While the US division operates under twelve different brands, many functions are integrated to gain economies of scale and have commonality of systems where a fully integrated approach is inappropriate. For example in store operations there is a separate dedicated field management team for the mall brands, Jared and the in-store repair function, while there is a combined diamond sourcing function.
Customer service and human resources are central to the division’s success and are a key constraint on the rate of growth achieved. A major priority of the division is continually to improve the quality of customer experiences in its existing stores while providing sufficient staff that are well trained and with suitable experience to run the new stores being opened.
During 2007/08 the implementation of an enhanced training system for store staff, to develop customer service skills and product knowledge further, was completed. Training to implement a new store communications system was also carried out; the system has increased productivity by improving in-store execution, compliance monitoring, store feedback and has enhanced the ability to identify store and divisional level opportunities to improve execution further. Training and systems enhancements to improve the repair service, an important driver of footfall and customer trust, were also implemented.
A customer satisfaction index covering 12 criteria was introduced to all stores during 2006/07. Based on customer feedback, each store is benchmarked against others in its district, region and across the division. The scores are reported on a monthly basis, highlighting areas of good performance and those for improvement, and are one of the key performance indicators used to manage each store.
Providing knowledgeable and responsive customer service is a priority, and is regarded by management as a key point of differentiation. It is believed that highly trained sales associates, with the necessary product knowledge to communicate the quality, attributes and competitive value of merchandise, are critical to the success of the business. Store staff also receive training on supply chain issues such as conflict diamonds and the environmental impact of gold mining.
Retail sales personnel are encouraged to become certified diamontologists by graduating from a comprehensive correspondence course provided by the Diamond Council of America. Over 50% of the division’s full time sales staff who have completed their probationary period are certified diamontologists or are training to become certified. All store managers are required to be so qualified. The number of certified diamontologists employed by the US division increased by 16% in 2007/08 to some 5,300. Employees often continue their professional development through completion of further courses on gemstones and timepieces.
The US division’s substantial training and incentive programmes, for all levels of store staff, are designed to play an important role in recruiting, educating and retaining qualified store staff. The preferred practice is to promote managers at all levels from within the business in order to maintain continuity and familiarity with the division’s procedures.
All store employees are set daily performance standards and commit to goals. Sales commission based on individual and store performance is paid. Sales contests and incentive programmes also reward the achievement of specific targets with travel or additional cash awards. Apart from sales-based incentives, bonuses are paid to store managers depending on store contribution and to district managers for the achievement of key performance objectives. In 2007/08 approximately 19% (2006/07: 23%) of store personnel remuneration was commission and incentive-based.
US head office bonuses are based on the performance of the division against predetermined annual profit targets. Promotion and salary decisions for principally non-management head office personnel are based on performance against service level and productivity goals; for managers they are based on annual objectives and performance against individual job requirements.
Each store is led by a store manager who is responsible for various store level operations including overall sales and branch level variable costs; certain personnel matters such as recruitment and training; and customer service. Administrative matters, including purchasing, merchandising, payroll, preparation of training materials, credit operations and divisional operating procedures are consolidated at divisional level. This allows the store manager to focus on those tasks that can be best executed at a store level, while enabling the business to benefit from economies of scale in administration and to help ensure consistency of execution across all the stores.
Although staff recruitment is primarily the responsibility of store and district managers, field recruiters are supplied by a central recruitment function. Methods such as internet recruitment are used to provide stores with a larger number of better-qualified candidates from which to select new staff.
A key motivator for all staff, and in particular for store based employees, is the division’s practice of internal promotion. It is a requirement that District Managers and Vice Presidents of Regional Operations have been a store manager within the division.
It is believed that selection, availability, and value for money of merchandise are factors that are critical to success as a speciality retail jeweller. In the US business, the range of merchandise offered and the high level of stock availability are supported centrally by extensive and continuous research and testing. Best-selling products are identified and their rapid replenishment ensured through analysis of sales by stock keeping unit. This approach enables the division to deliver a focused assortment of merchandise to maximise sales, minimise the need for discounting and accelerate inventory turn. The US division is better able to offer superior value and consistency of merchandise than its competitors, due to its supply chain advantages.
Signet does not hold any material patents, licenses, franchises or concessions, but has a range of trading agreements with suppliers, the most important being in regards to the Leo Diamond and luxury watches. The established trademarks and trade names of the division are essential to maintaining its competitive position in the retail jewellery sector.
The average unit selling prices in mall stores and Jared increased by 3.4% and 3.8% respectively The division continued to develop the sales of exclusive merchandise such as the Leo Diamond the Peerless Diamond, and the Hearts Desire range, as well as branded ranges such as Le Vian and Russell Simmons. In generic merchandise the Journey range again performed well, as did white gold jewellery. Sourcing via the rough diamond initiative entered the early stages of roll-out in 2007/08, after a successful two year trial.
Sophisticated inventory management systems for merchandise testing, assortment planning, allocation and replenishment have been developed and implemented. The majority of merchandise is common to all US division mall stores, with the remainder allocated to reflect demand in individual stores. It is believed that the merchandising and inventory management systems, as well as improvements in the productivity of the centralised distribution centre, have allowed the division to achieve inventory turns at least comparable to those of competitors, even though it has a significantly less mature store base and undertakes more direct sourcing of merchandise.
In 2007/08, the bridal category accounted for about 45% of merchandise sold and its participation in the sales mix has grown steadily over the past five years. The table below sets out Signet’s US merchandise sales mix as a percentage of sales:
|Percentage of sales||2007/08
|Diamonds and diamond jewellery||75||75||74|
Programmes have been developed in conjunction with certain vendors for the provision of branded jewellery merchandise. For example, the Leo Diamond range is sold exclusively by Signet in the US and the UK; the Peerless Diamond, an Ideal Cut diamond with a superior, measured return of light, is only available in Jared; and Le Vian, a prestigious fashion jewellery brand with a 500 year history, is now sold in all mall and Jared stores. Management believes that the US division’s merchandising process, market share and relationship with suppliers, position the business as an ideal partner to develop branded initiatives.
While the design and repair service is less than 10% of sales, it accounts for approximately 30% of transactions and has been identified as an important opportunity to build trust in the division. All Jared stores have a highly visible jewellery workshop, which is open the same hours as the store. As well as meeting the repair requirements of the store in which they are located the workshops also carry out work for the division’s mall brand stores. As a result nearly all customer repairs are carried out by the division’s own staff rather than through sub-contractors, unlike most chain jewellers. The design and repair service has its own field management and training structure.
For over ten years the division has sold a lifetime repair warranty for jewellery. The warranty covers services such as ring sizing, refinishing and polishing, rhodium plating white gold, earring repair, chain soldering and the resetting of diamond and gemstones that arise due to the normal usage of the merchandise. This work is carried out by the division. Warranty sales account for less than 10% of turnover.
It is believed that the US division has a competitive cost and quality advantage as about 45% of diamond merchandise sold is sourced through contract manufacturing; Signet purchases loose polished diamonds on the world markets and outsources the casting, assembly and finishing operations to third parties. By using this approach the cost of merchandise is reduced and the resulting advantage is largely used to provide superior value to the consumer which helps to increase market share. Contract manufacturing is generally utilised on basic items with proven non-volatile historical sales patterns that represent a lower risk of over or under-purchasing.
The contract manufacturing strategy also allows the buyers to gain a detailed understanding of the manufacturing cost structure and improves the prospects of negotiating better prices for the supply of finished products.
In 2005/06 a multi-year trial, involving the purchase and contract manufacture of rough diamonds, was commenced by the Group. It was successfully expanded in 2006/07. This initiative moved to the initial roll-out stage in late 2007/08. Once these rough stones have been cut and polished, they enter the US division’s supply chain in a similar way to other polished loose diamonds. Stones not suited to the Group’s merchandise selection are sold to third parties.
The objectives of this supply chain initiative are to:
In 2008/09 it is planned to increase substantially the volume of rough diamonds purchased. The proportion of diamonds sold by the division that are purchased uncut is currently relatively small and the division continues to develop and expand its relationships with its current suppliers of polished diamonds and diamond jewellery.
Certain merchandise is purchased complete as a finished product where the complexity of the product is great or the merchandise is considered likely to have a less predictable sales pattern. This strategy provides the opportunity to reserve stock held by vendors and to make supplier returns or exchanges, thereby reducing the risk of over or under-purchasing.
Merchandise held on consignment is used to enhance product selection and test new designs. This minimises exposure to changes in fashion trends and obsolescence and provides the flexibility to return non-performing merchandise. At 2 February 2008 the US division held approximately $221 million (3 February 2007: $205 million) of merchandise on consignment (see note 13 ).
In 2007/08 the five largest suppliers collectively accounted for approximately 20% (2006/07: 20%) of the US division’s total purchases, with the largest supplier accounting for approximately 7% (2006/07: 9%). The division’s supply chain has become increasingly integrated on a worldwide basis, with diamond cutting and jewellery manufacturing being predominantly carried out in Asia, with little of the division’s merchandise now manufactured in the US.
As the products sold by the division are predominantly unbranded, management believes that store brand name recognition by consumers is an important factor in jewellery retailing. Signet continues to strengthen and promote its US brands and build name recognition through integrated marketing campaigns. The marketing channels used include television, radio, print, catalogues, direct mail, telephone marketing, point of sale signage, in-store displays and the internet.
Advertising activities are concentrated during periods when customers are expected to be most receptive to the marketing message. The proportion of television advertising expenditure to sales continues to grow, and the cost of national television advertising is leveraged as the number of stores increases.
Statistical and technology-based systems are employed to support a direct marketing programme that uses a proprietary database of over 25 million names to strengthen the relationship with customers. The programme targets current customers with special savings and merchandise offers during key trading periods. In addition, invitations to special in-store promotional events are extended throughout the year.
Annual gross marketing spend amounted to 7.5% of sales (2006/07: 7.0%), which was higher than planned due to the disappointing sales performance in the fourth quarter. It is intended to realign spending as a percentage of sales to nearer historic levels in 2008/09. Dollar marketing expenditure increased by 10.5% to $204.0 million over the 52 weeks to 2 February 2008 (53 weeks to 3 February 2007: $184.5 million). This reflected the expected growth in total sales and the higher proportion of sales being generated by Jared. Over the last five years, advertising and marketing expenditure has increased by some 70%.
Management believes that the US division’s prime real estate portfolio is a competitive advantage that helps build store traffic. The quality of the portfolio is based on the consistent application over time of strict real estate criteria and demanding required projected investment returns for both new space and the renewal of leases. The division has a target for new space growth of 8% to 10% per annum, but growth may be outside this range depending on the availability of sites that satisfy the investment criteria and the general economic environment. In 2008/09 and 2009/10 it is anticipated that net new store space will increase by about 5%. When a new store is opened the majority of the investment is in working capital, that is inventory and receivables, as nearly all stores are leased. Stores are normally refurbished on a ten year cycle, which for mall brands coincides with the typical length of a lease. Increased like for like sales growth is normally achieved for a number of years following a refurbishment due to factors such as improved lighting and better presentation of merchandise. Opportunities to relocate stores to better locations within malls, such as a centre court corner site are continually sought. Nearly all of Signet’s US stores are located in suburban areas, with about 58% of space being in traditional covered malls (2002/03: about 79%). In 2007/08 about 80% of net space growth was in off-mall locations.
Both the operational and financial criteria for investment in real estate remain stringent and have been consistently applied for more than ten years. The financial criteria being a positive net present value over a five year period on a pre tax basis using a 20% discount rate and assuming working capital is released after five years.
In the US jewellery market it is necessary for speciality retailers to offer credit facilities to the consumer. Management regards the provision of an in-house credit programme, rather than one provided by a third party, as a competitive advantage for a number of reasons:
Furthermore the various credit programmes help to establish long term relationships with customers and complement the marketing strategy by enabling additional purchases, higher units per transaction and greater value sales.
In addition to interest bearing accounts, a number of programmes offer interest-free financing for one year or less, subject to certain conditions, and these account for a significant proportion of credit sales. In most US states customers are offered optional third party credit insurance. The average outstanding balance at the year end was $997 (2006/07: $957).
Since credit authorisation and collection systems were centralised in 1994 the credit terms and performance have been relatively consistent over the economic cycle.
In-house credit sales represented 52.6% of total US sales in 2007/08 (2006/07: 51.7%) and the monthly collection rate was 13.9% (2006/07: 14.6%), a credit portfolio turn of approximately seven months. While the credit participation was little changed, the approval rate for credit applications was lower. The bad debt charge for the year, at 6.5% (2006/07: 5.3%) of credit sales was at the high end of the tight range of the last ten years (see graph here) reflecting the deterioration of the US economy. The increase in bad debts was largely offset by additional income on the portfolio as a result of the lower monthly collection rate. The 5.3% net bad debt charge in 2006/07 was at the low end of the range of the last ten years and reflected the impact of a revision in the US bankruptcy laws implemented in late 2005 which temporarily increased bankruptcy levels in late 2005/06 and reduced them in early 2006/07. The table over the page presents data related to the in-house credit business for the past three years.
The division continued to apply its established credit standards in 2007/08, while monitoring the performance of the receivables very closely. During 2007/08, a number of metrics deteriorated a little reflecting the downturn in the wider economy, although performance has remained within the range of the last ten years. In response to the increased credit risk among US consumers, the staffing levels in relation to the outstanding balances within the credit collection function were increased. Consumers’ financial position continues to deteriorate which may lead to a further increase in the bad debt charge, although this is expected to be somewhat offset by increased income from the credit portfolio. Consequently credit authorisation criteria continue to be reviewed and outstanding balances are very closely monitored with prompt action being taken in response to changes in performance. In addition, further investment in collection systems is taking place.
At the year end the gross US receivables stood at $900.6 million (2006/07: $828.8 million). There was an impairment provision of $60.4 million (2006/07: $50.0 million). The average level of gross receivables during 2007/08 was $795.4 million (2006/07: $698.4 million).
Authorisations and collections are solely performed centrally at the US head office, rather than by store staff. The majority of credit applications are processed and approved automatically after being initiated via in-store terminals, through a toll-free phone number or on-line through the division’s websites. All applications are evaluated by the scoring of credit data and using data obtained through third party credit bureaux.
Investment in staff, training and systems to maintain or improve the quality of the credit portfolio continued in 2007/08. Collection strategies and efforts continued to include emphasis on risk-based calling and first call resolution.
In addition to in-house credit sales, the US stores accept major credit cards. Third party credit sales are treated as cash sales and accounted for approximately 39% (2006/07: 39%) of total US sales during the year.
|Credit sales ($m)||1,422.4||1,372.1||1,191.2|
|Credit sales as % of total sales||52.6%||51.7%||51.6%|
|Number of active credit accounts
at year end
|Average outstanding account
|Average monthly collection rates||13.9%||14.6%||14.5%|
|Bad debt as % of total sales||3.4%||2.8%||3.0%|
|Bad debt as % of credit sales||6.5%||5.3%||5.8%|
The US division’s highly integrated and comprehensive information systems provide detailed, timely information to monitor and evaluate virtually every aspect of the business. They are designed to decrease the time sales staff spend on administrative tasks and increase time spent on sales activities. They also support merchandise testing, loss prevention and inventory control.
All stores are supported by the internally developed Store Information System, which includes electronic point of sale (“EPOS”) processing, in-house credit authorisation and support, a district manager information system and constant connectivity for all retail locations for data communications including e-mail. The EPOS system updates sales, in-house credit and perpetual inventory replenishment systems throughout the day for each store. The store communications system was upgraded to broadband during 2007/08. The implementation of broadband store communication will allow further improvements to the division’s systems to be made.
Signet US is required to comply with numerous US federal and state laws and regulations covering areas such as consumer protection, consumer privacy, consumer credit, consumer credit insurance, truth in advertising and employment legislation. Management endeavours to monitor changes in these laws to ensure that its practices comply with applicable requirements.