When Cupid Strikes

Peter W Beck Company

Need a clue? Well, if you were ever married, you probably exchanged rings. Wedding rings; the speciality of the Peter W Beck Company, Australia’s market leader in precious metal products and an export leader in manufacturing and marketing of wedding rings and precious metal services across the Australian and New Zealand jewellery industries.

The Peter W Beck Company was founded in 1976 by the eponymous Peter, who says, “We understand that we are the largest privately owned gold refiner in Australia. This is the origin of the business and both finished-product and precious metal services were designed to dovetail off each other and support each other.” Trading in precious metals complements the retail business. Rings and bangles for bride and groom – made to order for the most part – are sold through jewellers throughout the continent.

While many might be surprised that marriage itself survives in this day and age, let alone the custom (that began with those far-off Pharaohs) of giving a ring, Becks’ marketing manager Laura Sawade assured Business in Focus that business is indeed brisk and that marriages are happening more than ever. But, “people are changing what they buy and the way in which they get married – it might not be the traditional yellow gold band and classic church wedding, but people are very definitely still getting married.”

The company supplies a very wide range of wedding rings – more than 4,500 designs from lightweight simple bands to heavy diamond-set pieces – and, supplying any jeweller in the country, aims to meet the needs of customers at any price point. “Our designs are extremely flexible, so a single design may be available anywhere from 1mm to 12mm in width,” Laura explains. Some product is sold under the Beck brand, launched three years ago to complement its strategy of supplying as a wholesaler to the retail outlets, as well as to “build awareness of our product and to continue to drive consumers into stores.” It remains the option of the store whether it uses the Beck name or not. Laura says there are representatives and client services managers in every state as well as in New Zealand, where the brand is extremely popular.

Today the point-of-sale materials and merchandise displays are also complemented by an online presence. Laura does not foresee the latter ever taking the place of the traditional visit to the store, although “as an industry this is one of our biggest challenges at the moment,” despite the obvious disadvantage for the customer of losing out on the traditional romantic in-store scene. “This is one of the most important pieces of jewellery anyone will wear in their life; it defines so many things in your life.”

There is some trend toward purchasing jewellery and diamonds online, however, and Laura is keen to try to refocus the public on the in-store experience. If staff are suitably trained (and Becks provides comprehensive schooling for any retailer in how to guide the choice of newly engaged couples successfully), this experience should always be a positive one.

Where modern shopping methods come to the aid of all parties is in the ordering process. The retailer typically holds a stock of popular designs and patterns for sizing and customising the chosen design (with a special engraved message, for instance). That order is then processed electronically and dispatched with haste because as Laura points out, once ordered, the couple wants their rings as swiftly as possible. Indeed, perhaps surprisingly, quite a substantial proportion of purchasers come into the ‘urgent’ category. “When it comes to weddings, quite often we have retailers call us and say they have a couple in-store who are getting married this weekend and need their ring urgently. It happens a lot and we turn it round as fast as possible. Regardless of what we have to do, we will always get it to them in time for their wedding day. It’s a very important piece of jewellery so we have to get it right.”

Pride in being all-Australian in both ownership and product permeates the company in an age when imports in every sector threaten domestic manufacturing. Becks is proud, and customers can rest assured, that the company’s products meet Australia’s impeccable standards. The happy couple and the retailer value the home-grown quality, says Laura. “Retailers are often asked where products come from; consumers generally want to know more about the products’ origins and background, and I think that is where our strength lies.”

Peter Beck began his career, you might say, as a ‘one-man band’ – by selling tools and then small amounts of metal. As a self-taught ring-maker, refiner and caster, he then graduated to making rings in his spare time, down in the basement in the evenings and selling them during the day. He is still very much involved day to day and travels to all the major conferences and congresses for the industry. “We invest in the philosophy of lean manufacturing and designing processes to ensure efficiencies in production, where the end result is greater customer and consumer satisfaction,” he explains. It is also his philosophy to support apprenticeships in the industry, TAFEs and jewellery schools across the country in order to promote and renew the skills needed to continue producing products locally.

In September 2012, the business tried something new and exhibited at the Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair – one of the world’s biggest with some 1,600 exhibitors of manufacturing and 1,900 exhibitors of finished products. The company went in, says Laura, “with no expectations, just to see how our products would fare and what the reaction would be. It was amazingly positive and we were thrilled; we realised our Australian heritage was one of the biggest draw-cards for our product, which we found reassuring.”

Significantly, she says the products themselves were received as being of “ridiculously high quality” by buyers from Europe, the US and Asia alike. Encouraged, the company plans further forays into the export pool, buoyed by its Australian-ness. Many of the products are not dissimilar to those available in Europe (though even the Europeans at the Hong Kong show found them “exotic”), but the point of difference compared to what is generally available in Asian markets is quite marked, she adds.

Becks also has a thriving precious metals services division which produces metal for the manufacturing jeweller. “We sell gold and other precious metals and we are regarded as Australia’s largest privately owned gold refiner. We also cast precious metals for manufacturing jewellers and anyone else who wants quality castings.” The company is happy to produce a wide variety of castings and will manufacture from waxes, moulds, even files where necessary – medallions, say, or belt buckles. Speed is usually appreciated. “We can usually cast the next day.”

The ring and trading businesses are quite distinct, although with obvious overlap, and each accounts for roughly half of the company’s total turnover. It’s incidentally a hedge against volatile gold prices, if the price is high and ring sales drop or vice versa. Everything is manufactured in the headquarters in Adelaide (the company also has offices in Brisbane and Perth), and Becks also has the inestimable advantage of being able to produce rings in any karat that anyone might require, which appealed to many European buyers at the Hong Kong show.

Being a refiner as well as a manufacturer, Becks can refine to whatever alloy without worrying about limitations of minimum quantities or wastage that manufacturers buying in their gold would face. “If Saudi Arabia wants 22 karat, we can make it; if Malaysia only stocks 14 karat, we can make 14 karat gold.”

The export side is “the icing on the cake,” says Laura – the domestic business will always remain the priority. In the home market, there is a noticeable trend toward various ‘grey’ metals – palladium is growing in popularity as well as platinum. “With the gold price so high these days, platinum doesn’t seem so expensive,” Laura points out. Even titanium is gaining ground with customers who are attracted by its light weight and comfort.

The last word goes to founder and Managing Director, Peter Beck. “It is a constant honour,” he says, “to be able to provide our customers with their wedding rings, to be a part of the special day and be a symbol of their marriage for years to come.”

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October 21, 2018, 11:46 AM AEDT