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Commentary: The Business

Gary Youngberg: Leaders, Please Stand Up

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From phony discounts to poor grading, independents need organized help. But we’re just not getting it from our current array of industry bodies.

Whether it be war, a natural disaster or economic uncertainty, crises are supposed to bring out the best in us. However, as we try to cope with what may be our toughest year in decades, I can only wonder in dismay at the lack of leadership in the jewelry industry.

Our industry faces such seemingly unaddressed issues as truth-in-pricing, diamond over-grading, BE infusion and grades for cash at GIA. And, while our industry has a number of groups who claim to speak for jewelers, it seems their own agendas, not the common good, dictate their actions.

Let’s start with truth-in-pricing, an issue that affects independents everywhere. As a store that doesn’t play the “deep-discounting” game, we continually battle large chains offering gold chains at 50, 60, even 80 percent off. In most cases, the customer would pay the same or less at their local independent store even when the item is not “on sale.”

A few years ago, when I was still a member of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, I sent the JVC a number of ads from a department store in a nearby town. These ads, forwarded over about a year, documented this store’s practice of offering their gold chain at a minimum of 50 percent off for 48 out of 52 weeks. In my eyes, this was clearly a deliberate and deceptive practice designed to take advantage of the public’s inability to compare. The reply from JVC? “Sorry, but we have no legal standing. We suggest you take it up with your state attorney general.”

Well, I did, submitting more ads showing a nearly year-round “sale” of at least 50 percent off. Again, I got nowhere. The gist of the attorney-general’s reply? “Sorry, but we just haven’t had enough complaints or the manpower to investigate.”

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Section 714.16 of the Iowa Code, in language similar to that used in many states, “prohibits unfair and deceptive trade practices in the sale or advertisement of a product or service.” When an item is offered at half price day in, day out, rarely if ever selling for the “regular” price, how can that not be construed as unfair or deceptive?

When abuses such as this are so obvious, why couldn’t the JVC assist me in filing a suit alleging a violation of the Lanham Act? Why? Because it seems the JVC is more interested in whether a synthetic diamond could be deemed “cultured.”

Diamond “over-grading” is an issue of equal concern. I’ll be the first to say diamond grading is not an exact science, but really, it seems that some of the big labs don’t know that a stone with an easily eye-visible inclusion is not an SI1. Then, there’s color. I recently saw two stones the GIA had graded K color that were so brown I could hardly believe my eyes! As someone who was trained in diamonds through GIA, seeing grading such as this takes the wind out of my sails.

I’m at the point where I don’t know where to turn.

We must get more vocal in demanding the consumer protection divisions within each state act decisively and prosecute those who continue to lie to the public with these outrageous claims.

At Ames Silversmith, we price our merchandise fairly and represent our goods honestly, but we are in a game where the rules are being broken by the other side daily.
 

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Gary Youngberg owns Ames Silversmithing in Ames, IA.

 


The JVC responds:The JVC acts to generally inform advertisers of their obligations, and while we wish we had the financial resources to do the necessary research required to successfully pursue pricing claims, we simply do not. (Price-advertising cases require extensive research, and the legal authority to determine the actual number of sales, and the days offered at the normal price, vs. the sale price. And every jurisdiction has different laws!) If we had all the members of the industry as members of the JVC, this might be different! A Lanham Act lawsuit is best filed by the competitor impacted, not by a trade association. JVC has often encouraged retailers in various jurisdictions to take the matter into their hands and file the action — so far, we do not know of any group of retailers that has done so. We will keep trying! — Cecilia Gardner, President of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee

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