By Brecken Branstrator
Signet CEO Gina Drosos delivered the keynote speech at a breakfast held Friday in Las Vegas, prior to the opening of the JCK jewelry trade show. She talked about the industry’s need for innovation and disruption.
Las Vegas--As jewelry sales continue to lag other consumer goods categories and experiences, one industry executive called for companies big and small to evolve and innovate.

At a breakfast held Friday morning before the Las Vegas jewelry trade shows opened for the day, Signet Jewelers CEO Gina Drosos delivered the keynote speech following Reed Jewelry Group Senior Vice President Yancy Weinrich’s presentation on the 2018 JCK State of the Industry Jewelry Report.

Drosos was named CEO of Signet in July 2017, replacing longtime executive Mark Light. She joined the company with plenty of experience in consumer goods and driving brand and segment growth, experience she will apply to building Signet and the jewelry industry going forward, she said Friday.

At the start of the keynote, Drosos referred to former Intel CEO Andy Grove, addressing his business stance through the title of his book: “Only the Paranoid Survive,” which talks about how Intel had to reinvent itself to stay relevant in the market.

Drosos said while she learned about the importance of leading change and identifying and leveraging inflection points in business from the book, she prefers a slightly more positive spin on the theme.

“Rather than ‘only the paranoid survive,’ I’d assert that only the innovators thrive. Because sometimes the greatest successes aren’t driven by paranoia, but by seeing game-changing opportunities and grabbing them, even if things seem to be going relatively well.”

She added that the pace of change is accelerating, and that “business as usual is insufficient, and we together must lead disruptive innovation now.”

Drosos said she has visited hundreds of Signet stores since she started to witness firsthand the buying experience across all of the company’s brands. She said one thing has become clear to her: the ability to create and sustain innovative, meaningful and powerful connections with customers will determine who succeeds and who fails.

It is through this lens that she is approaching challenges and opportunities at Signet.

She has plenty of experience doing so, specifically in her role at Proctor & Gamble where she worked to rebrand Olay skincare and the Old Spice product line for men, which she said helped her realize that innovation in one brand lifts the overall market.
“Sometimes the greatest successes aren’t driven by paranoia, but by seeing game-changing opportunities and grabbing them, even if things seem to be going relatively well.” -- Gina Drosos, Signet CEO
Despite the general retail woes and the industry’s challenges with online competition, the jewelry category hasn’t been affected to the same extent as books, electronics and household  supplies, Drosos contended.

Total jewelry sales in the U.S. topped $90 billion last year. And, as the 2018 JCK State of the Industry Jewelry Report shows, 88 percent of the industry is very or somewhat optimistic about business over next 12 months.

This robust position provides a window of opportunity, she said.

Half of the JCK report survey-takers cited online completion as the main struggle for their businesses, and Drosos said now is the time to get ahead of the challenges by disrupting the industry and how it responds to consumers’ meaningful life moments.

“For an industry that is rooted in marking such moments, how can we change our approach?”

While the industry is winning Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day for gifting, there’s stiff competition for the rest of the year, she said, adding that jewelry is one of four top items people like to get as gifts but trails experiences such as dining out and trips, as well as clothing/shoes.

So, how does the industry make jewelry the top overall gifting category? First, stop expending all its energy fighting to win the holidays, Drosos said.

“If we’re laser-focused only on six weeks of the year, that means we’re not putting enough effort into the other 46,” she said. “That’s almost 90 percent of the available time.”

Also, for most of the year, companies depend on a “pretty low frequency” event, engagements and weddings, yet only about 25 percent of annual industry sales comes from engagement rings and wedding bands.

Expanding sales means winning more moments like birthdays and graduations, and getting to know customers personally so the industry is involved in their individual life events and remains relevant year-round.

She said Signet, as the category leader, “is committed to taking bold, innovative, transformational steps that will not only bring Signet forward but will bring all forward to put jewelry at the forefront of our customers’ minds for many more occasions.”
“If we’re laser-focused only on six weeks of the year, that means we’re not putting enough effort into the other 46. That’s almost 90 percent of the available time.”  -- Gina Drosos, Signet CEO
Part of increasing growing business and consumer trust in jewelers is also understanding the changing demographics and adapting to them to create new opportunities, Drosos said.

The U.S. Census predicts that by 2045, the percentage of white Americans will dip below 50 percent of the population for the first time. Hispanics will make up almost 25 percent, African- Americans will represent 13 percent and Asian-Americans will grow to 8 percent.

People of Hispanic ethnicities have driven about half of U.S. population growth since the beginning of the 21st century, have $1.7 trillion in purchasing power, buy fine jewelry more often than the average customer and are more likely to have purchased jewelry without a specific occasion or reward in mind.

“What are we doing as an industry to ensure our stores, our products and our people genuinely reflect Hispanic culture and language?” Drosos asked.

What comprises a “traditional” family also is changing; to wit, 40 percent of engaged couples engaged already have children, and same-sex couples are getting married in greater numbers and their buying power is reaching $1 trillion, rivaling the disposable income of other American minority groups.

But even as some consumer habits are changing, some remain the same, Drosos said.

While 40 percent of consumers start their buying process online, 90 percent of engagement ring purchases are still made in store, and Drosos said she feels confident  physical stores will remain important in the future.

As retailers put more focus on the experience, social media is a big part of that, as the JCK industry report showed that almost half of survey-takers indicated the medium was a key strategy in fighting online competition.

Signet is looking at ways to bring technology into the store to “create store experiences that people will line up for outside our doors,” Drosos said.

They’re creating a digital vault of inventory photographed in 360 degrees at 40 times magnification. The company also acquired R2Net, the owner of online retailer, in the fall, and is exploring bringing augmented reality and virtual reality into the purchasing process.

In a brief question-and-answer session at the end of the speech, Drosos mentioned Signet’s “Path to Brilliance” turnaround plan, which she said focuses on streamlining the omnichannel experience. She also mentioned the retailer would be launching online appointment booking.

She wrapped up the keynote by making a pledge that she will lead Signet on a path of “groundbreaking transformation and disruptive category-building innovation” and asked the crowd to do one thing: “Take a few minutes and think about what your ideal state is for our industry, and how you can innovate and help to take us there.”

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