A Chat With Jason McNary, Global Board Member and CEO, Americas, UNOde50
Jason McNary, global board member and CEO, Americas at UNOde50, a brand of handcrafted jewelery whose hallmark is its unique and distinctive design, gives us a pulse on global trends in jewelry retail.
Avenue Code: Tell us about your personal career path. How did you get to where you are today?
Jason McNary: I started my career with Abercrombie & Fitch, working in multiple locations as I progressively advanced into leadership roles. I then joined BCBG Max Azria, where I worked in retail and then in wholesale before finding my way back to retail again. I went on to work for Calypso St. Barth as the senior vice president of retail. In this role, I managed everything related to retail and commercial, including stores, international expansion, construction, operation, and retail HR.
I was then recruited to work at Intropia, a global company based out of Madrid, where I acted as president of the Americas market. From there, I became president of North and South America at agnès b., a French fashion brand, where I developed the business in Canada and the U.S. from a wholesale and digital perspective. I was most recently recruited to UNOde50 as CEO for its American market.
AC: What challenges and opportunities have arisen for UNOde50 as a result of COVID-19?
JM: At a high level, we were impacted in three ways: we had to re-evaluate our financial positioning, decide how to maximize our liquidity, and protect the safety of our employees and consumers.
From a technical standpoint, we’ve had to look at our three-year plan and figure out how to get to year three in year one. We're investing heavily in paid social media marketing, and we’re optimizing our e-commerce platform by elevating customization offerings and implementing virtual styling. We’re also focused on expansion into Latin America and South America, where we see a big white space for marketplaces.
AC: You’ve spoken about the importance of businesses challenging themselves to live as if they’re always in a pandemic in order to accelerate growth. How do you personally create that mindset for yourself and your team?
JM: This mentality starts in our executive strategy meetings. What COVID-19 did for my team is accelerate initiatives we had tabled due to budgeting. We had to re-examine the business payoff and act quickly on whatever helped take our company to the next level. In short, the pandemic created urgency for our strategy and helped us lean on one another.
At every executive meeting, we keep two empty chairs at the table. These chairs represent the consumer and the employee. We keep these two personas at the forefront of our strategy decisions as we continue to ask ourselves how to propel the business and what we would do differently if the pandemic or another disruption was again imminent.
AC: With more and more people working remotely, we’ve seen a trend toward casual fashion. How has this affected the jewelry industry?
JM: Before COVID-19, bracelets were our best seller. Now, because people are collaborating through video meetings, we’ve seen a decline in bracelet purchases and an increase in earring purchases. Necklaces remain popular. We’re also seeing a surge in customization orders, especially among millennials and Gen Z, as more and more customers want to be involved in the design process.
AC: What trends do you see within direct to consumer (D-to-C) as a whole?
JM: I see that brands are trying to take control of their consumer and of how the brand is represented, so it will be interesting to see what happens with the wholesale model. Before the pandemic, wholesale was about 40 percent of our revenue for the American market. That has changed, of course, but I do believe the wholesale model will stay relevant to some degree.
We’ll also see the use of marketplaces becoming even more important in 2020 and beyond. Brands will be asking how to use marketplaces as a storefront for the consumer, how to use them as part of external theming, and how to form strategic partnerships, always keeping the consumer at the forefront.
AC: How do you recreate a personalized purchasing experience online for jewelry?
JM: I believe that the digital experience will evolve significantly in jewelry. For example, we’re talking with vendors about adding a virtual styling option so our customers can try jewelry on through the use of their cameras. This same technology will also become relevant offline as we work to safely reopen physical stores. Because jewelry is an intimate purchase, it was behind the apparel industry as relates to this use of artificial intelligence, but now we have an open road to innovate.
AC: We’ve seen a trend toward influencers creating their own product lines. Do you think traditional jewelry companies have to evolve and add more value to stay competitive?
JM: I think this trend is opening a door for strong collaborations between influencers and brands. While I do see the industry moving away from big celebrity collaborations, I think organic, long-term collaborations are being created when an influencer naturally loves a brand and there’s alignment in values and aesthetics.
AC: What's the key to successful strategic B-to-B partnerships?
JM: I look for common ground where both parties are interested in solving the same problem and bringing more joy to the consumer. I also look for transparency in communication on both sides. Finally, I look for brand and consumer engagement alignment. I want my partner to relate to my brand and my consumers.
AC: What's your perspective on leadership diversity? What are the best practices for organizations seeking to develop career pathways and promote talent?
JM: First and foremost, I look for diversity to be a natural part of culture. There’s always room to elevate diversity. For us at UNOde50, it isn’t a forced focus — it’s already natural in our hiring and organizational practices. With so much social unrest happening in the U.S., we were fortunate to have that diversity already built into our organization. We feel very positive about our internal processes, so we don’t feel the need to talk about them externally. People sense that value as they shop and interact with us.
AC: What advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs?
JM: I may not have said this a year ago, but my advice today is this: take care of yourself. Whether you’re taking time to exercise or to relax with your family, practicing health is important to success.
Ulyana Zilbermints is the global vice president of business development at Avenue Code, a software consultancy delivering end-to-end solutions, and providing extraordinary experiences for clients, partners and employees.