new chapter building on the foundations laid by Hamilton and I, for one, wish them every success.