illennials continue to confound jewelry retailers in their quest for engagement rings. They spend months researching rings and they say they want custom design, but they want it fast. They follow trends, but want something unique and personal. They research online, but they want a memorable experience when it’s time to buy.

Millennials are not some mythical bugaboo or fringe population, says millennial marketing consultant Benjamin Smithee; they are now your customers to win or to lose. Setting yourself apart from the competition has never been more important to your success, especially in the wedding jewelry segment, where millennials have made it clear they want their rings to be as singular as their own personal style.

Smithee says jewelry doesn’t define this generation; they define their jewelry: “They tend to think, “Because I am this, that’s why I’m buying this.” That makes it necessary to move your sales pitch away from features and benefits.

Jennifer Gandia, owner of Greenwich St. Jewelers in Manhattan, switched the store’s focus to engagement and wedding 10 years ago, and it now represents as much as 80 percent of the business. Although her engagement customers want customization, they also expect instant gratification. “We’re finding an overwhelming request for rings that they can walk out the door with that day, but they still want them to be unique and still want them to speak to them.” Here are seven examples of jewelers who are standing out from the crowd with their approach to inventory, marketing and experience.

A client works with goldsmith Patrick Dobbs to create and refine her own wedding band.

Make Your Own Wedding Band Experience

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Offering CAD design of wedding rings was a cool feature that had become so commonplace for Dianna Rae, she decided to return to basics and allow customers to be involved in every aspect of creating their bands at Dianna Rae Jewelry in Lafayette, LA.

Hands-on participation represents added value to millennials, who put a premium on experiences and handcrafted items.

“More and more millennials are becoming used to computer-aided design,” Rae says. “If you don’t do it, you’re almost behind the times. But now there is a real trend where it’s going back to Old World craftsmanship and goldsmithing. Inviting our customers to make their own wedding bands was a natural thing for us to add.”

Several clients had asked to watch in-house goldsmith and jewelry designer Patrick Dobbs make their bands. Now they are invited to imagine, create and refine their wedding bands in any way that they’d like, including coming to the design studio after hours to work with Dobbs. With his guidance, couples use tools to melt, roll and form the metal they choose into a ring. The process begins with raw material and ends with a handcrafted ring three or four hours later, as well as a champagne toast and a mini-celebration.

Of course, the process is documented on film and still photography.

“It’s all about the process and the fact they get to do it together as a couple,” Rae says. “One of our customers wrote this long letter to us about how it was so symbolic because they were forging their lives together. It was so poetic. It was a second marriage for both of them, and it wasn’t about the money or the ring, but it was about forging a new life together.”

 
More and more millennials are becoming used to computer-aided design.”
Dianna Rae, Dianna Rae Jewelry, Lafayette, LA

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Lance Buttars, owner of Molinelli’s Jewelers, Pocatello, ID, says for years he has “hung his hat” on an exclusive bridal room where a couple could select an engagement ring in an intimate setting. It’s an advantage over less private shopping environments, Buttars says, because “you never know who might be seeing you and stealing your thunder by texting their friends.”

The drawback, though, was that Buttars could accommodate only one couple at a time in the bridal room. There also wasn’t room for all of the inventory, because another thing Buttars likes to hang his hat on is his selection of 1,000 engagement ring styles.

So in 2014, Buttars completed a $1.1 million, 21-month, two-phase renovation and expansion of the historical, 98-year-old building, bringing the 2,000-square-foot space to 5,500 square feet. Sixty linear feet of showcases were tripled to 180. “Go big or go home,” he says.

Other local vendors participate in a bridal package of special offers for the soonto-be-wed couple.

The new store was designed around a spacious bridal room with a semi-private wall around it, trimmed elegantly in cherry. A huge selection of rings can be viewed through comfortable, sitdown cases lighted with LEDs. A wall covering provides texture and depth, and the big, oval case has about 80 linear feet of case space. A refreshment center adds to the relaxed ambience.


Our focus and goals are to be the destination for all things bridal.”
Lance Buttars, Molinelli’s Jewelers, Pocatello, ID

Buttars also has bolstered his wedding business with a bridal package, which is a collection of offers from other vendors involved in everything that comes post-engagement — formal wear, photographers, catering, cakes, lodging and restaurants. “Everybody was interested in being involved because this steers a prequalified customer in their direction,” he says. Buttars pays for the cost of a bridal package brochure and asks participants to provide an offer that is a little better than anything else they do. So, when a couple spends $1,500 or more on a ring, they also qualify for a bridal package that has potentially $8,000 worth of goods and services in it, including refinishing and rhodium-plating a wedding set twice a year as long as they own it.

Buttars’ strategy has paid off. Since he purchased the store in 2005, he’s grown the business from $600,000 gross sales to well over $2 million. “Our focus and goals are to be the destination for all things bridal.”

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At Single Stone San Marino in San Marino, CA, owner Corina Madilian and her staff deliver a “congratulatory box” to the bride-to-be, filled with everything she might need, after they confirm that the proposal and engagement went as planned. “We’re trying to get clients back into the store for bands, since we don’t sell sets,” says Danielle Delgado, marketing and advertising coordinator. “It’s a way to keep Single Stone in their heads.”

Corina Madilian, Single Stone San Marino, San Marino, CA

Single Stone’s downtown location is entirely about wedding and engagement. The San Marino store has a mix of the Single Stone wedding line and other designers’ jewelry. All of it is vintage inspired and made with vintage diamonds or other precious stones. The gift box — which is a surprise — contains an issue of Flutter Magazine, chocolates, a leather-bound journal perfect for keeping track of wedding details, the store’s branded organic jewelry cleaner and a gift certificate for a manicure, as well as discount cards for photo sessions, a band and catering.

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At Gage Diamonds in Chicago’s River North Gallery District, sales associates prepare for bridal appointments with displays selected and arranged at the main showcase specifically for that customer. When someone calls to make an appointment or engages in a live chat on the store’s website, associates make notes of what shape and size of diamond they are interested in, as well as what type of setting they mention. Generally, if budget hasn’t come up yet, they’ll select and show diamonds ranging in size from half a carat to a carat and a half. They might also include inspirational photos that a customer has shown them via email or live chat. They don’t overwhelm them with choices.

“Customers respond better when we don’t come right out and ask about budget,” says Jessica Nowak, operations manager. “As the appointment progresses, they tend to allude to the budget without our having to ask.”

“We try to make it a personalized, enjoyable shopping experience, to get a feel for what their thoughts are and take the time to get to know them throughout the process.”

Dustin Mauldin Gage, Gage Diamonds, Chicago, IL

The sales philosophy is based on patience. Although some customers purchase a readyto-go ring on day one, others require three appointments, or even half a dozen, if they are considering custom design. After the first appointment, each client is given a written proposal to remind them of the ring they like and the price of that ring. “We’ve been converting a lot of sales that way,” Nowak says. If they walk out, no one panics. “They might go shop around at a few other places, but they usually come back,” Nowak says. “We price our stones competitively.”

Appointment requests come via phone, but also via live chat, a feature that’s monitored by an employee whenever the store is open. “Sometimes we end up being someone’s personal shopper through live chat,” Nowak says, “and they really respond well to that. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had three to four sales just from the live chat feature.”

The website also features 360-degree view images of diamonds in stock, which has led to purchases from far-flung destinations, including California, Austin, TX, and Miami, recently.

One key search phrase that leads shoppers to the website is “engagement ring financing.” Gage Diamonds offers 0 percent interest financing based on a 12-month loan. Shoppers who don’t have a perfect credit score can finance 50 percent of the purchase price. Others may qualify for 100 percent financing over 12 months.

Gerald Amerosi Jr., Jerry Amerosi, Peter Amerosi of Gerald Peters in Staten Island, NY

Perfect Proposal and a High Rate
of Return

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The crew at Gerald Peters of Staten Island, NY, loves hearing the creative, romantic and sometimes funny proposal stories newly engaged clients share with them so much, they decided to create a Perfect Proposal series online to give those stories a wider audience. It’s turned into the most popular feature of their website, geraldpetersinc.com, and the store’s Facebook page, too, amassing tens of thousands of clicks for each story. The clients who share their stories appreciate it as well, because they can easily be shared with family and friends.

The series has created a buzz on Staten Island, with couples hoping they will be chosen next, and readers begging for more. “We get a lot of positive feedback for it,” says Samantha Cillo, art director for the company, who interviews the couples and writes the stories — a part of her job she particularly enjoys.

The Perfect Proposal series online has clients hoping they will be chosen next.

Featuring photos of happy customers wearing their beautiful new engagement rings from Gerald Peters creates a deeper connection with prospective customers than showing photos of products alone. People in the photos are often someone they know or can at least relate to. And stories help young couples imagine their own proposal experiences. Millennials tend to value experience over stuff, studies show.

Gerald Peters, naturally, has a high rate of return when engaged couples are shopping for wedding bands. Sharing proposal and engagement stories helps to develop a deeper relationship with the store and its associates.

 
The Shotgun Wedding Promotion

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This wouldn’t work just anywhere, say Ann and Joe Thacker, but offering a Remington 12-gauge shotgun or a Winchester rifle with the purchase of an engagement ring has led to quite a few precipitous proposals and noteworthy purchases at Thacker Jewelry in Lubbock, TX.

Grooms-to-be receive a free shotgun with purchase of an engagement ring.


Most of the brides enjoy it very much.”
Ann & Joe Thacker, Thacker Jewelry, Lubbock, TX

“To people in this part of the country, it’s definitely a motivator,” Joe Thacker says. “Most of the brides enjoy it very much; they are finally getting him to buy the engagement ring, so they are pretty excited. The last time we did it, we sold 36 wedding sets over that weekend, which meant we gave away that many shotguns. If a guy’s a hunter and he’s thinking of getting married in six months to a year, he does go ahead and buy because of that promotion.”

Most of the business comes in response to memorable, tongue-in-cheek TV and radio commercials. Minimum jewelry purchase is about $3,000.

“Our commercial this year will be set in one of the amazing sunflower fields here on the plains,” Ann says. “Our hunter will pop up from the field with his new gun, and then his bride to be will follow — being typically annoyed — until he drops to one knee and proposes with the engagement ring and they live happily ever after. Stay tuned!”

Layna Friedman’s colorful designs attract celebrities and trend-setters alike.

 
Make Them Feel Famous

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At her Beverly Hills, CA, location, Layna Friedman says the relationships she has built with her clientele, as well as her creativity and passion, are what keep her business thriving. Throw some color into the mix, don’t be afraid to think out of the design box, and do your best to connect with local celebrities and trend-setters. About 70 percent of business at Alan Friedman Co. is custom bridal, and the average center stone in an engagement ring over 1 carat.

The business is focused on natural color diamonds — often yellow and pink — and other gemstones. Rubies and sapphires are on her clients’ wish lists, as well. “Especially the second time around, women want something unique in their engagement rings,” Friedman says. “I’m so passionate about using color and natural color diamonds that I get my clients excited about it and I open a door to them that has not been open before.”

Play with existing trends, too. “We’ve done so many halos of colors,” she says. “And I love the look; it probably won’t ever go away. Pink diamonds, yellow or white — double halos can give it a very fun look as well.”

While Alan Friedman Co. does have a wholesale side, Layna Friedman’s heart is in custom design. She makes house calls for clients she knows well — celebrity or not — who might be too busy to come to her. “I consider all of my clients VIPs, but some clients require a little more attention than others,” she says. “I like to sit with the client and get as much information as I can about their dream piece of jewelry.”

 
I’m so passionate about using color and natural color diamonds, I get my clients excited.”
Layna Friedman, Alan Friedman Co., Beverly Hills, CA

14 Tips to Capture Millennial Shoppers

OFFER CUSTOMIZATION. 41 percent of shoppers want to customize their engagement rings. Custom might mean choosing the diamond and the setting separately, says Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts. Or changing the color of the diamond, or opting for rose gold instead of white.


MAKE IT SPECIAL. Use the words “unique,” “special” and “one of a kind” in every sales presentation, says Jason Dorsey, generational expert and author of Y-Size Your Business. The worst thing you can do is make a millennial think he or she is going to look like everyone else.


DO SOCIAL RIGHT. “Doing” social media doesn’t really count if you’re just posting blurry photos of engagement rings reflecting glare, Benjamin Smithee says. Use staging materials such as geodes, fabric swatches or scraps of granite and wood.


THINK BIG. The maturing of first-time brides accounts for the trend toward bigger diamonds, says Kate Peterson, citing a survey by Synchrony Financial.


BE A PAL. A guy shopping for a diamond ring needs a coconspirator, says Steve Feldman, sales trainer for Hasenfeld-Stein. “This guy is desperate and he’s standing in your store. Instill confidence in him that you are the right person to talk to at this critical time in his life.”


ENCOURAGE QUESTIONS. When a millennial asks a question, say “Wow, that’s a great question. Have you done some research online? I can tell.”


GIVE THEM THE VIP INTRO. Introduce yourself, and then say, “I’d like to introduce you to (X Associate).” Dorsey says that millennials’ trust goes up dramatically when a team is working with them.


DO GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF. In the selling process, jump to the end and paint a picture of the outcome; show them how great their lives will be once they’ve made an engagement ring purchase. Dorsey maintains that millennials are “massively compliant” buyers if you show them the outcome first.


LET THE GUYS BE CREATIVE. While Lashbrook has 500 standard SKUs on its website, the company has made 12,000 styles of rings based on customer designs, says Travis Isaacson, VP of sales and marketing. Of those special orders, 71 percent were made just once.


TAG. YOU’RE IT. Say, “How about I use your phone to take a picture of you with your new purchase?” They’ll never say no if it’s their own phone. Then say, “Hey, if you’d like, feel free to tag us on the photo if you share it.”


ANSWER THE HARD QUESTIONS. 90 percent of engagement ring customers who come into Jennifer Gandia’s store, Greenwich St. Jewelers, ask if the diamonds are ethically sourced or if the metals are recycled. Gandia asks the same questions of her suppliers and is very transparent about what she learns.


CONVERT THE GROOMS. Do you have guy customers who ask their significant others, “Do I really need to wear a wedding band?” Isaacson says materials such as meteorite or hardwoods often intrigue previously bored grooms. “They’ll say, ‘I can wear an ethically sourced tree on my finger?’ or ‘I can’t believe I’m wearing a piece of space!’”


BE A DESTINATION. Jewelry stores have got to be reimagined to encourage guests to hang out. You want them to take photos, use your free wifi and drink your free coffee, Smithee says.

10 Simple Sales Tips
from Alan Berg

Alan Berg, speaker, author, coach and consultant, has been called North America’s leading expert on the business of weddings.

1. It’s OK to ask yes or no questions, but only when it doesn’t matter what the answer is (“Have you ever bought a diamond before?”) or when you know what the answer will be (“Are you looking for a high quality diamond?”). But in general, ask open-ended questions so your presentation doesn’t come to an abrupt halt.

2. Shut up. Stop talking and really listen.

3. Realize that the simple act of walking into your store is a buying signal.

4. Never bad-mouth a competitor.

5. Sell the outcome, not the process. Don’t show a picture of your store or of a ring on the homepage of your website. Instead, show people who have come to your store and gotten married wearing your engagement ring and are raving about the shopping experience.

6. Gently encourage add-on sales and a continuing relationship by asking, “Would it make sense to order your rings now? Would it make sense to buy gifts for the bridal party?”

7. Give them two ring choices and then force a decision. Say “Which one is it going to be? I know you love them both so much!”

8. Watch their body language. If they are crossing their arms, they’re not very receptive to what you have to say. Get them to uncross their arms by giving them something to hold. It will change their attitude.

9. Every time someone says something nice, ask for a review. One in five couples will write a review when you ask. One in three will do it if you remind them at least once.

10. Don’t give them more information than they want or need. Ask “Do you know about white metals?” instead of launching into a lecture about white metals. If they say, `Yes, I definitely want platinum,” you’ve saved some time.

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