Rapaport Magazine


By Marc Goldstein
HRD Makes New Moves

Serge Couvreur, who took over the position as head of the HRD Antwerp lab 18 months ago, is focused on increasing the global presence, influence and activities of the lab. “I intend to make HRD Antwerp the second major certificates lab worldwide,” he said in an exclusive interview with Rapaport Magazine recently.
   Why second? “Let’s be realistic. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) is number one and it is universally perceived as such,” Couvreur explained. “It was launched earlier and its roots run deep in its local market, the U.S., which still today accounts for 35 percent of its global sales. GIA also has been able to capitalize on its cash reserves to expand internationally by opening branches around the world. Let’s not forget that opening branches is a very capital-intensive move. In addition, GIA has been a visionary in being first to go after the Chinese and Indian markets and it’s done so with an excellent education strategy that aims at creating ambassadors for GIA” from among those students it trains.
Couvreur’s global interest has been a significant change for HRD Antwerp. “For decades, it was decided that HRD Antwerp was to remain European focused,” he said. “This was a decision dictated by market conditions that were completely different from conditions today — even opposed to what we have now.”

Single Focus Goes Deep
   HRD Antwerp’s focus on a single market admittedly caused loss of market share in non-European markets but, Couvreur said, “This concentration of capital and energy in a single place allowed us to develop far deeper our technology, our consistency and the quality of our services. Those are our most significant advantages — and our strongest selling points in our efforts to establish a worldwide presence. Assets such as these can’t always be developed as effectively if you are too spread out globally.”
   In addition to those three advantages for HRD Antwerp, Couvreur cited the International Diamond Council (IDC) guidelines. The guidelines were established jointly by the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA). “HRD Antwerp is the only international lab in the world to scrupulously follow those rules,” said Couvreur. “We intend to be totally transparent. This is a very significant advantage for those it is our mission to protect: the diamantaire buyers and the end users. Our role is to make sure that what you buy is what you get.”
   Couvreur said the importance of the IDC guidelines is that they are managed externally. “This represents a huge difference,” he noted. “When you function with your own rules, you always have more freedom and more flexibility. It’s inevitable.”

A Retail Background
   Couvreur has an unusual background to run HRD Antwerp. He majored in marketing in college, spent 25 years in retail positions in the music and movie industries and has extensive experience marketing directly to consumers. He had no background in the diamond industry when named to the position and claimed no established professional network in the industry.
   “We need to make our strengths known to the consumers. Our geographic presence must increase, not only through television ads and consumer publicity, but even more by developing partnerships with retailers. The goal is to maximize both partners’ growth — the retailer’s and HRD Antwerp’s,” Couvreur explained. “I think that’s where my retail management background will help. We need to convince both offline and online buyers” of our value and expertise.
   The early changes at HRD Antwerp under Couvreur’s leadership have been in restructuring. Toward that goal, he said, “we have transformed the inherited HRD Antwerp structure — which was basically a nonprofit organization — into a business- and customer-oriented company. To do that, we’ve been working on four fronts: cost management; reorganization — 71 percent of our employees, staff and members of the board of directors are new people on average and more countries are represented on the board— pursuing and improving the quality of our services and, of course, the fourth front is growth.”

Up Next
   The next stage for HRD Antwerp will be international growth, which will unfold in phases. The initial phase will consist of consolidating the existing lab facilities, namely Antwerp and Mumbai. In a second phase, which could be initiated as early as 2016, the plan is to open lab offices in other cities and countries.
   “We’ve been traveling all across the world recently, and we’ve discovered that our reputation is such that it shouldn’t be too difficult to regain market shares,” concludes Couvreur. “The HRD Antwerp brand is a tremendous tool to open B-to-B discussions and negotiations. That is notwithstanding the fact that wherever we go, we get the same message: There’s a real will to support a second world-class lab to balance the monopoly of GIA. Monopolies are always bad for consumers.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2014. To subscribe click here.

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