What Jewelry Would You Be Most Likely To Buy This Holiday Season

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fire Mountain Gems Responds

by Pippit Carlington
Well, this was predictable, but rather than to respond by saying that they are going to scale back its efforts to serve peddlers of lower-quality material in stone beads Fire Mountain Gems issued what appears to be a denial and self-justification for their move in that direction.

I encourage you to dispute their assertion that they do not offer less high quality items and more low-quality items than before. Doing so is one way you can affect positive change in the jewelry industry. If you feel they are not meeting your needs, that your products are being drowned out in the schlock and don't see what you want there then tell them about it and ask why it isn't offered.

Their letter is re-printed below;

Dear Pippit,

Thank you for your email. Your feedback is very important to us. Please be assured that your message will be brought to the attention of the appropriate departments. We sincerely appreciate you taking the time to write us and look forward to hearing from you again soon.
It is not our intent to influence the beading industry into excepting lower quality gemstones.

We offer a very broad range of low cost to high cost products to a very broad spectrum of consumers ranging from classes of small children to bead store owners. It is our goal to offer something for everyone. The 'promo beads' are an excellent way to introduce gemstones to new beaders who are generally hesitant to work with gemstones. In addition many customers prefer the natural and rough look of lower grade gemstones as opposed to the more uniform, polished look of A grade gemstones.

We have offered the promo beads on sale for nearly six months and they have by no means replaced our higher quality gemstones. We look at these beads as an opportunity to add more members to the steadily growing diverse beading community. We hope that this information assures you that we do not plan on lowering our standards or quality and only wish to add to our ever growing family of loyal beaders.

If you should have any further questions or comments, please feel free to reply to this email. You may also contact us via Live Chat by clicking the button below or contact one of our friendly Customer Service Representatives at 1-800-423-2319 during regular business hours.

Best Regards,

e-Service Contact CenterFire Mountain Gems and Beads

Many businesses' number one mistake is believing they can serve two masters (or be all things to all customers).

While Fire Mountain Gems says it is not their "intention" to influence the industry into accepting lower quality stone bead strands it has that effect anyway whether they want it to or not, and they are being short-sighted if they think that manufacturers and others who are less than scrupulous won't take advantage.

Besides, there is really no need to do this, as beads like agates and the pale green Serpentine commonly referred to as "New Jade" are very inexpensive and plentiful even when well-drilled with no flat spots and imperfections.

I believe there really is no justification for a supply company to recommend that buyers use defective stone beads by hiding them among bundles of others in hopes the eye won't notice. Let's be real; that really is trying to "get over". There's just no way to candy-coat it.

If in fact they want to encourage more people to start beading then the way to do that is to teach good core values of design and workmanship; not to say, "Good enough for government work" , "Don't and say you did", etc. There is a difference between taking creative license and just flat out cutting corners.

My grandmother had a saying. She used to say, "Do a thing right or don't do it at all." She came over from Russia at the age of 12 or 13 and when she met her husband the two of them worked their way out of the sweatshops and started a sewing business creating fancy, elegant clothes for people with lots of money. They didn't get there by using seconds to sew their garments or saying "Uh-oh there's a mistake; let's hide it and nobody will notice". They'd re-do it if necessary until it was up to par. They started with little money and their customers respected their work ethic and were willing to pay for it. They did not make clothes geared toward every market as that would have watered down their ability to create a niche market for themselves and would have scattered the little resources they had to start with.

At some point someone has to decide to be part of the solution or part of the problem and whatever it is you multiply and present to your customer will increase; be that quality or disposable product.

Yes, there are people out there who will buy crap but is that what you want to perpetuate or do you want them to appreciate quality? There are those who don't see the connection between beads and social responsability but there is one.

Like it or not; companies like Fire Mountain Gems are quickly turning into supply places for hobbyists and not for the serious business-owner. There is only so much room left when somebody divides their market between two demographics, especially when those demographics are at opposite (and competing) ends of the spectrum.

To give you an example; Do you know why extramarital affairs don't ever work? They don't work because there is only so much love, attention, time, etc. to devote in a day, and when it's divided between two lovers both of them get less. It is too much to juggle and often to financially afford. Things get neglected, key dates forgotten, and nobody involved really gets what they need out of it.

Can you see the parallel between that and choosing a market to focus on?

There are designers who also make this mistake and they spread themselves too thin, and run out of money, especially in this poor economy.

In a time in which many big companies are suffering financially, resorting to laying off employees, and even finding it necessary to close up shop, it is important for one to know what one is (and is not), and what one represents.

It just simply does not make sense to offer hot pink, cheesy plastic beads and fine gemstones. The money allocated for the hoaky pink beads does reduce what is left in the budget to purchase checker-cut lemon quartz, for instance, and it reduces the choices of checker-cut gemstone materials. They may have one or two but they will not likely have an entire page devoted to such high-end stones when they have spent money to fill up 2/3 of a catalogue with neon plastic hearts and second-rate gemstones they get by the Kilo.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Advocating For Quality- A Letter To Fire Mountain Gems

written by Pippit Carlington

Fire Mountain Gems, one of the well-known suppliers to makers of jewelry, as many of you may have noticed has become increasingly commercial in recent months and over the past year. I have had conversations about this with various AJC members at different times, and have been disappointed to see the choices in fine gemstones shrink while the number of cheap and lower-grade materials increase over time as each catalogue comes out, cow-towing to the low-cost/high-volume demographic. I kept telling myself I would write them a letter one of these days and last night after receiving one of their e-mails I found the perfect time to do so.

The e-mail I received last night from Fire Mountain Gems had the subject line; Promo GEMSTONE beads-As Low As .49 per Strand.

I didn't jump to conclusions, figuring it could always be some new product that they were selling at a really low price just to get people interested in something new they were test-marketing, an overstock, or a number of other honest marketing strategies...but no, it was worse than I had imagined.

As I read about these bead strands they were advertising, several clauses in their explanation really didn't sit well with me. The following is an excerpt in their own words:

"What does Promotional Quality mean?
Promotional Quality is also known as "commercial" or "C"-grade quality. The appearance of the beads is similar to our regular stock, except that you can expect to find occasional flat spots on some beads and mild irregularities in the drilling. You will find that 90-95% of the beads on each strand will work perfectly in any application. The defective beads can be used in applications where the size, color and shapes of the beads, along with the strand, are mixed.

Who uses Promotional Quality beads?
Traditionally, they have been used by jewelry manufacturers, particularly those who are working to meet price points. Now, we are finding that they have a place in bead stores and other retail bead outlets. These stores are learning that many of their customers will gladly put up with the minor inconvenience of using this grade, in return for the significant price savings."

As a jewelry artist and running a street team based on valuing quality over price, I find it shocking that a major supplier would recommend;

Number 1; that people who buy supplies from them, many of whom they know re-sell either raw materials they obtain from them, and/or designers who produce finished jewelry made from their products buy inferior stone beads and then pass them on to a customer.

Number 2; that they'd encourage brick and mortar bead stores to do so, and encouage them to think that passing off an inferior product just to save money is ethical.

If customers "put up with" an inferior product that is not true choice, and anytime such compromise is made it further devalues those artisans who do not compromise their standards or cut corners merely to make a buck but instead strive to give customers what they really want.

There is a local bead store (which shall remain nameless) here where I live that gives customers what they want to offer them and if that's not what they want then tough luck. That is not the way our parents did business, and we should expect no less in our time.

Needless to say, I believe this "supply determining demand" mind-set has infectiously perpetuated an anti-customer-service era we have entered into in this society so gradually we don't see that we're being manipulated.

Remember when Burger King's motto was "Have it Your Way"? Well, now all too often it goes more like this in places of business; "We Use Second-Rate Burgers, Second-Rate Fries, You don't Like It, Well Get Used To It! Have it OUR Way or No Way At All!"

Should customers aquire a taste for crap for the seller's convenience? I think not. The same rules of ethics, fairness, and good customer service still apply. It's just that too many have forgotten their manners when it comes to business today.

What's next? Disposable beads? What an awful thought. There are ways to offer lower price-points without sacrificing quality.

My letter to Fire Mountain Gems is re-printed below;

To whom it may concern;

I've been reading about your "Promotional bead strands" and the description and rationale doesn't sound very good. I'm not sure it's in the best interest of the jewelry field to lower the accepted quality standards in beads because of the economy. It's one thing to offer smaller strands like has been happening for a year or so now to those that want to save money, but if customers are becoming willing to accept lower quality just to save money then that will ultimately hurt jewelry artists who base their product on quality rather than on price. In addition this is a very slippery slope in terms of manufacturing because the end result may be the reduction in the availability of really fine stone beads because manufacturers and bead stores figure "why spend more for less material when we can get by on spending less on lower grade material. The customer won't care or they won't know the difference". I really think this practice sets a bad precedent and would be a form of market manipulation utilized by those manufacturers who wish to make a wider profit margin at the expense of their customers.

The increasing amount of lower-grade material carried by Fire Mountain Gems and decreasing choices in higher-grade material has troubled me for some time, but this latest move in my opinion really crosses a serious line.

I really hope that your company will not continue in this direction because you have a lot of long-time customers whose demographic is not low-cost/high volume that you will alienate by catering to the other market.


Pippit Carlington

I would like to encourage all of you readers who also create jewelry with high quality beads and materials to write them as well either online or by snailmail and ask that they go back to focusing on carrying more high quality stone and precious metal beads and less commercialized low-grade material.

This trend has seeped insideously into the local bead shows that serve both retail and wholesale buyers and it is saddening. At the last show I attended I could not find even one strand of transparent 4mm. Sapphire rondels of intense color, but saw plenty of commercial-grade strands of other stones.

Please let your voices be heard to prevent the dumbing down of the jewelry industry.