“He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine… A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”
– Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
For decades the traveling salesman was the backbone of our industry. They were the consummate middlemen, representing other people’s products to retailers. Going store to store with a case full of goods the salesmen would bring new products and designs, a selection of coloured stones, or a diamond wallet into the store. They earned their commissions by providing personalized service. Each had their specialty and area of expertise. Along with the goods for sale, these road warriors brought their product knowledge and news of the industry. They helped the retailer stay educated and informed.
Having a good diamond broker was essential to running a retail store. A retailer needs a steady supply of melee and centre stones. The broker could search or work with other brokers to fill particular request for a customer. Building a strong relationship with a diamond broker was vital to growing a retail jewellery business.
Modern communication and logistics made road warriors obsolete. The smart ones jumped on the electronic bandwagon early in the game, communicating with clients via e-mail or joining private industry trading platforms like Polygon and Rapnet. It made their job safer and more efficient. They could expand their area of business without leaving their office. They were on the cutting edge of the industry.
However this sword of progress was double edged. Easy communication within industry forums brought easy price comparisons. Expanded territories meant more dealers to choose from. High quality imagery, videos and video chats made showing the product dynamic and interesting. Information and industry news are available at the click of a mouse.
As competition grew, the margins for the middlemen shrank. In order to survive they offered long term memos, at least getting their goods into the showcases where they had a chance to sell. But even that backfired. Retailers certainly enjoyed having a full diamond case with no investment but when it came time for that special call…they went online instead of calling their dealer. The selection and prices were better and the stone would arrive overnight.
The final blow came when the major diamond dealers discovered that an online retail transaction was actually easier and less costly than wholesale. The same diamond database they use to upload inventory to the industry wholesale platforms could be used for retail as well. Some built their own websites while others turned to online search platforms like Bluenile and Pricescope. Stiff competition drove selling prices down below the original wholesale lists. And why not? The dealer gets paid before the stone ships. No memos, no terms, no begging for payment. The only catch is they must offer no-questions-asked returns, usually for 30 days. This is no big deal. It’s like a 30 day memo with zero risk. The money is already in the bank.
There are still a few road warriors out there. They are the ones that travel the world to find interesting jewellery, rare stones and unusual items. These holdouts do it more for the passion than just the profits. Treat them well, they are a vanishing breed.