Local Web site developer Bizzuka Inc. is part of a joint partnership with National Jeweler, the leading trade magazine covering the jewelry industry, and Lafayette-based Stuller Inc. to produce e-commerce Web sites for independent jewelry retailers. The program, branded as National Jeweler Network - CustomerConnect, allows independent jewelers to be more competitive with larger online retailers.

“The only double digit growth in the jewelry industry over the past few years has been online, a space independent jewelers have yet to occupy with any degree of success,” says Bizzuka CEO John Munsell. “The goal of this partnership is to change that dynamic and give small independents a fighting chance against sites like Blue Nile, Zales and Amazon. It’s truly a David vs. Goliath story. This partnership gives the little guys affordable access to capabilities that for the first time make them competitive with the giants in their industry.”

Stuller Inc. is one of the world’s leading jewelry manufacturers, and an independent retailer selling the local company’s jewelry would be able to add thousands of Stuller products to its site with the click of the mouse, including professional photography, descriptions, pricing using the jeweler’s custom markups and more. Not only can jewelers mine Stuller’s exhaustive inventory, but they can also add their own inventory. In a later version of the software, inventory from other jewelry manufacturers will be included.

The partnership between Bizzuka, Stuller and National Jeweler has been in the works for two years. “For the vast majority of small, independent jewelers out there in America, this will open the door to e-commerce selling at a minimal cost,” says P.J. Naomi of Paul’s Jewelry, a longtime indie jeweler with two Lafayette locations. “I think it’s going to be highly successful.”

Additionally, National Jeweler will make available to the jewelers’ sites its content — a library of more than 200 search engine optimized articles directed toward the end-user that cover the gamut from educational and technical topics to fashion and season advice. Jewelers are given editorial ownership over the content to alter or localize it as they see fit.

After 29 years, Frosts leave mall, cosmetics business


No matter how much the retail landscape changed over the years, there were two familiar faces you could count on: the mother-daughter team at Merle Norman in the Mall of Acadiana. “We’re like a dinosaur,” says Jan Frost Williams, who along with her mother, Gloria, has been a fixture at the mall for the past three decades — since before construction on the center was even complete.

“There wasn’t anything around [the mall],” Gloria says. “It was dirt; everything was undeveloped. Ambassador Caffery was a two-lane.”

In early June, Gloria Frost sold her successful Merle Norman store to Robert and Sylvia Perez of Lafayette for an undisclosed sum.

Gloria actually sold the Merle Norman location in the mid-1980s and ran a Benetton store in the mall, buying it back several years later; along with Chick-fil-A, she was the mall’s most tenured tenant. The Mall of Acadiana Merle Norman store has been one of highest producing in the chain, which has about 2,000 independently owned and operated stores in the United States and Canada. Frost Merle Norman was No. 1 in sales in 2001 and No. 2 in 2000. It continues to rank in the Los Angeles-based chain’s top 10.

Gloria Frost says the sale marks her retirement.

“I’m not really sure,” Jan says of her future. “I’m going to take a week off, [and then] I’m available if anybody wants me.”

Drilling ban lift ‘quickest’ supply remedy

Chris John of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association believes lifting the ban on offshore drilling could help remedy the nation’s energy crisis and further boost Louisiana’s economy. “Lifting it is the quickest way on the supply side to have the biggest impact,” John says. “We’re drilling right on that line; we have the infrastructure to support that,” he says. “[Lifting the ban] affects the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific coasts — all federal waters that are now under drilling moratorium. It would have a huge impact on Louisiana because of the Gulf.”

At a June 18 press conference in the Rose Garden, President Bush did an about-face on his — and his family’s — longstanding position supporting a ban on offshore drilling. The move comes in the wake of $4-a-gallon gas, a heated issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. The president has a growing number of Republicans lining up with him, though the proposal faces tough opposition from some Republicans who represent coastal states and Democrats — not to mention environmentalists who are equally miffed at one-time ally Sen. John McCain’s U-turn on the issue. The day before Bush’s press conference McCain proposed opening federal coastal waters to energy exploration.

Sen. Barack Obama immediately fired back that McCain had flip-flopped and given in to the oil industry.

Since 1981, a congressional moratorium has prohibited oil and gas drilling along the east and west coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, an area accounting for some 80 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf. In part, the federal ban was enacted to protect tourism and decrease the chance of oil spills washing onto beaches.

Mid-Continent’s John says there are actually two bans on offshore drilling in federal waters — a congressional ban and one done by executive order. Bush is urging Congress to pass legislation that would lift the congressional moratorium; if Congress does so, he will reverse the executive order. “It can’t happen unless they are both lifted,” notes John.

Bush has long advocated opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling and in 2006 signed into law a bill that expanded exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. The issue of coastal drilling, however, has been touchy for the Bush family; the president’s father signed an executive order in 1990 banning coastal oil exploration, and brother Jeb was an outspoken opponent of offshore drilling when he was governor of Florida.

Florida’s Republican governor, Charlie Crist, now says he also favors an end to the ban.

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