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Best of the Best: T. Lee’s Art Exhibitions

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[h3]T. Lee; Minneapolis, MN[/h3]
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[dropcap cap=T]he best jewelry designers create more than just jewelry — they create beautiful, wearable art. So what could be more synergistic for the artistically-minded jewelry designer than a store which features both fine jewelry and fine art?[/dropcap]

[componentheading]THE IDEA[/componentheading]

Bringing the two together was a natural extension given the artistic mindset of designer T. Lee. Lee’s store in Minneapolis’ trendy NeHe (Northeast-Hennepin) area features its own art gallery — and Lee has used it to turn her store into a popular destination for cultural events instead of a mere shopping experience.

Best of the Best: Art Exhibitions

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[componentheading]THE EXECUTION[/componentheading]

The approach has freed Lee from the burden of trying to dream up new promotional events each year. Now, all she does is announce a new art exhibit every three months — along with a welcome reception for the artist being featured — and the guests come running.  

“I wanted a reason to send my clients a postcard regularly without saying ‘buy, buy, buy’ each time,” Lee says. “The cards I send are an introduction to a new fine artist and an invitation to a party — the reception for the artist. It succeeds in putting my name in front of them four times a year without needing to dream up some promotional idea. It’s amazing how after only seven openings, many [customers] ask when the next event is and what kind of work the new artist does.”  

Like the plumbing and electrical fixtures, the art gallery was built into the store’s plan early in the build-out phase. The 1,500 square-foot store has a gallery wall that is 35 feet wide and 17 feet high. The wall has a professional artist rails set at 12 feet so painting and photograph exhibits can be easily rotated.  

In addition to stocking the display cases with her own jewelry and managing the shop, Lee must also play the role of gallery curator. For years, Lee lived in an artists’ co-op in St. Paul’s “Lowertown”. While living amongst other creative types, Lee networked with a host of artists. Now she does local “art crawls”, making her way through numerous small studios in her search for new talent. Of course, after seven shows, artists are now starting to find her on their own.  

Each show consists of limited edition collections by an upcoming artist. Plus, along with each new art collection, Lee displays a new collection of jewelry. Between the new art and the new jewelry, Lee’s customers are encouraged to come back frequently. Says Lee: “I think my clients know the jewelry that debuts at the openings is a small collection of one-of-a-kinds that won’t last long.”

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Best of the Best: Art Exhibitions

Lee promotes each new exhibit with a postcard campaign. Each features a unique postcard designed with a theme specific to the artist and their exhibition. And since events are scheduled at “regular, predictable intervals, our attendance is always good,” Lee adds.  

Postcards usually reach Lee’s client list of 4,000 about one week before the opening reception. (Mailers are also sent to each artist’s mailing list.) To add to the sense of exclusive-ness (and avoid overcrowding), events are not advertised in any local papers.  

Lee estimates that running a single exhibition can cost from $3,000 to $6,000. The four events the designer holds annually requires close to three-quarters of her annual promotions budget.  

For any retail jewelers looking to try a similar approach, Lee suggests “shopping” for artists at local open studio tours and larger art fairs. Store owners should choose artists carefully as your staff “needs to feel the passion to pass it on and ‘sell’ the work,” Lee says. When testing the waters for such events consider choosing art that has a general appeal to a local market.  

One key is finding talented artists who are based locally. This helps keep shipping and other incidental expenses down, and makes it more likely the artist will make an appearance at the opening. (Which also provides the opportunity to sell jewelry to the artist’s clients, friends and family.) “It’s important to my openings that the artist attends them,” Lee says. “No one can pass on the passion for the work like the artists themselves. That builds even deeper commitments to your store.”

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[componentheading]THE RESULTS[/componentheading]

Lee says that, so far, every show has been a success. This, even though one exhibitor — a photographer who specialized in nudes — had to have his exhibition displayed in her store’s “annex” (or, as it is more generally referred to, the bathroom). Then there was the time neighboring store owners bristled when Lee brought in a graffiti-on-canvas artist — an event which ended up being Lee’s most lucrative show to date.

[span class=note]This story is from the November 2004 edition of INSTORE[/span]

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Borsheims Shareholders Weekend Demands All Hands on Deck

Hospitality crucial, no matter the size of your trunk show.

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PLANNING A TRUNK show this fall? What if your trunk show involved 100 vendors, as many as 35,000 customers and 25,000 catered meatballs?

Borsheims in Omaha, NE, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, meets that challenge annually with an all-hands-on-deck approach when it opens its doors each May to all of the company’s shareholders who want to come.

The jewelry store plays host to a cocktail party on Friday night and a shareholder shopping day on Sunday. Both events spill into the mall, which is closed to the public, and into the parking lot. “We really look at this from a hospitality approach,” says Adrienne Fay, director of marketing and business sales. “We want to thank the shareholders for their loyalty and patronage.”

This year there were 100 jewelry, watch and gift vendors, some of whom brought in products for their trunk shows that wouldn’t be seen anywhere else in the U.S., Fay says. “You’ve never seen jewelry cases as packed as they are during Berkshire weekend. We call it our Christmas in May. We do a transaction every 11 seconds during the weekend.”

STAFFING

For weeks leading up to the event, job descriptions blur as every employee plays a role from helping with catering to managing vendors. They hire additional staff for the weekend, ask corporate staff to work the sales floor and bring in runners and cashiers.

“The last thing we would want to have is someone standing around and no one able to help them,” says Jaci Stuifbergen, who guides Borsheims’ experiential marketing. “Everyone involved is a representative of Borsheims, from those setting up a large tent to those providing food and beverages. We want every caterer to represent Borsheims well and have the same customer-focused mindset that we do the whole time they are here.”

ENTERTAINMENT

Even though it’s a private event, shareholders are under no obligation to buy jewelry. So creating the right customer experience is vital in this, as in any, event situation. “Whether it’s a regular trunk show or during this event, the thing we want to provide is a really great experience,” Stuifbergen says. “We know they could buy this jewelry from other stores or on the Internet, but what we have to offer are customer service and knowledgeable staff. Complimentary alcohol never hurts!” she says.

It might be the only chance to convert shoppers. “It’s such a destination store that for a lot of people, this is the only time in the year, or maybe in a decade, that they come here,” Stuifbergen says. They set up two bars and two buffet lines in the parking lot under the biggest tent they can rent. Sunday’s party often features Bershire Hathaway CEO and Chairman Warren Buffett playing bridge or table tennis with Bill Gates, Microsoft founder. There’s also a live band and a magician. On Friday night, the caterer serves more than 25,000 meatballs.

BRAND IDENTITY

The shareholders, who are Warren Buffett groupies, want to buy anything that’s affiliated with him, from pearl strands with his signature on the clasp and diamonds with his signature laser-inscribed inside to affordable gift products stamped with his face or the company logo. Last year, they used a custom etching machine to inscribe personal messages inside the diamonds while customers waited.

DEBRIEFING

Almost immediately after the event, everyone in the company is asked for input and feedback, which is compiled into a seven or eight page document and carefully analyzed. Feedback has led to changes like improved security and gift bags for vendors as a token of appreciation.

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This Retailer Combined Diamonds with Donuts for a Sweet Event

Social media played a big role in drawing 50 new customers.

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DIAMONDS AND DONUTS are each desirable in their own right, but put them together and the combination proves irresistible. At least it did in April for customers of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, whose purchases hit seven figures in four locations over two days.

Owner Harvey Rovinsky said he had noticed “donut roll” events in other types of retail-store promotions and thought donuts would be a great draw to add to the Bernie Robbins promotional repertoire, which has included a Yoga Fest, a Chic at the Shore series of summer events and trunk shows, a student design contest and a high-profile Super Bowl ticket giveaway, along with a recent emphasis on social media, digital advertising and geo-fencing.

“We always want to do something that is different, unique, that people will talk about,” Rovinsky says. “In my mind, donuts go with everything, and they certainly go with diamonds. Because of what the marketing team put together, there was a story to tell besides this jewelry store and their diamonds. It was a way to make a jewelry store visit more fun.”

As it happens, the shape of donuts is even suggestive of a ring.

Integral to promoting the event was a “donut wall” for customer selfies, created entirely by the staff, who invited customers to decorate the donuts with bridal toppers.

Says Peter Salerno, digital-marketing manager: “The idea came in the form of having a part of the store that is more photogenic, something new and fun. Our sales staff used their own Instagram accounts to reach out to customers, and we also advertised on traditional digital platforms. It was a cool space, a departure from a typical jewelry store. It had interaction and on-site activation.”

Customers were invited to decorate donuts with bridal-themed toppers, adding to the in-store experience, during Bernie Robbins’ Diamonds and Donuts event.

The store also borrowed wedding gowns for display that the staff accessorized with diamond jewelry.

“We had champagne, flowers, and it smelled like a bakery,” says Cristin Cipa, director of marketing.

The sales event represented true value for customers, who shopped at up to 50 percent off for mountings, engagement rings and wedding bands, and saved up to 40 percent on a large selection of GIA-graded loose diamonds. Instant credit and interest-free financing added to the appeal of instant gratification.

While salespeople set up appointments in advance to ensure their best clients would visit, the promotion also lured 50 new customers over two days.

“We had cooperation from all of our staff — marketing, selling, support staff,” Rovinsky says. “We checked all of the boxes when it came to marketing and we did an enormous amount of clienteling. Sightholders sent us hundreds of thousands of dollars in diamonds for two days at great prices. It was a win-win-win — a win for our clients, for our salespeople and for Bernie Robbins.” The entire staff was given a bonus as a result.

As for timing, April is diamond month, Rovinsky says. “Is it a popular time for engagements? Who knows? But we made it into one.”

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These Ocean City Jewelers Bury Treasure in the Sand

Promotional event benefits children’s charity.

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JUST IMAGINE HOW cool it would be to associate your business with the most popular activity in your community.

In Ocean City, MD, the beach, of course, is the focal point. And Park Place Jewelers’ Atlantic Avenue store commands its own share of attention in its prime spot on the boardwalk.

Along with diamonds, bridal and high-end branded jewelry, owners Todd and Jill Ferrante offer a wide variety of sea-life and nautical jewelry, particularly in their beach location — everything from sterling silver souvenirs to an exquisite, one-of-a-kind diamond mermaid piece. “We have to appeal to everyone,” Jill says, since everyone walks past on the boardwalk, even kids looking for souvenir charms.

They support myriad charities, from Coastal Hospice and the American Cancer Society to the Worchester County Society. And they have immersed themselves in the community by supporting local charities, hosting an annual Treasure Hunt at the Beach, and setting up pop-up shops during renowned fishing tournaments. The Treasure Hunt at the Beach has raised $25,000 over seven years for a children’s charity.

Here’s how it works. Participants donate $20 for the chance to dig in the sand for buried treasure, and everyone is let into the fenced-off area at the same time. Treasure ranges from loose gemstones and finished jewelry to the grand prize of diamond earrings. The treasure itself is not on the beach — little black treasure bags containing a tag describing the prize are buried about 4 to 6 inches under the sand. Odds are good; a maximum of 100 participants dig for 50 prizes, some of which are donated by their vendors or sold to them at a discount.

Treasure hunters can use only their hands to dig; no shovels or rakes. “We don’t want to make it too hard for them,” Jill says. “But they tell us in some cases it’s the hardest workout they’ve ever had, moving sand around for 15 minutes or half an hour!”

“Participants love it,” Todd says. “Once you find one prize, you take your prize up to the store, give the tag to the sales associates and they give you the prize.”

If all the prizes aren’t located within about 30 minutes, Todd launches into a trivia contest for the few remaining prizes.

This is the kind of contest that promotes itself. It’s listed as one of the weekend events on the city’s website. “A lot of people check that website when they’re coming into town,” Todd says. “We’re usually sold out before Saturday even gets here.” The hunt takes place once on Saturday and once on Sunday. Participants must register in person and make the donation in advance. It’s covered by the local newspaper and TV stations. People can watch the hunt from their balconies.

The event initially had to be approved by the mayor and city council.

After five years, though, it was considered established and only an annual permit renewal is required. Local sponsors sell refreshments along the boardwalk. “People have fun doing it and a one out of two chance of winning, all to benefit a charity that is close to everyone’s heart,” Todd says. “Being in business means giving back to the community.”

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