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Best of the Best: Airport Plaza’s Special Location

Buffalo jeweler does more than $1 million a year in sales from revamped coffee hut.

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Airport Plaza Jewelers

4210 Union Road, Cheektowaga, NY 14225; Phone: (716) 632-6509; URL: www.theselfsufficientjeweler.com


IT’S A STORE most jewelers would look at and cringe. A 200-square-foot box sitting in an airport car park. Blue and orange neon lighting flickers from behind brown glass, blandly informing passersby: “We buy diamonds and gold.”

Yet while some may have aesthetic objections to Airport Plaza Jewelers, it’s hard to argue with the business’s numbers. This humble-looking operation outside Buffalo’s Niagara International Airport produces more than $1 million in sales a year, driven by an intense focus on cutting costs at every point.

THE IDEA

Giving the Most for the Least

Best of the Best: Bad Location? Fuhgedduboutit!

“What people are looking for is value,” says owner Don Hoffman. “They want to get the most for the least. So that’s what I give them.”

Hoffman’s secret is to exploit what he calls his “own private diamond mine” —a customer base that readily supplies him with cheap diamonds, allowing him to bypass diamond wholesalers.

“Most jewelers willingly ignore half their potential customer base,” Hoffman says. “How can you justify buying diamonds from wholesalers at 20% to 30% back when there are so many customers willing to sell to you at 75% back? I have my own diamond mine that produces thousands of carats in all sizes and makes every day profitable!”  

The profit comes from flipping the diamonds — Hoffman calls it his “liquid asset inventory.” His tremendously low cost of goods allows him to mark the diamonds up and still sell them at large discounts compared to his wholesale-buying competitors. Asked if his buying customers had a problem with this, he answers, “Not at all. I simply explain to them that there’s no such thing as a used diamond. Most diamonds are at least a billion years old. And diamonds are based on their 4 C’s, not their previous use. That’s the beauty of a diamond being forever.”

THE EXECUTION

‘We Buy Jewelry’

Hoffman stumbled upon his business model in February 1996, when he moved into his present location — back then an abandoned coffee shop.

“I was just trying to survive,” he explains. “I was coming out of a divorce that left me with $500, 10 rings and a Stuller catalog. And a car with no front end.”

So he yanked down the “Coffee Express” awnings, stuck a cardboard sign in the window that read “We Buy Jewelry,” and opened for business.

After a year of puttering along, a visiting media rep convinced Hoffman to spend $50 a week on a cable TV station. To his surprise, business started picking up. But Christmas remained slow. “Problem was, we were known as a buying store,” he explains. “People didn’t have us on their radar when it came to selling jewelry.”

Then one day in late 2001, he and a friend were sitting around making fun of advertising clichés. The next day, Hoffman showed up at the friend’s house with a mannequin arm in one hand and a leg in the other. When his friend opened the door, Hoffman smiled and exclaimed, “At Airport Plaza Jewelers, a really great diamond doesn’t cost an arm and a leg!” His friend laughed and told him it was stupidest idea he’d ever seen. That’s when Hoffman knew he was onto something.

THE REWARD

Dumbest Commercial Ever? Not So Much

Best of the Best: Bad Location? Fuhgedduboutit!

That November, Hoffman’s “Arm & a Leg” spot aired on local cable TV. Two weeks later, a woman stopped by the store to tell him he had the dumbest commercial in the world. “Thank you for sharing your opinion, ma’am,” Hoffman graciously responded. “Will that be all?”  

“No”, the woman continued. “I need a new watch battery and three of those necklaces for my granddaughters.” And she wasn’t the only one who noticed. Sales over Christmas that year were double that of the previous year.  

Airport Plaza Jewelers hasn’t missed a day on TV since. “I believe in the allure of TV,” Hoffman says. “Especially if you want to market yourself.”  

He calls his approach Extreme Personal Branding (for which he owns a service mark), and defines it as, “using highly noticeable, sometimes outrageous means to unforgettably connect who you are with the service and products you represent in the public’s eye. It’s selling you and getting everyone talking about you.”  

And it’s working. Based on a recent survey, an estimated 90% of the marketplace mentioned Hoffman and Airport Plaza Jewelers when asked about the “arm and a leg” campaign. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see people driving by the store, whooping and honking while holding their arms out the window.

Hoffman says that almost every day someone comes in and exclaims, “Oh my gosh, you’re that guy on TV!” His reply: “Of course. If I was going to use an actor, don’t you think I’d hire someone who looks better than me?”  

Hoffman recently created a website at www.brandingisnotanoption.com, where he explains the reasoning behind his methodologies and introduces Leg Up Marketing, LLC, a turn-key program that works with independent jewelers to promote their business exclusively in their television market. He’s currently working with his first few licensees.

For those seeking strong profits with extremely low overhead, Hoffman’s model is hard to beat. A small out-of-the-way location, low-cost advertising, and minimal inventory investment make life pretty easy. According to Hoffman, “This month’s bills were all paid by the 14th, including my advertising.”

With success like that, who needs marble, brass and cherrywood?

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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