«We are in a storm, sailing unchartered waters, caught up, through no fault of our own, in a situation that, until a few weeks ago, was not even remotely imaginable». This was how Andrea Broggian, CEO at Vhernier, opened our interview to keep the dialogue with the gold and jewelry industry open.
Estimates are impossible at the moment, but what forecasts can you make about the scenario in the coming months?
It will be a different context to what we have been used to, influenced by a different sociality, new priorities, a different way of living globalization and where will also re-write relations between consumers and brands. The change that this situation imposes on us will bring with it a degree of suffering, perhaps at the beginning, but the pain will be prolonged only for those who offer resistance, for those who do not want to change.
Flexibility and speed have never been such important key words as now. Entrepreneurs and managers are being forced to find the capacity and confidence to take quick decisions which will give their collaborators security today and protect the business of tomorrow. It is hard, especially considering the fact that the situation is in constant evolution, but it is necessary.
Those who manage to intervene immediately with their eyes on the future will see a new spring. After the Middle Ages and the plague, the Renaissance arrived in Venice and in Florence. There will be enormous opportunities after the Covid-19 crisis too but, in order to be there to seize them, we must get to that point intact, with all the brand’s strategic assets and a fully functional organization in one piece.
How is Vhernier acting to keep business and customer relations alive?
The health of our collaborators and customers has been a priority that Vhernier has wanted to protect above all else. Ever since the very first stirrings of this situation, we personally telephoned all our collaborators with a message of solidarity on behalf of the owners and management, receiving in return, demonstrations of the greatest empathy.
Then, as we gradually closed our stores in compliance with the regulations as the various countries went into lockdown, we activated all possible leverage to continue to provide customer service. It is extremely important to let people know you are there, nearby; at Vhernier we have always done that, with courtesy and that extraordinary creativity for which we are famous.
It is important now to do so with the right tones and content suitable for the situation, which, for many, is painful. This is meaningful, for example, not in terms of product but of context. That is why we have decided to send a message to global citizens – a message that too many are still refusing to accept – with a short clip sent firstly to our customers and then published on our social networks. Because, in this crisis, we have to be united and supportive.
And then we thought of families and we asked ourselves how we could brighten these days of being forced to stay at home. We therefore devised a coloring book with pictures of Vhernier’s most emblematic jewelry to color in, hoping to give our customers another idea of how to pass the time, especially those who have small children. And further digital initiatives will be introduced in the coming days, mainly for our customers.
Empathy above all, and therefore, the decision to create new content suited to the circumstances. Then speed, because it is the here and now that creates relevance and the smaller companies can be the most brilliant in this field because they are streamlined. Then there is the ability to create with limited available resources – I’m not just speaking of investments but also of the physical limits that this situation has caused.
These are the three elements that will allow brands to play the game without neglecting or modifying their own identity – and this is extremely important in a scenario that is changing. But don’t forget: coherence to the brand’s DNA is the core of every action.
With 15 stores and 100 sales points worldwide, do you have any specific feedback from the various markets?
Vhernier can be found in 23 countries and we have at least one flagship boutique in 9 of these. All the stores, both retail and wholesale, are currently closed with one exception: Korea.
We received an order just last week from our partner in Boontheshop, the coolest and most important luxury store in Seoul. A customer went in and, after trying on one of our jewelry items, decided to buy it. The Korean system has dealt with the Covid-19 emergency in a different way and there, so far, the buying process has not changed.
But this is not the case in the rest of the world: to give an example, in India, all the diamond cutting shops are closed, including our consolidated partners with whom we have been working for years. Dubai is at a complete standstill after an exceptional March and a after highly positive January and February on the retail front.
The challenge that this crisis poses is to look within ourselves and find, each and every one of us, our own resources. And decide which ones to target. It is a process that must start immediately: firstly, to identify the resources that will allow us to get to the end of the emergency and then to identify those with which to play the game later on, when we are definitively out of the crisis.
It is obviously a process that must be carried out at 360 degrees: from the value proposition to the value architecture. Resources, company skills, opportunities. The important thing is not to stop.
No moment is better than another to do it: the first rule of any business, the one that all the great Masters teach us, is that business is always and everywhere. The incentives and opportunities for thinking of a change come from working. Working and never stopping: the way and the energy can be found within. At least that’s how I see it. Moreover, I have the feeling that I have never worked so much as in these days, and that’s without even leaving home!
How can we get the people back in the stores and what it the real problem of jewelry today?
In recent years, hard luxury has suffered from competition with experiential luxury. And yet women and men will never give up on jewelry because it is, and has always been, a sign of distinction, an element of style, an expression of immaterial values that are to be flaunted and shared. And then, there is the symbolic component linked to sentiments, to celebrations and important occasions.
I believe that hard luxury will react better than ephemeral luxury: because the current governmental restrictions throw a long shadow on travel and because, in this moment of isolation and reflection, relations and empathy have become the center of our values again and can be celebrated with jewelry.
The current crisis will not change the perception of jewelry and all its symbolic power. What will change is the way to make jewelry relevant to the new generations. This is a historical question that the current situation is taking to new and unexpected developments.
Having said that, which I see as a challenge rather than a problem, all of us will have to make some difficult decisions to get through this period. Who could have said just a few weeks ago that some of the largest luxury groups would have to resort to funds from the State?
With all the understanding that it is right to have in a situation the likes of which have never been seen before, I regret having to highlight that, unfortunately, the structural problems in our country are coming to the surface with all their dramatics.
How can companies, and all the supply chain, re-start and protect their staff until a vaccine is found? Bureaucracy needs to be streamlined because everything is interconnected and this crisis will change business forever. As I have read somewhere, we will have to feel "all sitting on an airplane that already has engines running and is about to leave", called to recover that intellectual curiosity that animated man in our Renaissance, when the thoughts of philosophers, artists , craftsmen and men of science have laid the foundations of our modernity.
Systemization is an ever-current topic. What are the critical points in this industry?
We will be forced to systematize because the need to do things together will become increasingly apparent. The enemy is no longer the neighbor or the competitor now. The danger, and that is what this crisis is demonstrating, can be silent and, in just a few days, block an entire country. We must unite to find ways to collaborate so that all the industry can work, even in exceptional circumstances.
Looking at the post-crisis period, I believe that the big groups will make an aggressive recovery. They will once again be the strongest and they will try to conquer new market shares with an agonistic and competitive spirit.
Nevertheless, the small companies have the ability to adapt better and more quickly to change and, when they are not integrated, they can also benefit from productive flexibility, as long as they see these opportunities, keep a watchful eye and preserve their own brand identity with coherence and rigor, without being tempted to take the easy road.
Because there will always be customers looking for something unique and different. And I have faith in their ability to know which is the right product.
- Date of Foundation: 1984
- Location: Milan
- Employees: 90
- Markets: 22 (main: Italy, France, Switzerland, Turkey, UAE, USA)
- Export: around 65%
- No. of boutiques and retailers: 15 boutiques (direct and franchising) and around 100 POS multi-brand retailers