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.
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.