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Best of The Best

Best of the Best: Creating a Customer Advisory Board

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Customer advisory board at Von Bargen's Jewelry

Von Bargen’s advisory board is made up of 30 jewelry-loving regulars at each location, who meet every three months. 

Von Bargen’s Jewelry

Five stores in New Hampshire and Vermont

Ever wondered what your customers really want to wear? Or what kind of advertising, exactly, would grab their attention? Philip Bosen, director of Von Bargen’s, wondered all that and more before he decided to start asking key clients what they thought in an organized fashion.

IDEA

Create an Advisory Board

The manager of each of Von Bargen’s five stores in New Hampshire and Vermont oversees a client advisory board made up of 30 savvy female shoppers. Why just women? There are a few reasons: “Women make or influence more than 80 percent of all consumer purchases in the U.S.,” Bosen points out. Although men are important to the business, women are almost always the end user of the jewelry, at least at Von Bargen’s. And Bosen has found that when men are included in a focus group, they tend to dominate the discussion.

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EXECUTION

Find Savvy Shoppers

First they had to figure out whom to invite. “We sat down and asked ourselves, ‘What does this woman look like?’”

They decided she doesn’t have to be a top spender, but she should be bright, connected, articulate, fashionable and preferably affluent. She should appreciate quality, be an expert in her field and socially responsible, Bosen decided. As for age, “I would say our sweet spot is 35 to 55, and I’m going to have people on both ends of that range, some in their 20s and some in their 60s.” Location, too, is a factor. “Where does she live? It would be nice to have a map of your area and have these people spread out a little bit.”

They meet quarterly, the first meeting of the year being a party. Perfect attendance isn’t mandatory. “I consider it a success if we have 50 percent,” Bosen says. “We send written invitations and follow up with phone calls or emails.”

Sometimes they’ll include a field trip to a restaurant or a wine shop, but usually they meet at the store, where noise and security can be controlled. Wherever they meet, the store serves food and beverages — cheese, fruit, chocolate or a vegetable tray. Participants receive gift bags, including $100 gift certificates to the store, and sometimes gift certificates donated by other local stores.

The group is very influential in buying decisions. If 15 of 20 women suggest a particular SKU, for example, it will definitely be on the store’s shopping list.
The group also helps the business choose charitable events to participate in and where to focus advertising dollars.

REWARDS

Improved Buying and Turn

“Every time you think you’re going to have an idea of what they are going to say, you’re wrong,” Bosen says. “Or at least I am.”

“We did fundamentally change our buying,” Bosen says. After two years of focus groups, buying and turn were so improved that they could locate just nine pieces from all of the stores for the annual sale.

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“You will begin to select the right designers and the right pieces and have more successful trunk shows and private in-home parties,” Bosen says. “Your board members will recruit additional clients of similar type. They interact with other women who don’t shop with you, probably because they think your jewelry is boring. If it’s boring, it’s because it’s jewelry men choose for women; it’s safe jewelry.”

Board members also made it clear that the stores had nothing available for young bridal customers on a budget. In response, Bosen pointed out two rings that were priced at about $5,000. But the board influenced the decision to add a line of smaller, quality rings to meet a popular $3,500 price point. “That part of our business has gone crazy,” Bosen says.

The advisory boards also have created authentic social media buzz.

Von Bargen's Jewelry customer board in action

Also on the menu for customer events, makeovers and lots of trying on of jewelry.

Do It Yourself: Create Your Own Customer Advisory Board

Recruit a blogger for best social media results.

Text, email or FaceTime members when you’re at a trade show and want their advice about new lines or new pieces.

Brag about the store staff during board meetings. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate staff members’ personal and professional accomplishments.

Memorize everyone’s name, or ask them to wear name tags.

If personality conflicts develop, it’s OK to rotate a member or two off the board on occasion; just send them a gift and thank them for their service.

Always have an agenda. For example: How can we get more people on Facebook? How can we improve the store’s appearance?

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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Best of The Best

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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Best of The Best

Santa Fe’s Reflective Jewelry Aligns with Owners’ Ethics

Fairtrade Gold designation puts the focus on miners.

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Marc Choyt and Helen Chantler work to ensure their business aligns with their environmental and ethical beliefs.

MARC CHOYT AND HIS wife, Helen Chantler, of Santa Fe, NM, have been focused on green initiatives for decades, in all aspects of life.

“We bought land in northern New Mexico in the ‘90s, and there was a creek bed there that was badly eroded from over-grazing to the point that there were cliffs instead of gentle banks,” Choyt says. “We began to realize the impact we have locally and globally. That is a core value for us.”

Their business, Reflective Jewelry, a custom and designer jewelry studio, has been named Green Business of the Year by the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe’s Chamber of Commerce. “This is a great honor, especially given the industry we’re in and the fact that Santa Fe is a green business city,” Choyt says.

Reflective Jewelry is the only Fairtrade Gold jeweler in the United States, a certification they received in 2015.

“Though there are over 250 Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the UK, we are still the only Fairtrade Gold jewelers in the entire USA,” says Choyt. “We produce our entire two-tone line and much of our bridal collection in Fairtrade Gold. This supports local economies, alleviates poverty and reduces global mercury contamination for small-scale gold producers. Because it’s an international brand and is the only system that audits suppliers and jewelers, it is the best option to create a foundation for responsible jewelry.”

Fairtrade Gold was only one reason, though, that the city of Santa Fe recognized Reflective Jewelry. The shop uses LED lighting, washable cloth towels, biodegradable bags for shipping, organic dish soap and non-toxic floor cleaners. Jewelers use citric acid for pickling, fluoride-free flux, a soap-based solution for tumbling, sink traps for catching heavy metals, and vacuums that capture dust and compounds—all of which are recycled. Their landscape garden, once a concrete foundation, now has mature apricot and cherry trees and native plants fed by water channeled off their roof.

Chantler, an experienced bench jeweler, launched her jewelry design business in 1994, while Choyt led the sales effort, initially concentrating on distributing jewelry to 250 stores and catalogs.

By 2001, they refocused on online sales and their own retail store. Today, six people work in the shop and the store.

Along the way, they began using recycled metals in production, which was a logical place to start, Choyt explains, but doesn’t address the big picture. “Basically, gold is going to be mined, and that’s independent of how much is used by jewelers. If we’re going to really make an impact, we have to support small-scale mining communities.”

When Choyt explains to customers that the Fairtrade Gold designation is the same well-known global brand used for Fairtrade coffee and chocolate, they are “astonished that I’m the only one operating this way, out of a small shop in Santa Fe,” he says.

So while Choyt can point to numerous 5-star Google reviews and show clients the studio where the jewelry is made, he can also ensure ethical, fair-trade sourcing from mine to market, adding another level of authority and credibility.

“Certainly one of the most important elements of any jeweler is reputation. Fairtrade Gold is just another thing that makes people feel really good about buying from us,” he says.

When the U.S. consumer market adopts Fairtrade Gold, he says, hundreds of thousands (or possibly millions) of small-scale miners finally will find their lives improved.

“When this happens, we’ll be able to point to our small studio on Baca Street as one of the catalysts.”

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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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