Zale Corp. vs. Signet: One Tested…The Other Didn’t…Look At The Dramatically Different Results
Ann Zimmerman and Kris Hudson reported a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that describes the dramatically different results of two very large mass market jewelers – Zale Corp. and Signet. Zale’s jewelry division is headquartered in Texas. Signet which owns Kay’s Jewelers and Jarid is based in the UK. Both companies target market share in the huge U.S. market.
If you are in business, you must read the papers and magazines that deliver lessons and ideas that will help you. A quick review of the articles I publish reveals many examples taken from publications that are used as valuable lessons. Today’s article is no different.
In direct response marketing circles there has always been a lot of attention to the importance of testing. That industry uses what is called the “control”. This is the direct mail piece that has a predictable rate of response when mailed. Once established, writers are challenged to beat the control. The best copywriters, the ones with long running controls, make a ton of money because they deliver the goods.
I was trained in retail by some of the best in the industry in the 80’s. Then I worked with fashion retail, mass merchandisers and specialty stores. The divisions of The Limited were particularly skilled at identifying fashion trends that were popular in foreign markets, replicating enough of an item for a market test and then if the tests met their expectations, they would quickly mass produce the item and fly finished production to their US distribution center where the garment would be in the stores in a matter of weeks.
Every successful retailer is constantly testing market response. Every successful internet marketer is constantly testing market response. Market testing is critical for maximizing profits at companies. So what was Zale Corp. thinking when they implemented a complete change in jewelry merchandising strategy following a lackluster Christmas selling season in 2005? I don’t know and if it has worked the story might be different. But moving from a mass market strategy to an upscale market strategy in a matter of months chain wide end in a financial disaster for Zale and possibly the end of the careers for a number of people at the company including the CEO. Signet on the other hand is following a strategy of consistently testing and modifying its product offer based on the results of the testing. They base their merchandise strategy on listening to what the consumer wants as evidenced by how they spend their money.
I have been in business long enough to know that the former CEO of Zale Corp. probably has his side of the story and it is different from the message published in the WSJ. However, the financial results of the two companies speak for themselves and reinforce the importance of testing.
The roadmap to success in business is relatively easy to follow. Every day I am working with companies who realize hire me because they know they can be doing better and need a refresher on the fundamentals of doing business. Testing is one of the fundamentals for most businesses. If you are not doing it, or if you do not have a formalized testing process in place with the details of the tests being run presented at management meetings, start now.