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Best of Best: Pulling Together for a Good Cause

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PULLING TOGETHER FOR A GOOD CAUSE
FRIENDLY COMPETITION TAKES TRUNK SHOW TO THE NEXT LEVEL
From left, Long Jewelers team members Jon Walp, David Long, Stacy White and Kim Kellam gather with Bergio CEO Berge Abajian at a vendor appreciation dinner held in conjunction with the trunk show.

Best of The Best: Long Jewelers, Virginia Beach, VA

OK, the food for the party didn’t show up. Regardless, almost a dozen jewelry designers and plenty of great prizes combined with hundreds of happy customers — as well as one very pleased local charity — to culminate in Long Jewelers’ best Annual Designers Trunk Show to date. “Well, there’s always room for improvement,” says general manager Jon Walp. “But then, I’m very critical. Sales-wise, it was our most successful show ever.” The two-day in-store sale and party has kicked off the holiday season at Long every year for about a decade, but for 2013, Walp changed the formula a bit.

The Idea

“We just wanted to do something to give back to the community. And we thought, frankly, that working with a charity would help involve more people, and it really did,” Walp says. The store partnered with the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, and while Walp has usually had good luck working with the various local media outlets to promote his events, tying this show to the nonprofit took the response to a new level.

The Execution

Walp made that spirit of friendly competition work for him when he was gathering prizes for the trunk show’s silent auction. “When I’m working with these advertisers, I just blanket email all of them,” he says. One local radio station responded almost immediately with a donation of two round-trip plane tickets anywhere in the continental U.S. “And the others didn’t want to be outdone, so it just snowballed.”

The prize list eventually included a trip to a college football game, a football signed by former NFL defensive end William Fuller, several travel packages including a three-night cruise and more than a few pieces of jewelry, including a pair of 21-carat sapphire earrings from designer Michael M.

“I don’t think we could have gotten the media to help out any more than they did,” Walp says.

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A banner for the food bank let customers donate to the charity by scanning a QR code that took them to a website where they could enter their payment information.

The show itself, which ran over a Wednesday and Thursday two weeks before Thanksgiving, drew a strong crowd. “There were times of the day when we were slammed,” Walp says.

The Wednesday night cocktail party for about 500 went equally smoothly — except for the moment of panic when the store realized none of the food had arrived.

“The caterer had the wrong date. The cool thing is, with my staff, I didn’t even have to worry,” he says, explaining the Long team rounded up replacement refreshments before anyone noticed.

The Rewards

The silent auction and accompanying donations raised just under $10,000 for the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia.
“They were ecstatic,” Walp says. “I think with the prizes we had, we should have been able to get a little more. But it was our first time. It’s a learning experience.”

As far as sales go, the store took in just under $200,000 over the two-day show — a record. So where’s the room for improvement Walp is hoping for?

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“We had more people in the store than at any one time ever since we opened,” he says. “But there were also times during the day when it was quiet. I want to make sure it’s busy all the time.”

Do It Yourself

“Plan well in advance,” Walp advises. Long Jewelers started working with the attending designers early in the summer, during the big trade shows. “Get your liquor license in advance — we’re good at that,” he jokes.
Partner with a charity and get the most out of it. By using the good cause as leverage, Walp was able to get competing media outlets to cooperate. “They actually seem to have a good time working together,” he says.
Keep your vendors happy. Every year, after the second night of the show, Walp and his team take the designers out for dinner at a relaxed local spot that serves high-quality food. “You can let your hair down and tell stories,” he says. It’s helped keep vendors coming back. “They have a good time, and seeing them is a good learning experience for the staff, too.”

Josh WImmer has been a contributor to INSTORE since 2006. He has coordinated the annual America's Coolest Stores contest for several years. The job mostly involves pestering jewelry store owners to start their contest entries, pestering jewelry store owners to finish their contest entries, and figuring out computer problems over the phone from hundreds of miles away.

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Best of The Best

Washington D.C. Jeweler Honors 50-Year-Old Gift Certificate

Gesture generates goodwill.

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WHEN KEN STEIN, owner of Bensons Jewelers in Washington, DC, got a call in November from a customer asking if he carried silverware, of course he automatically said no, followed by, “Gosh! Who does anymore?”

But the caller, George Jones, said he hoped to redeem a 1969 gift certificate for three silver pieces that he and his wife, Cathy, had received for their wedding and lost track of. The Maryland couple, who were preparing to celebrate their 50th anniversary, found the certificate in a wedding album and decided to see if it might be possible to redeem it.

The certificate was for “one teaspoon, one place knife and one place fork in ‘Rose’ by Stieff.”

The couple discovered that the factory that made the flatware had closed in 2007, so they decided to check to see if the jewelry store was still there. When they found out it was, they were further intrigued, as was Stein.

“Well, my business brain ran with that,” says Stein, who promised “100 percnet” to honor it and found the three pieces online for $150.

He decided it was a story worth promoting and media attention quickly led to widespread accolades.

Two TV reporters and a reporter from the Washington Post visited his store to meet him and hear the story. From the Washington D.C. NBC affiliate, the story also aired in New York and Boston.

“It has been remarkable the amount of calls I have received,” Stein says. “They are so heartfelt and literally made me choke up at times. Calls from New York, California, Connecticut and elsewhere. I had a call from a little old lady in California who told me I restored her faith in humanity. She literally tugged at my heart a little bit.”

Stein says that while he knew it would make a great story, he also felt like it was the right thing to do. “One customer came in just to shake my hand,” he says.

One of the emails he received read, “I must commend your company for honoring a 50 year-old gift certificate. I’m sure the value of those three pieces of silver has increased over the last 50 years. That was very kind of you. If I need any jewelry, I will gladly drive the distance to shop at your store. God Bless You!”

One call, though, from someone else wanting to buy silver from him left him shaking his head. “I literally said, are you kidding?! Go buy it yourself!”

Stein’s father, Paul Stein, bought the business in the ‘50s and worked through the ‘90s. Ken Stein joined the business in 1979. “I’m trying to remember, did they have any silver left? I truly don’t remember that. I would imagine in the early ‘70s, it just faded out.”

The Joneses told the NBC affiliate in Washington that they plan to put the silver and the old gift certificate on display in their house, so they, too, can share the remarkable story.

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Best of The Best

This Jeweler Set Up Shop In Grand Central Station

Her travel-themed jewelry is a hit with tourists and locals alike.

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FAR-FLUNG ADVENTURES and an affinity for whimsy inspired Nicole Parker King’s creation of a line of jewelry with a travel theme.

She’s visited more than 50 countries, and like many a peripatetic traveler, is always searching for a treasure to remind her of a favorite destination.

“I was looking for something small, chic, collectible and wearable that would remind me of my most special memories on my travels,” she says. “You can sometimes find charms in different locations, but there was nothing that covered all of the places I’d been, so I had to create it.”

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She launched her wanderlust-inspired Jet Set Candy jewelry collection in 2014 featuring luggage-tag charms and charms depicting airplanes, mermaids, seashells, in silver, gold-plated and 14K gold. The jewelry was sold on her own website and in boutiques and gift shops across the U.S. The packaging is bright and plush. The whole collection is presented in a passport-style book with photos and pricing.

“We really did pretty awesomely from the get-go,” she says. But something was missing.

“I don’t think it’s possible to build a true brand just living online, digital only,” she says. “People need to experience the physicality of a space for a brand to exist and for people to care about it. We’ve done a lot of pop-ups in the past but hated the transient nature of only having the pop-ups.”

In July, she opened a 316-square-foot store in New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and for the first time was able to fine-tune visual merchandising to reflect the brand’s playfulness.

There’s a lot going on in the small space, including perfect Instagram opportunities: A 6-foot-tall hot pink Statue of Liberty, and a closet transformed into a travel shrine with a floor-to-ceiling, travel-inspired collage.

There’s a mint-green ceiling, travel quotes on the walls and a custom-designed backlit cash wrap highlighting a map of the world. The store also features an engraving machine on site for personalization. Consumers shop by continental regions, creating a unique flow to the experience. The overall theme of “The World” is juxtaposed with “New York City.”

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A central island is dedicated to all things New York as well as rings with travel-themed slogans and necklaces spelling out “wanderlust.”

“People have seemed delighted to stumble upon it, and long-time customers are excited we have a permanent home for the brand,” King says. “I think there is always going to be a place, especially for jewelry, to see the product up close and try it on. No place is better than Grand Central for our audience, which is a good mix of tourists and New Yorkers.”

Nicole Parker King

King, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, studied graphic design and has career experience in branding. She lived with her husband, a diplomat, in India, where she learned about jewelry from artisans. Her jewelry designs are heavy with graphics and she does all the technical drawings.

Although Jet Set Candy is her first foray into jewelry, she’s loved it all of her life. “I had my own charm bracelet when I was a kid, a sterling bracelet from James Avery.

“My favorite type of jewelry is whimsical quirky pieces that tell stories and have the smile factor.”

The long-term plan is to open additional stores in airports. But short-term, she’d like to try pop-ups to test target destinations including Los Angeles, London and Las Vegas.

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Best of The Best

Tacos, Tequila and Tattoos: Gold Casters’ Contest Draws a Diverse Crowd in Bloomington, IN

Unusual event infuses King Baby jewelry line launch with excitement.

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Flyers combined with a radio and social-media marketing campaign created interest.

FINE JEWELRY STORES often face the challenge of balancing elegance with approachability. Tequila, tacos and tattoos go a long way toward melting the ice, discovered Brad Lawrence of Gold Casters Fine Jewelry in Bloomington, IN.

Lawrence, who specializes in bridal jewelry and high-end watches, found a fun way to break down those threshold barriers on a Saturday with, of all things, a social-media-friendly tattoo contest to introduce the jewelry line King Baby.

Lawrence considered it the perfect complement for King Baby, which he describes as having an edgy biker look. In addition, he surmised that people who like to adorn their body with works of art would also find a deep personal connection with jewelry.

“We are what would be called a guild jeweler, and we are always trying to look for ideas that are more on the casual side,” Lawrence says. “Most of our events in the past have been black-tie or at least more traditional.” Yet Bloomington, IN, is a college town where students make up a significant percentage of the 100,000 population.

He called the event Tacos, Tequila and Tattoos.

Once he had conceived the idea, Lawrence worked with his affiliated marketing experts on getting the word out. The store placed flyers with a Harley Davidson dealer and biker bars, along with a bevy of print and social media marketing created by Porte Marketing. The event was also promoted with a radio campaign orchestrated by Roy Williams.

On the day of the event, margarita-sipping shoppers lined up for the taco bar, purchased pieces from the jewelry collection and were invited to share the story of their tattoos with the store staff, who judged the contest. Each participant received a $25 gift certificate. The contest winner received a $250 gift certificate.

Those who shared their tattoo stories defied any stereotypical expectations. “It was a much more diverse crowd than I would have expected,” Lawrence says. “We had people in their 60s and 70s with tattoos. Some people had full sleeves.

Several people had investments of $10,000 or more in tattoos.

“The event was very inclusive of our community and yet brought in a different demographic for us. It was a way of gaining new customers and having people feel more comfortable. Without question, 90 percent of the people we saw that day were new faces.”

After the event, the marketing team invited others among the tattoo-clad Bloomington population to share photos and stories of their tattoos on Gold Casters’ social media, continuing to give participants $25 gift certificates and also selecting an online winner by Facebook vote, who was awarded another $250 gift certificate.

The stories behind the tattoos turned out to be fascinating, Lawrence says, and in all about 100 people shared their stories in store or online with photos or videos.

King Baby is known as a men’s line, primarily, which the store needs, but it also has the magical versatility of being unisex. “We turned our entire investment in the line,” he says. “We sold all of the highest-end pieces we had in stock.”

The event attracted media coverage on social channels, on the radio and in the newspaper. “It was very well received by the community. People are still talking about it today.”

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