Michael Schechter

June 7, 2023

What Jewelers Can Learn From Nintendo

What independent jewelers can learn from one of the most successful video game and entertainment companies of all time.

I know what you’re thinking right now… “what could a video game company, especially one that prominently features a plumber who is endlessly trying to rescue a princess from a dinosaur-like-turtle, possibly have to do with the challenges I’m facing in my luxury jewelry business”. But there are a few things you probably don’t know about Nintendo…

When talking about Nintendo’s origins, you probably think about the 1980s, about Donkey Kong, about the Nintendo Entertainment System and, of course, about Mario. But Nintendo’s actual origins were in the 1880s, starting as a playing card company, pivoting to a toy company in the 1960s, venturing into arcade games in the 1970s, and evolving into the video game leader we know today starting in the 1980s. 

Like many multi-generational jewelry companies, Nintendo has had to regularly rethink itself over its history, starting as a traditional consumer goods business and inevitably growing into a digital gaming pioneer. And has succeeded by largely keeping the core values that have driven the company for over 130 years intact, while regularly changing the business to adapt to current customer desires.

Like many independent jewelers, it’s also a family business of sorts (at least it was for the first 113 years). The company was founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi. His son-in-law, Sekiryo Kaneda took over in 1929 (and took on the Yamauchi name, as is common with the succession of many Japanese businesses). The company saw its greatest success with Hiroshi Yamauchi who ran the company from 1949 to 2002. Hiroshi took the company in unimaginable new directions while still maintaining the playful spirit that has helped Nintendo succeed since the late 1800s.

So what does this have to do with your business? Many jewelers are quite a bit like Nintendo. They have a long and storied history. They started in the traditional world, evolved over several decades to meet the needs of subsequent generations. They found success in their markets and developed their unique story. And as is the case now with many local jewelers, they struggled at times to compete with cutting edge competitors.

Despite remaining top of mind in the world of gaming, the company struggled starting in the late ‘90s all the way into the early 2000s. Like many jewelers who are struggling to find a successful way forward as digital becomes more and more relevant to all of our businesses, Nintendo experienced a significant disruption as new technologies and new larger players (like Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox) emerged. At one point it wasn’t clear that the company would find a way to compete, but Nintendo inevitably found a way to reemerge as a digital leader. At first with the introduction of the Wii, which opened the video game market to new consumers, young and old. And most recently with the Switch, a gaming platform that has continued to evolve both home and handheld gaming.

Nintendo did this all in a manner that embraced their core strengths and brand values. They did so without fighting battles they could not possibly hope to win against better funded competitors. And without betting on bleeding edge technology.

How did they do this? And why is it relevant to you? Right now, many jewelers are still trying to figure out how to compete on the web, and are just starting to consider what an omni-channel approach to their business should look like. Many follow the latest startups and look to industry leaders, like Signet, who are successfully undergoing a digital transformation. All while wondering how to apply some of these possibilities to their own business. But that’s not how Nintendo reemerged as a leader, and it’s unlikely many jewelers will succeed by following these examples either.

How Nintendo has continually evolved has a lot to teach jewelers, especially those who are finding it harder and harder to compete with larger players. Anyone who has ever looked at a Nintendo game or console and compared it to their competitors can tell they are playing an entirely different kind of game. That’s entirely by design. There’s a reason Nintendo doesn’t have the best graphics or the fastest consoles. They know they can’t compete with higher tech and better capitalized competitors like Sony and Microsoft. Instead, they play an entirely different game. One that focuses on their strengths.

One of keys to Nintendo’s continual ability to win is their core philosophy, “Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō” (which translates roughly into Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology). "Seasoned technology" refers to a mature technology which is affordable and well known. While "Lateral thinking" imagines new and unexpected ways of leveraging said technology. You can see this far more simplistic approach across Nintendo’s history, from the original Nintendo Entertainment System’s four button controller with a simple directional pad, to the original black and white Gameboy, to the noticeably lower-resolution graphics on their modern systems like the Wii and Switch. Rather than obsessing over being the best, Nintendo focused on being fun. 

Consider how emerging technology can help your business, but focus way more on fundamentals that amplify your own strengths. Does your site and social presence tell your story? Does it tell customers why they should choose you? Does it clearly share the most important brands and categories you sell? And does it make it easy for customers to find your store or make an appointment? Take a page from Nintendo and take a lateral approach. Think less about how your digital presence can convert online customers and more about how it can drive them to your more seasoned experience… your store.

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About Michael Schechter

Hi there! I’m Michael Schechter, a third-generation, lifelong jeweler. I’ve spent most of my life and career at the crossroads of fine jewelry and emerging technology. Subscribe to receive weekly advice for jewelers struggling with new possibilities online and in store.